By Mujeeb Abdulwasiu
One afternoon in November 2019, Kehinde Abdulwasiu, 27, decided to travel to Lagos from Ekiti State, where he was carrying out the mandatory National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) program. He was on his way to spend Sallah with his family but got attacked by armed robbers along Alaba international market road in Lagos, and as a result, got stabbed and robbed of his bag containing valuables.
Kehinde spent a month at the hospital, after undergoing a thoracotomy surgery. He was later discharged the following month after regaining consciousness. He was determined to return to Ekiti State for the completion of the youth service and was advised by the doctor to do regular check-ups.
Upon resumption to the NYSC camp in Ekiti, Kehinde could not access healthcare. He was turned back at the medical facility closest to the camp as doctors told him that the government’s health coverage is not extended to corp members. He ended up using his NYSC allowance to pay for check-ups at a local clinic.
In 2016, following a viral reportage of the unfortunate deaths of three corps members deployed to Kano, Zamfara, and Bayelsa State orientation camps, President Muhammadu Buhari was forced to issue a presidential directive that all corps members should be enrolled in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) under the NYSC Group Individual Family Social Health Insurance Programme, an health insurance body established Launched in 2005 which enables civil servants to access free basic health at any government accredited medical centre.
While this scheme was approved in 2017, it never started operation until February 2022. On its website, the NYSC made it known that the initiative covers corp members pre-orientation period until three weeks after the end of their service year. However, the opposite was the case for Kehinde.
Dr. Raymond Osho, the chief executive officer of Lifeworth Medicare Limited, the scheme’s health maintenance organization in the southwest region, however, claims that over 2000 corp members have benefited from the health scheme ten months into its operation. According to him, a unique NHIS number is provided for all corp members in their respective dashboards.
“There is a unique number provided for all corp members in their dashboards immediately after their NYSC registration. Through it, they get registered at their respective NHIS accreditation hospitals. Since it was launched into operation in February 2022, I can tell from our own region here that over 2000 have benefitted from the scheme,” he told Social Voices.
Lateef Opeyemi, a 2022 batch A corp member serving in Osun State is one of the beneficiaries said to have benefitted from the scheme. “The initiative is beneficial but access is sometimes restricted and limited. I have had access to healthcare since I registered at Osogbo Central Hospital concerning my eyes. The first time I visited the hospital for my eye condition, even though I was given the lenses after three weeks, I got a free and quality service,” Lateef said in an interview.
However, he further divulged that many of the government-accredited hospitals give more credence to the regular patients than the corp members due to the free services attached to the NHIS-NYSC initiative.
“They are kind of discriminating. The fact they know that you are not paying anything, so they use the opportunity to delay you. They don’t care if you leave or stay” Lateef told Social Voices.
How NHIS works
The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) is a social health insurance programme that gives access to good healthcare services and protects families from the financial hardship of huge medical bills. The scheme derived its sustainability from the contributions of both government employees and the federal government, which makes it a social health security system for all those enrolled under the scheme.
However, it is an absolutely free service for serving corp members, no co-payment for drugs as it is for the civil servants. It covers out-patient care, including consumable prescribed drugs, pharmaceutical care and diagnostic tests. In cases of pregnancy, female corp members can also access maternity care for one pregnancy for any child delivered within the service year, preventive care, including immunization, consultation with required specialists for secondary and tertiary care. Hospital care in a standard ward for a stay limited to a cumulative twenty-one days per year, eye examination and dental care.
While the NYSC provides access to these treatments, it exclusively excluded the treatment of injuries resulting from natural disasters, family planning commodities, Injuries arising from extreme sports, drug abuse/addiction, surgery, anti-tuberculosis drugs, crowns and bridges, bleaching and Implants and post Mortem examination.
But for medical doctors, treating corp members under this initiative has never come on a platter of gold. Esther Adigun, a medical doctor in the NHIS department of university of Ilorin identified how the scope and limitations of the treatment package has constituted a challenge for doctors.
“Most times, corp members do not always consider the health coverage before bringing their health problems to the hospitals. At times, these problems may be something that needs urgent medical attention. Government do not release funds for them, but the fact our profession is geared towards caring about lives, we won’t have an option than to treat them.” she told Social Voices.
“Government also are not doing enough to help matters, I can say for a fact that this initiative is not the sufficient financial backing it deserves. Sometimes why corp members get delays at the hospital is not because we purposely wanted to delay them, but because there are little or no medicines available for their discharge after their visitation. So what we do is to delay them pending the arrival of medicines.” she added.
Why it is important
Speaking to Doctor Yawe Peter, a medical practitioner at the Jos University Teaching Hospital, it became clear that the NHIS initiative is important in saving corp members from the vulnerability of the unfamiliar environment they are used to being posted for their service year.
“NHIS is a complete health welfare initiative to help not only corp members but also civil servants access free health services. If we look at it very well, most of the environments corp members are being posted to for their service year are completely strange and unfamiliar. This initiative will at least help them access quick medical intervention in times of health difficulties without necessarily spending their already insufficient allowance.” Yawe said.
This story was produced in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.