Quarantine Bill: Strengthen healthcare delivery system at points of entry – Stakeholders tell FG

By Abujah Racheal

Stakeholder in the health sector have called on the Federal Government to strengthen the country’s healthcare delivery system at the points of entry to maintain the capacity for early detection and response to public health threats. 

They made the call on Wednesday in Abuja, at a one-day Stakeholders review meeting on the Quarantine Act (Repeal & Re-enactment) Bill 2022.  The meeting was organized by the Lifeline Centre for Medical and Health Rights Advocacy, with the support of Resolve to Save Lives.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that National Assembly (NASS) seeks to repeal the 96-year-old Quarantine Act, as the new Bill seeks to help Nigeria deal with any impending outbreak of infectious and contagious diseases in the future.

The National Health Emergency Bill has scaled second reading at the Senate.

The bill which seeks to repeal the 96-year-old Quarantine Act, was considered after a brief deliberation. It is sponsored by Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu North).

Introduced in May 2020, the legislation seeks to help Nigeria deal with any impending outbreak of infectious and contagious diseases in the future.

The President of Lifeline Centre for Medical and Health Rights Advocacy, Prof. Uwakwe Abugu, said if the Quarantine Bill is signed into law, it would establish a legal and administrative framework for handling outbreaks of infectious and contagious diseases that portend major threats to public health safety within Nigeria, or are likely to be transmitted into Nigeria or outside Nigerian borders.

“The Bill, in repealing the archaic Quarantine Act of 1926, set up the establishment of the Port Health Services (PHS). Its very text piece of legislature is just about eight sections and that’s what charged the PHS, to be in charge of all the health regulations at the points of entry in the country.

“Anybody coming into Nigeria, on planes, ships, coming or going out of Nigeria, it’s the PHS that is in charge of ensuring that no infectious disease is transmitted or imported into Nigeria or exposed.

“This very important services by the PHS are only established by the port health regulation made under the quarantine act. We have had Ebola before, we are now having COVID-19, and we still expect more pandemics, we are not praying for it but it’s the reality of the day,” he explained.

Abugu said that the bill would see to the eventual repeal of the obsolete Quarantine Act, enacted in 1926, and help Nigeria deal with any impending outbreak of infectious and contagious diseases in the future.

He added that the bill would benefit Nigeria more as it would create a regulatory agency, with proper funding, with proper departments with more personnel and training.

Abugu said that the meeting was to articulate the inherent advantages of the bill in relation to public health surveillance and measures at the country’s points of entry, as well as the need for a robust coordinating mechanism amongst critical stakeholders.

“It is also the objective of the meeting to ensure that all stakeholders key into a successful and sustained campaign that will lead to the passage of the bill,” he added.

Speaking on how the act will help the country in detection of epidemics, Amira Abubakar, Assistant legal adviser, Nigeria Centre For Diseases Control (NCDC), said that the quarantine bill will repeal the quarantine act and this particular bill had identified all the gaps from the  quarantine act, especially emerging diseases like COVID-19.

Abubakar noted that the new bill would give an opportunity to rapidly address diseases such as COVID-19 and by rapid response it entails detection at the points of entry even before Nigerians are exposed to such diseases and that way, the exposure to such diseases would be mitigated.

The Coordinator, African Health Budget Network (AHBN), Dr. Aminu Magashi, aligned with the importance of PHS in addressing infectious disease spread at the borders, saying this cannot be underscored.

Magashi, who was represented by Mrs Maimuna Abdullahi, Health Economist, Monitoring, and Evaluation Specialist, AHBN, said that AHBN recently convened a two-day advocacy retreat with stakeholders as a followup to the national COVID-19 summit and it had the director of port health service in attendance.

He added that the retreat generated a number of advocacy priorities for the PHS including advocacy to strengthen the PHS workforce with permanent and qualified staff and also advocacy to mobilize support at the national level for PHS.

“We are committed to supporting PHS on its activities, including on the review of the its institutional legal framework,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr Emmanuel Agogo, the Nigeria Country Representative of Resolve to Save Lives, said that the National Assembly is actually keen on seeing this process through.

“l call on the National Assembly to expedite this process. I’m aware that there is a lot of momentum and the National Assembly’s actually keen on seeing this process through.

“I would advise that the momentum continues and that this becomes one of the successes that the country gets from this process of its response to the COVID-19 19 pandemic,” Agogo said.

NAN recalls that the bill is considered by many Nigerians as the Senate version of the controversial Control of Infectious Disease Bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2021.

The House bill had triggered outrage among Nigerians majorly because of the provisions of the bill and the speedy consideration and passage by members of the House.

It is expected that the Bill which has now been passed by the Senate, will be transmitted to the House of Representatives for Concurrence. (NAN)