LAWYER OF WEEK – FOLAKE TAFITA Ph.D

Mothers give us deep insight into the concept of sacrifice. Quite astoundingly, Health Workers do almost as much. The current pandemic has seen medical practitioners stretch to their fullest capacities and at Legal Pages, we very much appreciate the work they do.

With this in mind, we featured a health practitioner turned Medical Law Advocate on this week’s edition of Lawyer of the Week. She speaks to us about her transition to the legal profession and the need for social security across professions in Nigeria.

Can we meet you?

I am Dr Folake Tafita, Senior Lecturer and Head of Department, Private and Property Law, Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan. Nigeria

For how long have you been a health worker? Do you still practice as a health worker?

Well, I would not say that I am currently a health worker though I qualified as a trained nurse in 1989 before my venture into the legal profession. I see myself now more as a health law advocate. My area of interests include; health law and policy, medical law and medical jurisprudence, reproductive and sexual health rights law and international humanitarian law.

What inspired the decision to study law after establishing yourself in medical practice?

As a child I have always wanted to be a lawyer but may I say, as fate would have it, I found myself in the School of Nursing. During my nursing training and as part of exposure to the practice, I was posted to various wards within the hospital where I was training at the time. I was curious about many things that I observed with the Doctor/Patient relationship, Nurse/Patient relationship, hospital management and health workers e.t.c and I began asking questions whether there are rules, regulations or some form of law regulating or guiding these relationships. I found the need to study law to become a health law advocate.

Can you share some of the struggles health workers currently face in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?

One major problem is the occupational hazard involved in the treatment of patients infected with COVID-19. The risk of infection is very high with health workers. Even where they are provided with protective equipment and all, They and their families are more at risk and more susceptible. When others are asked to stay home, they do not have a choice. They are the front liners in the battle as they have chosen to save the lives of others.

Dr. Tafita (2nd row from bottom; 4th from right) with other members of Class 86B, School of Nursing, University College Hospital, Ibadan.

The National Assembly recently introduced the controversial Control of Infectious Disease bill. Do you think this is entirely a step in the right direction?

The introduction of an infectious disease control legislation is long overdue. The bill is a step in the right direction considering the fact that the Quarantine Act of 1926 which has been the only national legislation for the control of communicable and other infectious diseases, is already anachronistic and outdated. Following the recent outbreaks of new communicable and infectious diseases, there is a need for new laws that will effectively address such outbreaks and related issues.

Social media and news platforms are currently dominated by reports of individuals in Isolation centres in the North being neglected. As a medical law expert, what are the legal implications of the government’s action, if confirmed true?

First, there is a need to confirm that these reports are true. If they are, then action can be taken against governments for criminal neglect and possibly false imprisonment. These can be done by advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations. Government have a duty to protect the lives of people kept in isolation centres and not leave them to die due to neglect. They have a right to life that is and must be protected under the Nigeria Constitution.

The government’s decision to ease the lockdown despite rising infection rates have been met with mixed reactions. Do you think the easing of the lockdown was ill-timed? What measures would you have had the government put in place?

Well, it is unfortunate to be talking about a ease in lockdown when the infection rate is still high but what about people dying of hunger. There is an increase in crime rates, burglary and stealing because people are hungry. The effect of the stay home order is hitting hard on the poor masses who have to go out in search of their daily living. For years we have been advocating that government should entrench social and economic rights as fundamental human rights guaranteed to all by the constitution. There is no social security in Nigeria. These are some of the things that governments in some other countries have in place as long term plans for eventualities or unforeseen emergency situations like the current pandemic.

It is common knowledge that health workers, lawyers and public servants generally are poorly remunerated. You are currently caught up in the midst of these three categories. How much impact has poor remuneration had on productivity of workers in these lines? Is there an effective solution you will recommend?

Honestly, to say that workers generally in Nigeria are poorly remunerated is an understatement. The solution I have said earlier is in ensuring social security and welfare by making social and economic rights guaranteed and enforceable rights. Every other issues be it employment and the right to adequate remuneration, right to health, right to housing, social security and all other rights are well covered under social and economic rights.

On a final note, do you have health tips or general medical law advice for Nigerians in this period?

My advice will be that they follow the health guidelines given by WHO and our health authorities, develop and maintain hygienic living conditions even after COVID19. Only go out if it is absolutely necessary. Stay home and stay safe.

Thank you for your time. Happy Mothers Day, Kudos to our Health workers and to everyone, please stay safe.

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