60 Years After, Qualitative Healthcare Still a Dream

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President Muhammadu Buhari addressing the nation

As Nigerians today commemorate 60 years of independence with mixed feelings, Martins Ifijeh x-rays the country’s healthcare system since inception, the present challenges and the road ahead

When Nigeria gained independence exactly 60 years ago today, it was because it had been perceived as ripe enough to run itself, especially considering the enormous human and natural resources available to it.

It would be a no-brainer at the time to believe six decades after; the country would have become the envy of the world since it had all the ingredient for it; population, oil, agricultural and productive lands, good weather, and many more that even Britain, its colonial master, never had.

But life happened to Nigeria. It served it discords of coup and counter coup, bad leadership, policy summersault, corruption, as well as ethnic and religious divide.

Many gains made before or immediately after independence have now been rolled back in time. Some otherwise great policies and working institutions have gradually being eroded. Institutions, including that of health and educational sector, as well as some economic establishments are still grappling to be at par with that of other nations that got their independence at about the same time Nigeria did. It is however living on the consolation that despite its diverse culture and ethnicity, it is still standing as a nation.

Singapore, Malaysia, Cyprus, among others, according to development index, have long passed Nigeria in terms of healthcare, economy, poverty alleviation, human capital development, financial inclusiveness and other several parameters that determine the strength and progress of a nation.

Decline in Healthcare

A public health expert, Dr. Emmanuel Osarentin told THISDAY that one of the reasons Nigeria was still regarded as a weak country is because it has refused to come to terms that economic prosperity lies on the outcomes of healthcare and education sector of nations.

He said at the time when Nigeria gained its independence, the country could boast of relatively good healthcare such that dignitaries around western nations were coming to government established hospitals in Nigeria for treatment, and that the sector had the right tools and resources to accept foreign patients.

“Nigeria was one of the healthcare destinations of the world. Dignitaries from the United Kingdom, United States and other developed countries came to us for treatment, but as we began to edge closer to democracy, our healthcare system started to deteriorate. Healthcare establishments began to have obsolete equipment, and by extension, the country’s health indices started to wane. Since 1999 when we began democratic rule, we have not really addressed issues in our health sector. Various national policies on health put in place since 1954 till date has not yielded results.

Poor Health Sector Funding

“The kind of funding the Nigerian health sector needs to be at par with other nations has not been provided by our leaders. We have so far not been able to attract adequate government funding to this sector. Until that is done, it will be difficult to address the myriads of healthcare issues bedeviling our country. No matter what our ministers do, if funding is not available, success won’t be attained.

“Considering the enormous resources at our disposal, there is no reason why our health indices should be rated poor. We are one of the lowest as we speak. So what should we really celebrate in the health sector,” he queried.

He also mentioned that for Nigerians to be proud of the country’s health sector, government must honour the Abuja Declaration of 2001 where member countries of the African Union, including Nigeria, agreed to dedicate 145 per cent of their annual budget to health.

High Maternal, Child Mortality

A Radiologist with Graceville Hospital, Lagos, Mr. Kingsley Oragwa said if Nigeria’s maternal and child health was to be examined, the country would not be rated high.

He said Nigeria cannot confidently say it was celebrating 60 years when the lifespan of the average Nigerian male is 50 years, while that of the female is 53 years. This, according to him means any Nigerian male living above 50 years of age was living on a borrowed time; same with the women.

He said: “Comparing these indices with that of other countries, especially many African countries poorer and weaker than ours show that we shouldn’t be happy with the state we are. These are indices we should be ashamed of because it depicts how much our healthcare system has fared.”

“Most countries that got independence alongside Nigeria met the last Millennium Development Goal on maternal and child mortality. Our women are still dying in high numbers daily due to pregnancy and childbearing related complications. We must reduce all these indices to the barest minimum before we can say our healthcare system has grown”, he lamented.

According to him, most Nigerians living in rural and hard to reach areas of the country are still grappling with having to survive without basic healthcare, which are the rights every country must provide for its citizens, adding that, until the country give priority to primary healthcare, the issues would continue to halt the country’s progress.

Also, a food security expert in Lagos, Mr. Azeke Usiguzo said: “A country’s infant mortality rate is a reflection of the quality of health delivery available to its citizens, and to a large extent, a reflection of the quality of life enjoyed by the citizens. The government should pay more attention to our local clinics where the low class go to anytime they have health challenges – this is where majority of our women go to during pregnancies and child birth.

“If Nigeria at 60 is channeled to improving the healthcare system, I can assure you that it will be noticed by all, from the tiniest treatments like relieving headache, up to the big treatments like bone marrow transplants and the cure of other diseases.”

Deficient in Research Activities

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare gaps in Nigeria’s medical and pharmaceutical research institutions.

At the beginning of the outbreak in Nigeria, the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) and the Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) showed willingness to spearhead researches for vaccines and drugs, but it is believed the federal government as well as philanthropists paid no attention to funding the area of healthcare because they have not been used to funding such.

This perhaps shows why the country has continued to live with several diseases like Lassa fever and malaria, which otherwise the country could have gotten vaccines and drugs for should researches be funded.

Medical Tourism, Brain Drain

On the top of the list of actions harming the health sector is the mass exodus of doctors, nurses and other health workers out of Nigeria. This has in no small means depleted the health workforce.

He said the high rate of medical tourism abroad was a pointer to how the country’s health sector was doing, adding that yearly, over $1 billion was lost to medical tourism abroad.

“What this means is that our health system is failing. We need to fix it. About 20 years ago, Turkey’s health sector was as bad as ours, but money was injected, and today, they can compete with the likes of the United States and Germany. We should do same; inject money into the system. We need a strong primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare. If we continue to undermine medical doctors in this country, I can tell you authoritatively that in the next 10 years, we won’t have up to 10,000 doctors around because there will be brain drain, while the younger ones who intend to study medicine would rather not bother themselves over it.

“ Do you know that Nigeria presently has less than 40,000 doctors practicing in the country, while over 31,000 are currently practicing in the United Kingdom, with 12 doctors getting employment in the UK weekly? This statistic shows that we have more Nigerian doctors abroad than in our own country,” he stressed.