By Temie Giwa
The International Finance Corporation claims that $4.5 billion investment is needed to repair Nigeria’s health system and deliver good health care for people. This isn’t news. Anyone familiar with the incoherent fragments of sporadic health care available in Nigeria knows that it will take big investments, bigger political will, and a rare coalition of civil society who aren’t trying to tear each other apart in the misguided hopes of gaining professional dominance. If the International Finance Corporation’s claims are to be believed, the amount it will cost to save more than a million lives each year in Nigeria is a small. Yet when those who are responsible for sharing the national cake are asked to fund an efficient primary health care through the funds coming out of the oil money that belongs to us all, they refuse and they dither and wring their hands in outrage for all the money they might fail to steal for bogus contracts.
The new health bill currently being debated by this senate calls for a fund from the consolidated revenue fund to create an innovative primary health care system. The former Nigerian health bill has been plagued by everything wrong with our government. It was stalled, then passed, and sent to the presidency, refused signage there and finally met its demise. This new health bill, which I have read and can be found here, seems gifted with better grace than its predecessor. However, the Senate’s failure to grasp the importance of delivering essential services closer to the homes, and affordable for patients is problematic. In Nigeria people die because they are unable to afford N500 medicines, it is a shame. Nigeria is one of the few countries still fighting to vaccinate her children against polio. Getting pregnant is often a death sentence in Nigeria and the country is one of the worst places to be born. It is time to get serious on health.
Nigeria has many problems. It must improve power supply; deliver 21st century infrastructure, clean up the archaic education system and thousands more challenges it must solve. However, I am willing to make a case that health care is at the very center of all these important reforms. After all, only a healthy population can acquire good education and use the improved access to better infrastructure and power supply to bring about economic growth. A population dying of malaria, HIV/Aids, pneumonia, polio, and childbirth cannot be efficient enough to change the current trends of the Nigerian economy. Health is wealth; this cliché has never been truer.
Primary health care in Nigeria is truly horrific. Empty health posts and small clinics with no staff or drugs dot rural landscapes. Clinic filled with overworked and underpaid staff members, who are so prone to mistakes that if Nigerians were remotely litigious, lawyers would suddenly become overnight celebrities and billionaires. Secondary health centers and teaching hospitals are over crowded and underserviced because formally petty illnesses suddenly become life or death situations for patients because of neglect due to the failure of primary health care. Referral system does not work. Emergency care is laughable both in rural and urban areas. If you wanted to get better care for Nigerians, you cannot neglect the incredible low hanging fruit of delivering essential services close to home and before it needs to be referred to secondary and tertiary institutions. Investment in primary health care is needed immediately. A fund from the consolidated revenue fund for primary health care based on competition and measurable results, that encourages matched investments between the federal government and the states is precisely what the doctor ordered but perhaps our national leaders have failed to listen, after all they get their care from foreign health systems. The unfortunate irony is that those health systems became world renowned through public investments and a true egalitarian spirit, which our dear Senators so lack. But this is not the end, it is your health at stake, make your voice known.
First published at ynaija.com