WHO: 80% of Nigerians Sliding into Poverty Due to Rising Healthcare Cost

•Senate considers bills to tackle poverty

Onyebuchi Ezigbo

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that about 80 per cent of Nigeria’s population has fallen into poverty as they struggle to pay hospital bills.

This was just as the Senate yesterday considered two critical bills seeking to tackle poverty and put a stop to intellectual property theft in the country.

For WHO, its Technical Officer on Health Financing, Dr. Francis Nwachukwu Ukwuije, who revealed this while speaking at a meeting with management of the Nigeria Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), in Abuja yesterday, said the country could make healthcare more affordable and accessible.

He said: ” You are aware that in Nigeria today we have very high out of pocket expenditure of more than 70 per cent on health and over 50 per cent of the population and in some states up to 80 per cent of Nigeria’s population have to fall into poverty due to ill health or due to payment for healthcare.”

He further said efforts at implementing compulsory health insurance in Nigeria was as important as advancing development of the country.

“I wish to state that as WHO, we have the mandate to support member states in their priority areas and we can see that financing health insurance is one of the accelerators that the country has chosen and also primary healthcare towards universal health coverage,” he said.

The WHO team was at the NHIA headquarters to kick-start engagement that would ensure proper and effective implementation of the newly enacted law on mandatory health insurance for Nigerians.

Ukwuije said the WHO’s mission to the NHIA was useful for the reasons that, first-it would help to support the NHIA and energise it towards operationalising the new law in order to gain the benefits therein.

“Secondly, to ensure that we have good representation and high level of advocacy to the government of Nigeria and to those who make the laws and policies in the country. Thirdly, to support the country in mopping up areas of health financing for the attainment of the Universal health coverage,” he said.

The Country Representative for WHO in Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Molumbo said the 3-day engagement would provide an opportunity for the global health body to interact with the leadership of NHIA.

He said WHO believes that it was the best way to go if Nigeria was to achieve the universal health coverage.

“It is a good opportunity for us and it is a privilege to be part of this high level advocacy meeting to review strategies on how we will operationalise this health insurance authority bill and how WHO can offer support to strengthen NHIA to deliver in it’s mandated.

“We also want to use this opportunity to interact with as many stakeholders as possible to enable the NHIA to drive the universal health coverage in Nigeria,” he said.

While welcoming the WHO team, the Director General of the NHIA, Prof. Mohammed Sambo said he was elated to receive them, adding that together with his management, they would be able to set the right template to drive an all-inclusive health insurance financing for Nigeria.

He said the team would oversee the setting up of critical building block of the healthcare delivery system in Nigeria.

Sambo also said the significance of the assent to the new mandatory health insurance scheme by President Muhammed Buhari was that more Nigerians would now be able to benefit from good healthcare delivery system.

“By signing that law, the president has not only exhibited commitment to achieving the next level agenda of the healthcare delivery system, but also that of delivering the democratic dividends to Nigerians,” he said. 

Sambo said there was no gainsaying that healthcare was one of the critical elements of development.

He said it had been acknowledged the best way to attain universal health coverage in Nigeria was to ensure that, “we provide financial assistance to the people to enable them have unhindered access to healthcare.”

“And the veritable means of providing this assistance is through health insurance,” he said.

Senate considers bills to tackle poverty, stop intellectual property theft

Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday considered two critical bills seeking to tackle poverty and put a stop to intellectual property theft in the country.

One of the bills provides for the establishment of the National Poverty Alleviation Management Commission; while the other seeks to re-enact the Patent and Design Act 2021 to revise the existing intellectual property law to prohibit theft.

Both bills scaled second reading during plenary.

The bill to establish the National Poverty Alleviation Management Commission seeks to empower the Commission to coordinate and regulate all forms of poverty alleviation funds.

The bill was sponsored by Senator Kabir Abdullahi Barkiya (APC – Katsina Central).

Leading debate on the general principles of the bill, Barkiya said its passage and assent into law, “will have tremendous and vital impact on the reduction of poverty level, ravaging the majority of citizens in the country.”

According to the lawmaker, this includes the poor and their families who find it difficult to feed themselves.

He explained that the proper and efficient management of poverty alleviation funds through sufficient regulation would drastically cut-down on the poverty rate in Nigeria.

“It is imperative to note, that the passage of this bill will effectively and efficiently regulate all forms of funds provided to alleviate poverty in the land, especially to remedy the suffering of our citizens.

“This aforementioned fund could be granted by the government, or international and local donations in order to minimise the high level of hardship that people go through within the country”, the lawmaker said.

Contributing to the debate, Senator Christopher Ekpenyong (PDP – Akwa-Ibom North West), described the bill as “bi-partisan”.

He lamented that resources allocated for poverty alleviation most times do not get to the poor as a result of mismanagement.

He observed that having a Commission in place as intended by the bill would see to the realisation of the objectives of the federal government in the aspect of poverty reduction.

On his part, Senator Ibrahim Gobir (APC – Sokoto East) recalled that a similar bill was passed under the eighth senate but failed to receive presidential assent.

He, therefore, advised the President to sign the bill into law, adding that putting in place management models to determine the level of impact made through programmes targeted at poverty alleviation would, to a large extent, compliment the bill. 

The bill after consideration was referred by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, to the Committee on Poverty Alleviation for further inputs.

The Committee was given four weeks to report back to the Senate in plenary.

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