Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
The request, the other day, by 76 civil society organisations in the health sector that the Federal Government should allocate 15 per cent of the 2017 budget to healthcare is not only patriotic and timely, it should be supported by all Nigerians. There is no doubt that the healthcare sector is not only among the most depressed in the country and needs drastic improvement. The economic downturn should not be an excuse to continue to neglect the health of Nigerians.
Coming against the backdrop of the appalling state of healthcare delivery in the country, caused by poor funding, government would be demonstrating a certain level of responsibility by increasing the health sector budget, at least, to the minimum benchmark in Africa.
The Abuja Declarations and Frameworks for Action on Roll Back Malaria was a pledge made in 2001 by the member-countries of the African Union (AU), in which member-countries pledged to increase their health budget to at least 15 per cent of their annual budget.
Tracking the progress made in that regard, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported in 2010 that only one African country had reached the target. While 26 countries increased their health expenditures, 11 countries reduced it and nine others had no noticeable negative or positive trend.
Although, it is not clear in which category Nigeria belongs, the general experience of poor budget for education, for example, would point to Nigeria being one of the countries which failed to meet the health budget benchmark. And, probably, it was on that basis that the civil society groups made their request.
The groups, which sought a compulsory National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) for the country and the allocation of at least N41.69 billion to jump-start the basic Healthcare Provisions Fund, also asked for a mechanism that would ensure full release of the capital budget of the sector starting from the 2017 financial year.
Chairman, Board of Trustees, Health Reform Foundation of Nigeria (HERFON), Dr. Ben Ayene, who spoke in Abuja on behalf of the groups, stressed that with a well-funded sector, individuals would spend less on medicare.
In the same vein, Lead Director at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Eze Onyekpere, called for the implementation of the National Health Act by setting aside one per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the health sector.
Ayene said the bulk of the resources should go to capital expenditure to enhance access to equipment and health-supporting infrastructure. According to him, the expectation, among other things, is for the government to see implementing the open contracting standards as part of an open government strategy. Besides, the states and local councils must come up with a clear strategy for sustaining the improvements after the Federal Government withdraws its intervention.
The need for adequate funding of Nigeria’s healthcare system cannot be overemphasised. As a matter of fact, virtually, all the issues bordering on healthcare provision in the country stem from the objectionable poor health infrastructure and funding. Otherwise, every other critical need for world-class medicare is available in the country. Talking about the healthcare personnel, for instance, Nigeria is blessed with some of the best medical doctors in the world.
Unfortunately, the best professionals are in foreign countries where the conditions are better. The poor healthcare infrastructure, in particular, coupled with poor remuneration is responsible for this mass migration of the nation’s medical professionals.
The other day, it was reported that some of the best medical doctors in the United States of America are Nigerians. There are many others in the Diaspora who could have been serving in the country if the conditions were suitable.
Without being prodded, government ought to appreciate the fact that Nigeria is in trouble if there is no adequate healthcare for the teeming population. There is need to re-calibrate the health sector for efficiency in serving the population.
This is a matter of leadership. Former Minister of Health, the late Prof. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, raised the nation’s healthcare delivery to a historic world standard through his focus on primary healthcare programme that attracted international attention and many international agencies supported the programme.
The call to raise the funding of the health sector is appropriate and there is danger if government fails to do the right thing by way of policies too.