By Leo Igwe
Humanism stands for change, for socio-cultural change and progress. And in Nigeria`s health sector, some change is imminent. The humanist movement is set to transform the landscape of medical and health care delivery because the medical sector is one area where religious privilege is quite pronounced. On June 23, 2019, the Humanist Association of Nigeria (HAN) recorded a milestone in this respect. It held the first secular medical outreach in the country. The Lagos Chapter of the Humanist Association of Nigeria hosted the medical program in conjunction with the Lean Perspective Inc. The free medical service took place at the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos. Dr Uzoma Chukwuocha, a Nigerian medical practitioner based in the United States, presided over the program. A health attendant from the humanist association assisted him. The medical outreach ran from 1.00 pm to 5.00pm and over 35 persons consulted with the doctor, received free medical advice and medications. It was pleasing to see many people arrive for this historic event. It was a Sunday afternoon and some people stopped over on their way from the Sunday service to see the doctor.
The HAN plans to make the medical outreach an annual event and to extend it to other states of the Federation. The medical program is open to all Nigerians of all faiths and none because the goal is not to get beneficiaries to become humanists or atheists. The main objective is to provide a health care delivery program that is not linked to religion or proselytization. In fact, part of the objective is to get Nigerians to understand that there is an alternative to the religious medical missions. Too often, religious missionary organizations sponsor medical missions in the region. And they use the platform to preach and try to convert the beneficiaries to their various religions mainly Christian and Islamic- faiths. Medical consultations are often punctuated with God and Allah talks, Christians and muslims intersessions. Doctors and nurses use the medical missionary spaces to evangelize and to market their religious doctrines; to coerce sick people to embrace faith healing and miraculous cures.
HAN’s secular medical program marks a radical departure from this medically and ethically unsound health care practice. In a religiously pluralistic society, it is pertinent that religion is separated from medical practice and that religious privilege be abolished in the public health sector. Medical services should be evidence, not faith based. A wall separating church/mosque and hospitals should be upheld to ensure the integrity of health care delivery. This is because sick persons, who need religious advice, counsel or prayers know where to go to access such services. It is not the hospitals or clinics; it is not at the consulting rooms or health care centers. It is not from doctors and nurses. Thus it is an abuse of the medical profession and the medical space for doctors, nurses and health attendants to use the hospital and clinical spaces to proselytize and evangelize. Such practices are not compatible with the oath that they swore or the pledge they made at the end of their training.In the years to come, HAN plans to bring together doctors and other medical personnel who subscribe to the idea of a religion-free medical mission. HAN hope to join efforts with them and make secular medical programs available and accessible to all Nigerians.