Charles Onyekamuo in Awka
Health they say is wealth. That is to say to aspire to be wealthy or live a comfortable life, one has to first ensure that he is healthy enough to be able to awaken those creative abilities that could inspire thought and release the energy necessary for the pursuit and actualisation of wealth for the individual and the nation.
But many a time, it is not easy getting people to realise how important having health insurance could assist in helping them surmount some of the health challenges facing them, either as a result of ignorance or lack of financial wherewithal to circumvent same.
In Anambra State, there has been a concerted effort in the last three years to popularise the activities of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and make the people buy into it as a vehicle for sustainable health and development for the citizenry.
The Deputy General Manager and Coordinator of NHIS in Anambra State, Mrs. Nma Getrude Ossi who hitherto was the South-east zonal coordinator of the scheme, said a lot of attention was being paid to ensure that the state was well mobilised.
“I assumed duty in September 2015. I was the zonal coordinator in Enugu in 2014, and that time I was overseeing the activities of the state office in Anambra. I pay a lot of attention to see that the state is well mobilised. So by the time I came in 2015, we already had some things in place,” she said.
She said what the office did was to build on what was on ground while embarking on massive sensitisation of the state’s citizenry on the benefits of the NHIS through road shows, seminars and other activities geared towards making health insurance a household name in Anambra State.
Towards this end, she said the NHIS office in Awka started active engagements with the state stakeholders, which included the state Commissioners for Health, Finance, state chapter of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the office of the state First Lady and the Governor, Chief Willie Obiano himself.
It was gratifying Ossi noted that the Governor granted the management team of Anambra office of the NHIS in December last year an audience to make a presentation before the State Executive Council during which the activities of NHIS and its benefits were discussed.
Besides, she said that she and her team had been able to traverse the length and breadth of the state, meeting residents in the 177 communities of the state’s 21 local government areas to sell the idea of NHIS to the people.
These sensitisation tours, she explained, took them to the traditional rulers, town union presidents, community-based organisations and market women among others, adding that it has culminated in the establishment of four community health insurance programmes in four communities in four local government areas of the state.
She said that while two of the programmes were launched under her watch as the zonal co-ordinator, the other two came on board when she became the state coordinator.
“We still have four in different local government areas waiting to be flagged-off. These community-based programmes put together, we have about 28,000 participants (Enrollees) assessing healthcare under the programme,” she noted.
These successes recorded Ossi said were not without constraints, one of which is the difficulty in getting rural women enroll into the programme. “It has not been easy. Along the line, while trying to get these programmes established, we found out that it wasn’t easy getting rural women to enroll.
“We have to go through the churches, market associations and so on. Up till now, not all is convinced. But those who gave it a try are enthusiastic and bringing others because they found out that it is real and beneficial,” she said, adding “our luck is that Anambra has a very viable informal sector who are ready to pay when they understand your explanations.”
As part of this understanding, Ossi said some women in the rural areas liaise with their children in the cities who pay for them for a period of six months or one year, and that outside of these, there are also philanthropists who come up to pay for community people for a period of one year or more.
“NHIS is working in Anambra State and that is why Governor Obiano after the presentation at the EXCO set up a 10-man committee with a time frame to submit a report on how to establish health insurance in Anambra state.
“The Governor is very interested in establishing the State Social Health Insurance Scheme,” she said.
The bill she said sign-posted the level of readiness of Anambra State Government to key into health insurance. “The state is very ready to key into Health Insurance programme. The beauty of it is that the Governor is ready to support the state and we have had discussions on how to get the informal sector seriously involved and partner with equity funding.
“We want to establish a proper referral system in the country. This is why we said that if you are a pharmacist or a doctor you register as such, so that the primary provider who may be a general practitioner will prefer when the need arises a specialist in a given area,” she said.