Health Empowerment: Do You Know Your Rights?

Health Empowerment: Do You Know Your Rights?

Do you know your rights in respect of your health?  Do you know what to expect of the government?  Of your doctor? Your nurse? Other health care professionals? Do you know what you are entitled to under Nigerian law?  There is an assumption that people, particularly among the elite, know what their legal and human rights entitlements are.  My observation is that many people, including educated people in Nigeria, frequently do not.

Often, when people die on the operating table in Nigeria, or at a private hospital, or under the powers of a traditional healer or pastor, noise is made among friends and family, but it quickly dies down.   Some say that medical errors and inefficiencies take place it is because we do not have a litigation culture.  There is some truth to this.  But even this is changing, with persons beginning to challenge alleged medical malpractices in court. And this will change even more when people know what they are entitled to with respect to care. People may complain about the state of our hospitals and link it to alleged kleptocracy in government, but limit their observations to the moral obligations of government with no thought to potential legal solutions.

The CHELD project on putting all Nigerian health legislation and policies online is directed towards to addressing this imbalance in information.  In addition to the analyses on our blog, it will at least give basic information on the entitlement in health to persons who can read and have access to the internet.  People can find out the provisions of the law regarding most health issues – domestic and sexual violence, medical negligence, immunisation, you name it – at the click of their mouse.  It will not only be useful to patients or would-be patients, it is helpful to health care professionals who need to become better aware of their legal obligations. Further, for governments, health care professionals, and the general populace alike, this project will make it clear that we have some gaping holes in our health legislation and some overdue updating and revisions to undertake.    It will also provide some understanding of the nuances in our understanding of health rights.  For instance, our Constitution does not allow for the right to health. Instead, this constitutes one of the fundamental objectives, which is thus unjustifiable, that is, this right is not actionable.  However, several legislation, such as the legislation on children’s rights, the Child Rights Act, gives rights to health to children.  Other legislation such as those that establish NACA, National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) and the various State Agencies for Control of AIDS, require them to carry out certain specified functions.

It needs to be pointed out though that for any person consider litigation or any form of legal action, it is crucial to engage the services of a legal professional.   This website only aims to provide basic information and should therefore not be seen in any way as a suitable replacement for a lawyer’s advice.

Beyond legal rights, obligations, and actions, however, it is astounding that many people, including educated people, do not know to question their doctors and other health care professionals about their diagnoses, prescribed medications including their effects, side effects, or alternatives, or the tests that they are required to undertake or even obtain results from those tests!  I know from personal experience and from experiences described to me by others that many health care professionals still carry the “doctor knows best” attitude and do not encourage patients’ questioning.  It is important for patients to realise that, for the most part, they must take responsibility for their health.  They must be ready to ask questions of their health care professionals and insist on getting adequate answers.  Health care professionals must take seriously their obligation to be forthcoming with information.

Nigerians must take their own health in their hands.  This includes knowing their rights with respect to the legal and regulatory landscape concerning health, being educated about health-related matters but also being actively involved in their health care by being unafraid to ask relevant questions of their health care professionals.

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