Unfinished Business in Health Sector 

In spite of enormous challenges facing the country’s healthcare delivery system, the outgoing administration of President Muhammadu Buhari made some significant interventions in key areas, Onyebuchi Ezigbo writes

It is on record that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari rallied the other two tiers of government and the private sector to make huge interventions in the previously-neglected health sector during the outbreak of COVID-19.

With the outbreak of the dreaded virus, both the government and the private sector raised huge funds to equip the various hospitals across the country to contain the pandemic and other health challenges that were previously neglected.

Also, as part of the efforts of the outgoing President Buhari-led administration to address the serious health challenges posed by the cancer disease and the lack of facilities to manage patients down the aliment, the federal government successfully deployed $10 million from the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority to build a world-class Cancer Treatment Centre at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, (LUTH) in 2018. In addition, the government spent another $5 million to establish special Modern Diagnostic Centres at the Aminu Kano University Teaching Hospital in Kano as well as at the Federal Medical Centre in Umuahia. A further intervention was also made by the federal government to reduce the financial burden on cancer patients through the establishment of Cancer Treatment Support Programme in 2019 in partnership with the private sector to help patients access quality medical care at a relatively low cost. 

 In 2022, the government approved 12 more hospitals to join the seven that were already providing low-cost treatment for cancer patients. 

Another milestone recorded by the administration was the establishment of the National Emergency Medical System and the Emergency Ambulance Scheme. The introduction of this hospital care initiative will no doubt improve on the response time for treatment of patients especially during emergency situations. Another area the outgoing administration excelled in the health sector was the effort to check further spread of HIV-AIDS in the country.

Under President Buhari’s administration, the federal government launched a N62.1 billion HIV trust fund as part of efforts to reduce funding gap and also place more people living with HIV on treatment. Speaking during the launch held at the Banquet Hall of the State House, Abuja, the Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Gambo Aliyu, said the fund would help the country fight the HIV epidemic. Aliyu said the fund was a sustainable financing mechanism for the mobilisation and deployment of domestic private sector resources to address the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV in Nigeria.

However, it was not all bed of roses for the health sector as the country has also recorded very worrisome health indices. Recently, Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo said the country presently loses 2,500 children under the age of five everyday due to largely preventable causes.

He said that 80 per cent of these death burdens occur in the primary health care and community levels. The vice president blamed this infant death on lack of skilled birth attendants. In his speech at the launch of community-based Health Research Innovative Training And Services Program (CRISP) by the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) recently, Osinbajo said the better way to tackle the challenges of health care delivery in Nigeria than to close the gaps on the equitable availability of skilled health workers in our Primary Healthcare Centre facilities.

In the same vein, health workers have had cause to embark on strike over unfulfilled agreements and Memorandum of Understanding.

Health Workers under the umbrella of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) and Assembly of Healthcare Professional Associations (AHPA) have declared an indefinite strike beginning from last Thursday. Addressing a press conference after the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of JOHESU, National Vice Chairman, Dr. Obinna Ogbonna said the strike was necessitated by the federal government’s inability to respond to the grievances of the workers despite a series of appeals and representations. He said that members in federal health institutions nationwide had been directed to withdraw their services indefinitely commencing on Thursday,  May 25, 2023.

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