Some stakeholders in the nation’s health sector on Friday expressed mixed reactions to the South African Authorities’ denial of visas to eight Nigerian members of the Down Syndrome Foundation: while some supported the denial of visas, others said the action was wrong.
Members of the foundation, including three children, were denied visas to attend the 11th World Down Syndrome Congress scheduled for Cape Town between August 13 and 18.
The foundation’s President and leader of the delegation, Mrs. Rose Mordi, told NAN in Lagos that they were denied visas for allegedly presenting invalid yellow fever certificates.
The National President, Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Osahon Enabulele, said it was wrong for South Africa to demand for yellow cards issued only by the Federal Ministry of Health’s approved centres.
“It is unacceptable that Nigerians are being treated this way by the South African Authorities. Just a few months back, some Nigerians were deported from South Africa because the country claimed they did not have valid yellow fever cards. It looks like lessons learnt from that incident and the apology tendered by the South Africa High Commission have no effect due to selective amnesia, as Nigerians are still being denied visas unjustly,” he said.
Enabulele said the issuance of yellow fever cards in Nigeria should not be restricted to only the ministry, adding that this would definitely limit access to the cards.
“I think what the Federal Government is trying to do is to see how it can standardise the production of yellow fever cards. Even with the Federal Government giving the guidelines on how the cards should be produced, in terms of distribution and utilisation, the cards were not restricted to the Federal Ministry of Health centres. The cards were distributed at both the local and state levels to enable anybody who needs the cards to access them easily. If they are restricted, then, does it mean that anybody who needs the cards would travel from their various communities to Abuja? This will call for too much bureaucracy,” he said.
Also, the Medical Officer, Yaba Local Council Development Area of Lagos State, Dr. Tunji Ajayi, said the cards being issued at the local government centres were valid as long as the person took the vaccine.
He said that though Nigeria had not experienced yellow fever outbreak for a long time, it was still advisable to get vaccinated.
“We advise people to get vaccinated against yellow fever. Once they do this, we give them the cards as evidence to show that they have received the vaccine,” he said.
Another expert, Dr. Vincent Ojini, said South Africa had the right to insist that travellers should have the card.
“If the World Health Organisation says that yellow fever is still endemic in Nigeria, then, it is proper that South Africa insists on the issuance of the card. They believe that issuance of the card by the ministry would be genuine and guaranteed that the person has taken the vaccine,” he said.
Ojini said that anybody who wanted to travel to South Africa should comply with the rules or stay back in Nigeria.
However, another medical doctor, Dr. Emeka Mbagwu, said since yellow fever had been eliminated in the country, the card was no longer necessary.
“If the U.S and the UK do not require it, then why is South Africa insisting on it?” he asked.
A clinical biochemist, Dr. John Egbuta, said it was not surprising that another country would insist on the card from the Federal Ministry of Health designated centre.
He said that fake yellow fever cards were in circulation and so, insisting on genuineness was merely in line with the rules and regulations.
“I think South Africa or any other country will be right to insist on the one issued by the ministry’s designated centre,” Egbuta said.