[email protected]: X-raying Nigeria’s health sector performance

By Abujah Rachael

Good health remains one of the basic needs of individuals irrespective of status in society. That is why the government, as a major stakeholder in any society considers the issue of health as critical and fundamental.

Governments in different countries have different programmes and policies to deliver quality healthcare system to their citizenry.

In Nigeria the burden of delivering healthcare to the populace is shared by the three tiers of government, namely the Federal, State and Local Governments.

The Nigerian healthcare system is structured into primary, secondary, and tertiary levels.

Under this arrangement, the Federal Government is in charge of tertiary health institutions such as Federal Medical Centres and Federal University Teaching Hospitals.

The State Governments are responsible for state general hospitals and state university teaching hospitals; while the local governments handle primary health centres.

This system is designed to ensures that Nigeria’ estimated 23,640 health facilities operated optimally.

However, this mechanism seems not to have yielded the desired results as indices on ground show that more needs to be done

The three tiers of government seem to be pumping lots of money into the health sector to ensure that it delivers on its mandate.

In the 2022 budget for instance, the Federal Government set aside the sum of N711.3b for the health sector.

Although the figure is not as massive as would be expected, an aggregate budget from the all the tiers shows that the sector may not be as under-funded as portrayed in many quarters.

After 62 years of independence, expects say that funding should translate to measurable outcomes and impacts on access to health care by the citizenry.

For instance, in spite of the huge budgetary allocation, Nigeria is ranked 187th by the World Health Organization (WHO) among 195 member states on health issues.

Similarly, Nigeria’s life expectancy is not among the best in the world as it stands at 54.44 years, according to statistics from the UN agency.

Although this represents an increase of 0.57 per cent from 2021 which stood at 55.12 years, experts say this is abysmal considering that many countries even those in African have higher life expectancy figures.

Dr Gabriel Adakole, a Public Health expert, said that in spite of spirited attempts to improve the fortunes of the healthcare sector, there seems to be little progress made.

“In 2021, in a first-of-its-kind Health System Sustainability index report, Nigeria ranked 14th with a total of 41 scores out of 18 African countries.

South Africa ranked first with 63 scores,” he said.

“Four African countries accounted for just over half of all malaria deaths worldwide: Nigeria 31.9 per cent, the Democratic Republic of the Congo 13.2 per cent, United Republic of Tanzania 4.1 per cent and Mozambique 3.8 per cent.

The figures for infant and maternal mortality indices do not fare better, according to UNICEF

“Nigeria’s 40 million women of childbearing age (between 15 and 49 years of age) suffer a disproportionally high level of health issues surrounding birth.

“While the country represents 2.4 per cent of the world’s population, it currently contributes 10 per cent of global deaths for pregnant mothers”, UNICEF said.

The scenario is not too different in other areas such as female gentile mutilation, HIV/AIDS treatment and care, among others.

In spite of the challenges, many experts say the sector’s performance 62 years into independence is not as bad as being projected, adding that the future looks bright.

Prof. Ibrahim Abubakar, a professor of infectious disease and epidemiology said that Nigeria’s health system has the potential to deliver quality healthcare at the cheapest possible cost.

The said this is only possible with the right investment in the health sector by all the tiers of government and the private sector.

“A comprehensive and pragmatic roadmap will boost investment and make the best use of resources to ensure a healthy Nigeria,” he said.

Dr Abigail Banji, a health economist urged the government to prioritise the disease prevention to support the long-term health of Nigerians.

Banji said that there must be a shift from simply treating disease to creating health care awareness, especially among the country’s youth.

Experts say one of the areas the sector deserves commendation is its response to COVID-19 outbreak two years ago.

While many countries, including developed ones, were overwhelmed by the virus, results in hundreds of thousands of deaths, the Nigerian health sector robustly responded to the challenge.

This led to one of the most minimal casualties around the world.

Statistics from the Centre for Disease Control, Nigeria, showed that 3,155 lives were lost from 266,382 infections nationwide. This is a commendable feat against the background of the state of the nation’s health sector.

Another area the massive investment in the health sector has paid off is the polio eradication campaign where Nigeria has been certified polio-free after decades of battle with the virus.

As Nigerians go to polls in 2023, former minister of heath, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu said it presents an opportunity to elect those that will not only consolidate on the successes but also break new grounds.