Poor Health Services Exerting Heavy Burden on Nigeria’s Economy, Says WHO
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Ahead of the International Universal Health Coverage Day celebration coming up on December 12, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that the persisting poor health indices has a huge burden of losses on the country’s ailing economy.
It estimates that presently, 100 million persons across the world slide into extreme poverty every year because of the costs of paying for healthcare out of their own pockets.
For Nigeria, WHO said that healthcare out-of-pocket expenditure stood at 70.5 per cent of the Current Health Expenditure (CHE) in 2019, general government health expenditure as a percentage of the GDP was 0.6 per cent, while government expenditure per capita was $14.6 compared with WHO’s $86 benchmark for universal health coverage (UHC).
These facts were revealed by WHO at the opening of a three-day conference on ‘Universal Health Coverage (UHC)’ organized by the Association of Nigerian Health Journalists (ANHEJ) in collaboration with the WHO in Akwanga, Nasarawa State.
Speaking on the topic of the conference titled: ‘How Can Nigeria Get it Right – the Role of the Media’, the Field Presence Cluster Lead of WHO, Ahmed Khedr, who represented WHO Country Representative, Walter Mulombo, said that the world body considers quality healthcare as one the fundamental human rights of citizens.
He said that UHC meant ensuring that all people have access to quality promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative health services they need at an affordable cost without the risk of financial hardship linked to paying for care.
“Indeed, no one should get sick, denied healthcare, or die just because they are poor, or because the services they need are too far away from where they live.
“But even today, more than half the world’s population lacks access to essential health services, and almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty every year because of the costs of paying for care out of their own pockets,” he said.
Molombo said the Nigerian situation is that healthcare is financed predominantly by households, who pay for healthcare out of their pockets.
“With healthcare out-of-pocket expenditure at 70.5 per cent of the Current Health Expenditure (CHE) in 2019, general government health expenditure as a percentage of the GDP was 0.6 per cent, while government expenditure per capita was $14.6 compared with WHO’s $86 benchmark for universal health coverage (UHC),” he said.
The WHO Country Representative said that currently, Nigeria bears the highest burden of tuberculosis and paediatric HIV, while accounting for 50.per cent of neglected tropical diseases in Africa.
He also said that although the prevalence of malaria is declining (from 42 per cent to 23 per cent), the country contributes 27 per cent of global cases and 24 per cent of global deaths.
According to Mulombo, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for 29 per cent of all deaths in Nigeria with premature mortality from the four main NCDs (Hypertension, Diabetes, Cancers, Malnutrition) accounting for 22 per cent of all deaths.
With regard to its impact on the economy, Mulombo said: “While the poorest households feel the heaviest impact of these inefficiencies and poor health outcomes as they have limited access to essential health services, the negative externalities pose huge losses to the Nigerian economy.”
The WHO Representative however said that there is no single pathway to UHC, but that all countries must find their own way in the context of their own social, political and economic circumstances.
The President of ANHEJ, Mallam Hassan Zaggi, in order to eliminate the out-of-pocket payment and to make access to quality and affordable healthcare services available especially amongst the indigent and vulnerable groups, individuals, communities and associations should enrol in health insurance schemes to enable them access healthcare services.
He said the objective of the annual conference was to build capacities among journalists that cover issues in the health sector.