Time to declare emergency in healthcare sector


President Muhammadu  Buhari recently hinted that his administration is considering upward review of

budgetary allocations to the health sector in order to enhance the quality and access to medical facilities across the country.

The president reportedly made the disclosure while receiving in audience the new leadership of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), recently at the state house, Abuja.

The urgency of more funding for the health sector is currently underlined by the unprecedented level of deterioration of the sector in all fronts: inadequacy of medical facilities, 35,000 medical doctors attending to over 180 million people, brain drain, absence of modern equipment, high cost of drugs, high morbidity and mortality rates among numerous other challenges facing the healthcare system in Nigeria that must be addressed.

Available statistics show that Nigeria has never allocated more than 6.7 percent of its annual budget to the health sector. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), for countries to effectively fund their health sector, they need to allocate a minimum of 13 percent of their annual budget to the sector.

Similarly, in 2001, African Union member countries declared in Abuja that a minimum of 15 percent of budgetary allocation to the health sector is what is needed for member states to be able to catch up with developed countries in qualitative healthcare delivery to their citizens.

The consequence of Nigeria’s inadequate funding for the health sector has been catastrophic. Primary healthcare which is designed to be the first port of call for every Nigerian seeking medical care is in comatose. This has resulted in enormous pressure on tertiary healthcare facilities that are also grossly inadequate.

A recent UNICEF report indicates that about 145 expectant mothers die every day in Nigeria during child birth. The report also revealed that about 2,300 under five year olds die every single day, 25 percent being newborn babies.

More disturbing is the fact that more than 70 percent of about 1 million of the estimated under five year deaths are caused by preventable and treatable diseases and infections such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and measles and HIV/AIDS. As a result, UNICEF scored Nigeria second largest contributor to the under-five and maternal mortality rate in the world.

The figures for cancer are even more worrisome. Nigeria currently has a cancer ratio of 4 in 5 making the country the worst case in the world. According to WHO estimates, over 100,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer annually and 80, 000 die from the disease, amounting to 240 deaths daily.

Cervical cancer, a preventable disease kills one Nigerian woman every hour while breast cancer reportedly kills 40 Nigerian women daily.

The National Health Insurance Scheme established under Act 35 of 1999 Constitution by the Federal Government to improve the health of all Nigerians and make the cost affordable has managed to cover only 7 million of the estimated 180 million population of Nigeria of which majority of the enrolees are the Federal Government workers.

A major repercussion of poor funding of the health sector is medical tourism in which Nigeria continues to lose over $2.5 billion annually on account of dissatisfied Nigerians seeking medical attention in hospitals overseas.

As a consequence, a 2014 WHO report on healthcare delivery which surveyed 200 countries around the world placed Nigeria 197th position, just ahead of Congo Democratic Republic, Central African Republic, and Myanmar. The world health watchdog verdict on Nigeria was damning. “Nigeria lacks serious approach to healthcare.”

We consider these challenges being faced by the health sector as enormous and requiring drastic measures to reverse the ugly development. What the health sector needs at the moment is declaration of emergency by the Federal Government in order to fast track the process of enabling it attain acceptable standards.

The wealth of a nation as the saying goes is significantly measured by the health of its population. Therefore, the desire by the incumbent administration as pronounced by Mr. President recently to consider a review of the budgetary allocation to the health sector should enjoy the support of all tiers of government. There is no amount of resources deployed to preventing lethal disease and enhancing quality of health of Nigerians that would be too much.