Convulsing health sector: Developing the system in preparation for possible future pandemic

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The discrepancies in Nigeria’s health sector have remained a sore in the eyes of citizens, many of whom over the years have fallen victims of avoidable damages that a vibrant healthcare system would have perfectly managed. The Federal Government on Monday warned that Nigeria stands a risk of another pandemic if efforts are not mustered to urgently develop the Country’s health infrastructures. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, who raised the red flag in Abuja at the inauguration of the Board of Experts (BoE) of the Healthcare Sector Research and Development Intervention Scheme (HSRDIS), stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic “has exposed the weaknesses in our health system; in our governance system; in our security infrastructure; in our inclusiveness and creating social safety nets for our people.” Mustapha who further lamented that there has been a total abdication of responsibility in terms of management, funding, in terms of control, in terms of direction and building capacity, said that the need for a change in governance is very important, “so that we don’t have people in government abdicating their responsibilities and walking away with it.”

His words: “If we lose the sense of the moment, we will be confronted with another pandemic and we will find ourselves starting all over again. If we had built on the experiences of Ebola and other epidemics that we have dealt with in the past, probably today we wouldn’t have started with about two molecular laboratories for the testing of COVID-19. If you travel the shores of this Country, you will find out that we have over 10,000 public primary healthcare centres scattered in wards and villages across the country, ill-equipped, ineffective, and not being put into use but we keep building them.

“If we did not have the opportunity of reconsidering the reconstruction of our health infrastructure in this country, this is a golden opportunity that has availed itself. It will be the greatest disappointment of our time and of our generation if we do not seize the opportunity of the moment to redress all the deficiencies of the defects that we’ve had in our health and other infrastructure in this country. This particular time is an eye-opener and it has revealed the depth of the weaknesses in the system. I have seen how the levels of government have abdicated their responsibilities when it comes to dealing with educational or health matters.”

The HSRDIS is an initiative of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), designed for a rapid response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and to strengthen the health sector in the Country. According to Mustapha, the CBN intervention will set Nigeria in tune on the part of recovering her healthcare system.  Based on information from the CBN, the HSRDIS grant is to enable researchers to develop vaccines, advanced drugs or manufacturing of different types of products that would enable Nigeria to solve different kinds of healthcare challenges plaguing the country. It is a grant for researchers and institutions that want to embark on research either to develop vaccines, herbal medicines or drugs that could address COVID-19 and other infectious diseases that affect Nigerians. In this light, the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, had disclosed that currently, 20 projects valued at N26.278 billion have been funded under the N100 billion credit support intervention for the health-care industry. Also, it has been disclosed that over 27 proposals from researchers requesting for N67 billion grant have been received by the Bank, while it was gathered that some of the firms that have been able to obtain funding include hospitals, research centres and pharmaceutical industries.

The initiative of the Apex bank appears to be a good move towards the direction of resuscitating the Country’s convulsing health system. It is however, important that a strong drive in a forward and linkage system be embraced to ensure the scheme achieves the intended goals. Nigeria is much known for good policies and programmes, but the poor spirit and culture of implementation and sustenance have been a hindrance in the Country’s governance system. There have been countless numbers of well crafted policies with transformational potentials, which unfortunately died at inception. Some which survived the birth stage died prematurely amidst loss of momentum to sustain the impetus needed to keep them running. The absence of political will and vibrant administrative acumen are factors that have left several potentials to a crawling fate in the Country.

The time to set items aright on the table is now. In as much as the HSRDIS is on the surface an applaudable initiative, it is good as nothing if the potentials are not maximized by ensuring the scheme is driven with a full sense of responsibility and professional acumen to achieve the designed purposes. Nigerians should not continually be left at the agonising end of avoidable pains and losses permitted by the convulsing health system. It is therefore essential as a primary call of duty for all government and private stakeholders holding bearings on the scheme, to take a forceful grip in pushing the initiative towards the mark of viability. The necessity of the development of Nigeria’s health sector in the long run is sine qua non and non-negotiable if the Country will move ahead towards attaining safety and good health for its citizens. Failure to rise to set the health sector in the standard of vibrant modern development opens the Country to risks of recording regrettable damages when health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic pay a visit in future time again.