It is no longer news that the Nigerian healthcare system has suffered a lot of neglect, and attempts at improving it by successive governments in power have not really yielded any meaningful fruits. To underscore the need to improve the sector, the Nigerian Senate only recently urged the federal government to declare a state of emergency in the health sector over the decay in infrastructure.
Today, dilapidated primary health care centres are scattered across the country. The decay in the public healthcare system is totally different from what obtained in the good old days when there were cottage hospitals, health centres and dispensaries in communities across the country.
A situation where many Nigerians, including government functionaries and their families travel aboard for medical check-ups and treatment leaves much to be desired. While the rich can of course get excellent services from top-notch private hospitals in and outside the country, the poor have to resort to the relatively affordable government hospitals, where they sleep in the hallways while their relatives are receiving care.
The decayed health infrastructure occasioned by epileptic power and inadequate water supply has further increased the risk of hospital-transmitted infections. To compound the issues, Nigerian doctors have been deserting the country in droves for greener pastures due to these deplorable working conditions.
Some of the militating factors identified as the major problems of the sector include poor funding, brain drain, inequitable distribution of human resources, weak regulation and standardisation of quality of services, recurrent strikes and agitations, and non -harmonious inter-professional relationships among others.
It is estimated that Nigerians spend N359.2 billion on medical tourism annually. And it is noteworthy that while many countries, even in Africa like Morocco, South-Africa and Egypt have increased their health sector funding in a bid to reduce diseases and mortality rates, Nigeria has continued to slip backwards. A 2014 World Health Organisation (WHO) report on healthcare delivery, which surveyed 200 countries, placed Nigeria at an abysmal 197th position, just ahead of Congo Democratic Republic, Central African Republic (CAR) and Myanmar.
Undoubtedly, one practical way to improve the health sector in Nigeria is adequate funding. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), for countries to effectively fund the health sector, they need to allocate not less than 13 percent of their annual budget to the sector. From investigations, Nigeria has not attained the pledged funding benchmark. In the 2018 Budget proposal President Muhammad Buhari presented to the National Assembly the sum of N340.45 billion. Stakeholders have stressed that the allocation is inadequate to improve the sector.
It is expedient that extra effort should be made by government to attract more funding. Stakeholders have continued to clamour for the government to seek innovative ways of reversing the trend of the country majorly depending on donors and NGOs to finance its health projects. While the health sector is a concurrent responsibility of the three tiers of government, the Private providers of healthcare services also have a visible role to play as well.
Again, the frequent strike actions in the health sector are the worst things that can happen to the citizens of a nation. It is insensitive on the part of government to enter into agreements with Nigerian doctors and other health care professionals from different sectors and renege on them. That is perhaps what instigates the hard-line posturing of workers associations each time they had to embark on strike and eventually engage in a round table with government. There is a need to ensure harmony among government, health care professionals among others in the health sector. And giving incentives to health care workers is one of the ways to motivate them to work harder, increase their passion to give their best and help them to keep improving.
Nigeria’s National Health Act came into effect in 2016. It officially recognises Nigerians’ right to health. The law is intended to provide a framework for the regulation, development and management of a national health system and set standards for rendering health service in the country among others. Arguably, the implementation of the National Health Act is necessary if the country is to make huge headway in the sector.
Taking a long term view on the sector, it is evident that there is a need to invest in information technology. Across the country files are still manually kept, when the world has gone electronic. The country must tap into the benefits of information technology in order to change the face of medical practice in the country and avoid being left out of global trends. And embracing information technology tools is necessary in discharging health services. Nigeria cannot lag behind in this field, most especially in improving service delivery to the people.
By World Health Organisation (WHO) standard, Nigeria needs at least 300,000 medical doctors to cater for its citizens. And there is still the huge shortfall in the required number of doctors in the country. It is imperative that more qualified health professionals need to be fast tracked into the sector to complement those already engaged.
‘Health is wealth’ is a slogan of the World Health Organisation (WHO). A healthy nation is a wealthy nation. While it is important to invest in the economy, agriculture, education and infrastructure, without a healthy workforce and a healthy citizenry, all the investments in these sectors would be a waste.