Wednesday, July 17, 2024

COVID-19: An Eye Opener in Nigeria’s Health Sector – THISDAY Newspapers


Onyebuchi  Ezigbo
President Muhammadu Buhari inherited poor health facilities, which had largely remained unattended until the advent of COVID-19, which forced the government at all levels and the private sector to wake up from their slumber.
The advent of the dreaded virus forced the government and the private sector to fund the Nigerian hospitals for them to be able to manage the attendant health crisis.
Before COVID-19, the health sector was poorly funded and service delivery at hospitals abysmally low. More Nigerians were reported to be dying of preventable diseases such as malaria, cholera, Lassa Fever and others. Hospital facilities and healthcare personnel received poor welfare packages that could not motivate them to give their best.
However, COVID-19 led to innovations in terms of funding and provision of modern health facilities, which became a game changer in Nigerian health sector.
With the building of modern facilities in the nation’s teaching hospitals and other medical centres, the challenges of shortage of bed spaces, inadequate modern equipment and dearth of professionals were significantly addressed.
At no time in the history of this current democracy did the government, the private sector and other stakeholders pay attention to the health sector as they did during the COVID-19 crisis.
But despite all these improvements in the sector, wealthy Nigerians and top government officials have continued to patronise better equipped hospitals abroad for treatment of minor ailments.
Today, the country still records very poor healthcare indices, while budgetary allocations to the sector are still below 10 per cent.
Also, the Buhari-led government has failed to meet the minimum standards in health workers’ welfare, thus resulting in brain drain and incessant strikes by medical professionals.
There is no doubt that as this present administration is rounding off its tenure, the hope of Nigerians for an improved healthcare system is still a mirage.
However, one of the factors to measure performance is stability. In this regard, the Buhari-led administration has also ensured relative stability in the health sector by retaining the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, for the two terms of the administration. 
Speaking recently on what Buhari has achieved at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) ministerial forum in Abuja, Ehanire said the president would be remembered for expanding healthcare delivery to more Nigerians in a bid to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC). 
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), UHC means that the people have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without huge financial burden.
Achieving UHC is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals targets set for 2030.
The minister, however, said he was not sure if up to 50 per cent of Nigeria’s population were presently covered. So, to what extent can one say that the administration has indeed expanded healthcare coverage in the last seven years plus 344 days?
Ehanire further said that continuous improvement in healthcare delivery services would engender more confidence by Nigerians in the healthcare system and thereby reduce the tendency to seek help elsewhere.
But the minister’s position contradicts the current situation where top Nigerian leaders have made foreign countries their second homes in search of medical care.
“Doctors should also be proud of working in our country and don’t think that they need to go abroad by all means to be happy,” Ehanire reportedly said.
He seems not to be conversant with the realities on ground as no Nigerian medical professional is proud of working in the country and this is evident in the brain drain being witnessed in the country.
The National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) had disclosed last week that more than 75,000 nurses and midwives relocated abroad in the last five years.
The National President of NANNM, Comrade Michael Ekuma Nnachi, said this at the 2023 International Nurses Day Flag-off in Abuja.
It seems that underfunding of the health sector has become a perennial affliction in the country. For many years, successive administrations have failed to exceed the paltry budgetary allocation to this very critical sector. 
However, with the sudden outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the administration was forced to wake up to the reality of the poor state of hospital facilities and the need to urgently do something.
COVID-19 brought in its trail good and bad fortunes in Nigeria’s health sector. 
The outbreak of the pandemic came with challenges that almost overwhelmed the country’s health sector.
But this turned out to be an acid test on the preparedness of the Nigerian health systems to confront the health challenge.
To the credit of the Buhari-led administration, the country was able surmount the challenges posed by the deadly virus through coordinated efforts spearheaded by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA). Through the intervention of the government agencies, the country put up a good showing in managing the fallout from the virus. It was able to mobilise huge private sector funds to meet the emergency needs of the time. Many health facilities also benefited from the COVID-19 intervention by being rehabilitated.
In addition, the government rehabilitated several molecular laboratories and built new ones.
As an aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Healthcare Development Agency came up with an idea of integrated immunisation through which COVID-19 vaccination drive and other medical tests are integrated into one routine immunisation platform. The agency planned to strengthen PHCs towards achieving UHC in a post-Polio, Pre-COVID19 Era (2021-2030).
Another innovative initiative by this present administration is the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF).
For the first time since the National Health Act was passed in 2014, the federal government in 2018 came up with an idea to set aside one per cent minimum portion of the Consolidated Revenue Fund – amounting to N55 billion in 2018 – to fund the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF). The Fund was designed to deliver a guaranteed set health services to all Nigerians, through the national network of Primary Health Care Centres across the country.
 However, five years after its commencement, progress in achieving the goal has been slow. For instance, out of the 10,000 identified Primary Health Centres nationwide, only about 4,000 of them have been rehabilitated with the funds. The rest remained in a dilapidated and dysfunctional state. Many experts and organisations have blamed the poor health services being recorded by the country to the lack of well-equipped and functional Primary Healthcare Centres.
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