Health insurance for Nigerian artistes

Health insurance for Nigerian artistes

Thursday, August 21, 2014 2:03 pm

By Funsho Arogundade –

When in December 2012 Ngozi Nwosu appeared on the hot seat as a guest of the popular TV Game Show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, her frail look caught the attention of many. The once robust and feisty actress looked gaunt and low-spirited. She had been diagnosed of a kidney-related ailment and needed over N6 million for a transplant abroad. But the star of television series, Fuji House of Commotion, was broke and could not afford the huge medical bill. However, an appeal to the public for donations struck the right chord and saved her from untimely death.

DJ Jimmy Jatt, Cally Ikpe, OJB Jezreel and Ibinabo Fiberesima at the convention

DJ Jimmy Jatt, Cally Ikpe, OJB Jezreel and Ibinabo Fiberesima at the convention

In June last year, Babatunde Okungbowa, a popular music producer and songwriter known as OJB Jezreel, received a ‘death sentence’ when, after a comprehensive medical check-up, it was discovered that his two kidneys had packed up and he was given eight more weeks to live. The only solution was to replace the packed kidneys. But he needed about $100,000 (over N15 million) to cover the process of kidney transplant and post-operation convalescence abroad.

But OJB Jezreel was broke, as he had already spent over N5 million to manage an early diagnosis of renal infection. He was however lucky as public-spirited Nigerians came to his rescue.

Nwosu and OJB are today alive and handling their post-transplanting process very well, thanks to the generous donations from fans and government alike. But not many had that opportunity as the death toll from health-related matters across the entire entertainment industry in the last couple of years has become a very worrisome trend.

The two lucky figures joined hundreds of their colleagues in the entertainment industry at the maiden edition of Nigerian Entertainment Industry Health Insurance Convention held recently at the Eko Hotel & Suites, Lagos.
Seun Apara, entertainment journalist and founder, Nigerian Entertainment Industry Lecture Series, NEILS, the aegis under which the convention was held, explained that there was need to arrest the lackadaisical attitude of entertainers towards their health and general state of well-being.

Apara noted that many artistes work so hard to make their money but spare nothing on their health when they succeed. This, he explained, made the awareness and knowledge of health insurance among practitioners imperative.
“Many degrading stories have been written about our entertainers because of the much-undignified and demeaning acts of soliciting funds whenever they are down with critical ailments. This act of begging has actually helped keep most of them. However, the time to do the right thing is now. We need to organise and put our industry on the path of honour by embracing the health insurance policy. We want to help put in place a well-structured health insurance policy and cover for the entertainment industry,” said Apara.

In his remark at the convention, which also had in attendance many chief executives of various health insurance companies, Dr Jide Idris, Lagos State Commissioner for Health, revalidated the state government’s commitment to a better health scheme for all its citizens. He also enumerated the roles of government towards achieving a sustainable health insurance scheme in the state.

Kehinde Oyesiku, Head, Business Development and Sales, Avon HMO, disclosed that distrust and lack of awareness have been highlighted as major factors hindering the adoption of health insurance by the Nigerian entertainment industry.

She explained that the distrust was due to a lack of understanding of the benefits of health insurance and how the system works. “Health insurance, as a concept, is not entirely new in our society. However, we know that awareness of health insurance in the entertainment industry is limited. This has accounted for the high rate of out-of-pocket expenditure for medical care still paid directly by entertainers. Thus, this has made quality healthcare services expensive and unaffordable for many,” Oyesiku said.

She thus encouraged Nigerian entertainers to subscribe to a health insurance scheme as this would go a long way in achieving the goal of Universal Health Coverage.

Ibinabo Fiberesinma, president, Actors Guild of Nigeria, AGN, said the guild had been working on how to design a proper scheme for its members, and the plans are at an advanced stage. She, however, commended the conveners of the talk shop, saying it was the beginning of a greater thing in the industry.

Also commenting, OJB described the initiative as laudable and wished it happened years back.
“I had a situation last year where people rallied round to raise money for my treatment…This is something we all need to pay attention to. We need to explain to people in detail on what is obtainable in the package and how it works,” he stated.

Dr. Paul Orhii, director-general, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, delivered the keynote address.

Orhii’s address, entitled “The Health Implications of Celebrity Lifestyle”, focused on various sensitive lifestyle issues, ranging from the choice of foods to drinks and creams adopted by many celebrities in an attempt to stay trendy, and highlighted their attendant dangers.

Other panelists and speakers included Dr. Femi Thomas, executive secretary, National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, who was the main speaker; Chinedu Chukwuji, general manager, Copyright Society of Nigeria, COSON; DJ Jimmy Jatt; Chris Ubosi, MD/CEO, Megaletrics, owners of Beat/Classic/Naija FM; Prince Jide Kosoko, seasoned actor and former president, Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners, ANTP; and Cally Ikpe, founder, Nigerian Music Video Awards.

TheNEWS observed that with a roll-out plan designed to see the launch of the Nigerian Entertainment Industry Health Trust Fund, NEIHTF, within the next few months, attendees at the convention, which cut across the comedy, movies, music and other sectors respectively, have resolved to make the institutionalised scheme work.
Segun Bankole, AGM, Corporate Communications and Branding, Sovereign Trust Insurance, told the magazine that today’s entertainers should learn lessons from yesterday’s celebrities who by now cannot foot their own health bills.

“None of the crop of today’s celebrities will be a star for life, especially as the times and seasons are subject to change. With the health insurance plan, they can save a fraction of their earnings against rainy days instead of blowing all on life’s frivolities,” he advised. 

The event was hosted by star comedian, Julius Agwu.

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