Expectations for the Health Sector in 2020

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Still in the spirit of the New Year celebration, Nigerians, including health experts, want government to prioritise healthcare in 2020, as this will improve the country’s health indices and address issues in the sector, Martins Ifijeh writes

While the beginning of every year comes with celebrations and stocktaking on successes and challenges made in the previous year, it is also a time for renewed hopes and expectations; a time to set goals and resolutions, and expect to meet them by the end of the year.

Already, Nigerians have started listing their expectations for the New Year. For some, they hope it brings them personal achievements in careers, businesses, education, finance, among others. For others, they just hope the country is less insecure, with peaceful coexistence, and an improved economy that will take Nigerians out of the current poverty status.
These expectations are not limited to the economy and security of the nation only; Nigerians are also looking forward to better healthcare. They want to enjoy all the good things of 2020 while living in good health. They believe for a country to be wealthy, it first has to attain good health.

Specifically, this year, Nigerians are looking forward to an improved health insurance programme that will push the country towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC), they are looking forward to the end of brain drain, better primary healthcare facilities across the country, especially in rural and hard-to-reach areas, they looked forward to having lesser disease outbreaks, reduced medical tourism, improved maternal, newborn and child health , state of the art facilities for the treatment of cancers, kidney diseases, and heart failures, among others.

Improve Health Insurance
A Resident Doctor with Irrua Specialist Hospital (ISTH), Dr. Osebhajajemen Oshevire-Bini believes the federal government has a responsibility to improve the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) as this will push the country a step further towards achieving universal health coverage.

It is no longer news that the biggest healthcare conversation since the past two years globally is universal health coverage, and to achieve this, countries around the world are putting measures in place for a better health insurance experience.

Nigeria’s NHIS, established 14 years ago, has refused to grow itself, with only less than four per cent of Nigerians enrolled into the scheme since its inception.

Oshevire-Bini said: “Over 72 per cent of Nigerians still pay out of pocket for their healthcare, and majority of those affected are poor Nigerians, who ideally are unable to afford treatments. This fuels more poverty, and increases mortality rate.

“But if this year, the government and other stakeholders give priority to addressing issues around health insurance in the country, we will end up addressing some of the major health issues in the health sector, while Nigerians will no longer worry over whether or not they can pay for healthcare.”

Curb Medical Tourism/ Brain Drain
While since 2015, many healthcare stakeholders in Nigeria have continued to call for programmes and policies to reduce medical tourism abroad, the man with the political will to address it President Muhammadu Buhari, is the number one culprit, as he gets healthcare from his doctors in the United Kingdom.

Along with him, several thousands of Nigerians access healthcare abroad, thereby depriving the country of at least $1.5 billion every year.

An Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, at Livingstone Medical Clinic, Lagos, George Lawal said: “If we fix our health system, there will not be need for Nigerians to travel abroad for healthcare. Several billions of naira are lost every year because of medical tourism.

“Also, a lot of Nigerian doctors, nurses and other health workers are leaving Nigeria in droves for greener pastures abroad. We have only about 42,000 doctors for the over 200 million Nigerians. Why are our workforces leaving? If they get job satisfaction and improved remuneration, they won’t leave. This year, the minister of health should prioritise solving the concerns of health workers, so that we will not continue to lose our best brains to other countries abroad.”

Also lending his voice on this, Dr. Oshevire-Bini stated that this year, government should look into issues around Nigerian University Commission (NUC) and fellowship programme, adding that if not addressed, more professionals could leave for other countries where they can properly be respected.

“Government should review the policy which requires consultants to acquire PHDs before they can be made professors. These same consultants who have done more than 10 researches with studies on daily basis to impact their residents and students in general, shouldn’t be deprived of professorship, as this is belittling to the fellowship programme. This could lead to brain drain as well,” she added.

Fixing Cancer Machines

The 2020 wish of the Founder, Health and Wellness Awareness Initiative, Frank Okah is for government to fix cancer machines such that the needless cancer deaths in the country due to scarcity of cancer treatment facilities will be averted.

Nigeria presently has over two million persons living with various forms of cancers with only about seven cancer machines available for treatment in the entire country. To make matters worse, only about two machines work at a time in Nigeria, with others either broken down per time or not working up to standard.

He said: “Before the end of 2020, our government, along with stakeholders, through a private public partnership arrangement can ensure the country has functional comprehensive oncology centres to tackle the current scourge of cancers in Nigeria. We need multiple lifesaving linac machines deployed in public hospitals across Nigeria.”

Call for Better Primary Healthcare

It is no longer news that for a country to have a better healthcare system, its primary healthcare (PHC) must be accessible, affordable and qualitative to its people. But same cannot be said of Nigeria’s primary healthcare facilities.
The Chief Executive Officer, Ehiz Moore Ltd, Mr. Ehis Omole believes that one of the areas needing priority in 2020 is primary healthcare, adding that many PHCs in the country were inaccessible, thereby increasing maternal and child deaths especially.

“We have about the worst maternal, newborn and child mortality rate in the world, with our children and mothers dying from what ordinarily can be prevented. If this is the only thing we focus on in 2020, our government will end up making a difference in the health sector.”

Omole also noted that the idea of hospitals delaying test results of patients for weeks or months should end in 2019. “There are times patients’ results are not available for months. How will such patients know exactly what to treat? This is very common with teaching hospitals. Government and relevant bodies should look into it this year.”

End Strike Actions
While it has become a ritual for medical doctors and other health workers to embark on strike actions to press home their demands every year, Nigerians hoped the action and the cause of it ends in 2019.

A Civil Engineer, Julius Ekechi said he lost his wife in 2016 because the general hospitals he took his wife to when she was ill were on strike, hence she was rejected. “The various associations and the government should do something about these bouts of strike actions experienced every year”, he said.

While every Nigerian is making New Year resolutions, we also urge our government, stakeholders and the citizens to prioritise healthcare as one of their 2020 resolutions.