by Itua Ehimuan
I have to say that I am surprised and actually quite annoyed by the fact that one of the most pressing issues in this nation, which is Healthcare, has not been given a prioritized focus under this new administration. The government has made a bold step in announcing six social protection programs as part of its commitment to the welfare and productivity of Nigerian citizens, but this commendable effort is sadly let down by the clear lack of precision in the proposed strategy.
In the government’s proposal for these Social Protection Programs, healthcare seems to have been left unattended in the baggage area. The arguments will pour in, and will no doubt include statements like “well the ministry of health should be taking care of healthcare concerns”, to which I will answer, “Then the education ministry should look after teacher training, the trade and employment ministry should handle the unemployment situation, and the banks should bear the burden of issuing loans to market women.”
Unhealthy students cannot learn, no matter how well they are fed. Unhealthy workers cannot be productive, regardless of what skill or educational pedigree they have attained. Market women and artisans will rather treat illnesses with loans than die of sickness whilst trying to be productive. I believe that better inclusion and a more precise focus is needed, and healthcare must be prioritized.
I am looking forward to an open and honest conversation about the state of the Nigerian public healthcare system. I am looking for implementation of a single database that runs across all healthcare-related industries in Nigeria to enable efficiency, coverage and access. There is no reason why a proposal for N5,000 stipends to poor families should take precedence over a scheme where such money is put towards making healthcare available and accessible to all Nigerians, and particularly those at risk. There is no reason why Nigeria should be contending with the infant mortality rates we currently have on average, nor is there any reason why we shouldn’t have a comprehensive healthcare scheme for women in pre-natal and post-natal stages.
We have two million Nigerians battling cancers of various forms, and the number of functional radiotherapy machines in Nigeria is grossly insufficient to cater to even 30% of the Nigerians battling cancer. This just means that Nigerians are dying needlessly because of a government that refuses to do the very simple things that could very well save these lives.
We want to save the economy by limiting the expenditure that goes to foreign countries, yet we are under a government and a ministry that has stubbornly refused to prioritize the provision of these essential healthcare facilities that Nigerians are seeking in foreign countries.
Tempted as I am, I wish to leave the issue of the 2016 national budget and all of its disgraceful intents and outcomes out of this piece, but I will be talking about it in more detail soon.
To end this short note, however, I want to reiterate that we need the Minister of Health to take a tougher stand on the improvement of the Nigerian healthcare sector and create a workable template that can be maintained even beyond his tenure. We need affiliated ministries, agencies and parastatals, including The National Health Insurance Scheme, The Ministry for Women Affairs, Ministry for Budget and National Planning and the National Orientation Agency, just to name a few, to be pulled in to work hand-in-hand with the Federal Ministry of Health to set out achievable goals for the Nigerian healthcare system, not piecemeal, but my making innovative changes to the way in which things are done in Nigeria, starting now.