The federal government is under moral and economic obligations to commit proceeds from the newly introduced Sugar-Sweetened Beverage (SSB) taxes to improve healthcare delivery for the vulnerable population.
The Dean, Faculty of Population Health Sciences/Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, University College London, Prof. Ibrahim Abubakar, said though the SSB tax is relatively a new practice globally, there have been good examples of countries and settings where earmarking on health had been done successfully, especially in the Philippines and Thailand.
Speaking on, “Importance of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes to Public health,” via a Zoom event organised by Gatefield Communications, Abubakar said earmarking SSB taxes to health could reduce morbidity and mortality from chronic Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).
He said the federal government could replicate successful templates from other countries as it embarks on the implementation of the sugar tax in Nigeria adding that the tax offers an ample opportunity for the government to reset and improve healthcare delivery whose outcomes had remained poor despite increasing health expenditure since 2001.
He said committing the taxes to the development of the sector would help to boost human capital by ensuring that the poorest citizens are healthier thus guaranteeing a healthier workforce and economy.
He said the economic remodeling would suggest that the country is better off improving the health of its workforce as many people constitute the bulk of the working population.
Citing the recent Lancet report, he said about 40 per cent of NCDs is determined by diet – with SSB playing a major part.
He said Nigeria had the unfortunate tragedy of a dual epidemic of high infectious and unnatural process of deaths as well as a rising trend in NCDs.
Abubakar stated that an analysis published earlier in the year suggested that compared to 1998 and 1999, NCDs were the 12 major causes of disabilities in the country.
He said Nigeria must increase its total envelope of funding to tackle its NCDs challenges.
He said, “When you compare us to the African or global average, we are either below or slightly better in the poorest of countries. We also showed that when you look at our health outcomes, we do worse than our neighbours. So we need to improve the efficiency with which we spend money.
“It will be a tragedy if we took away money from education and other determinants of health and we plough that into health especially theoretic health in Nigeria.
“So our overall recommendation is that the overall fiscal envelope needs to be increased. We are delighted, therefore, that one of such approaches which is the SSB has now been integrated into the Finance Act and is being implemented.”
He added that though increasing the SSB taxation will lead to an increase in the price of sweetened sugar, “No doubt if we sufficiently reduce consumption of sugar, there will be a reduction in NCDs”.
According to him SSB tax also comes with a secondary benefit – “If we raise these funds and we use them to support the provision of healthcare to our poorest citizens who cannot afford health insurance, then it becomes a win-win situation”.
He said government spending in absolute terms remained quite low compared to the global average or other countries in Africa, adding that the reasons why there is no commensurate result in spending and outcomes were unconnected with inequality and poverty.
Abubakar also said the government should ensure efficient spending on the right issues in order to improve health outcomes as well as incentivise healthcare workers to stay and work in primary healthcare systems in the country.
Essentially, Nigeria joins over 42 countries that have implemented the SSB tax.
The consumption of SSB constitutes significantly to Nigeria’s rising prevalence of NCDs and is one of the main drivers of obesity and type-2 diabetes in the country.
Earlier in January, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed had hinted at the imposition of N10 per liter tax on SSB as part of the critical policy thrusts of the Finance Act 2021.
The minister explained that the tax became inevitable in order to discourage excessive consumption of sugar in beverages, which had continued to imperil the lives of Nigerians.