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Achieving Universal Health Coverage in Nigeria

Nigeria and other African countries should heed the timely advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and strive to achieve the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) for their citizens. The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, had at an event marking this year’s World Health Day and the 70th anniversary of the WHO in Nigeria tasked African leaders to live up to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) pledges they made in 2015 on universal health coverage.

Moeti also urged them to ensure that their citizens have access to quality and affordable healthcare services without facing any financial hardship. The WHO boss in Africa, who maintained that adequate and sustained investment in health would ensure equitable access to health services, stressed that the global health agency is willing to support member states to achieve their SDG health target by 2030.

Interestingly, this year’s World Health Day was marked on April 7 with the theme: “Universal Health Coverage: Everyone, Everywhere.” This theme, without doubt, reinforces the need for access to healthcare services for all citizens of member states. We commend Moeti for reminding African leaders of their pledged commitment to ensure universal health coverage in their countries. These leaders should, therefore, muster enough political will to ensure quality and affordable healthcare services in Africa. They should stop paying lip service to healthcare issues.

The need to achieve UHC in Africa has become necessary now, more than ever before, considering that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the famous Alma Ata Declaration of 1978 anchored on the slogan, “health for all by the year 2000.”  It is good news that some countries in Africa such as Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal and Uganda, according to Moeti, have demonstrated that removing user fees increases systematically the utilisation rates of healthcare services.

He also observed that Rwanda’s health insurance scheme expanded access to quality health services for poor people from seven per cent in 2003 to 91 per cent in 2010. We urge other African countries to emulate them. What Moeti said about healthcare delivery on the continent is public knowledge. Recently, the United States’ millionaire and financier of some health programmes in Africa, Bill Gates, enjoined the Nigerian government to develop its human capital with emphasis on health and education. Like Gates, we believe that without healthy citizens, we cannot sustain our development plans.

The government should prioritise the provision of affordable healthcare to all Nigerians. For government to do this effectively, there is the need to reinvigorate the nation’s Primary Health Care (PHC) system, which was effectively managed when the late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti was the Minister of Health. The government at all levels should bring back the basic healthcare services and make them available to all citizens.

The nation can hardly afford quality healthcare with the annual meager allocation to the health sector that hovers between four and five per cent. Government should increase its annual budget for healthcare services in keeping with the 2001 Abuja Declaration where African Union (AU) member states agreed to invest 15 per cent of their annual budgets to finance healthcare development. Besides, there will be no meaningful socio-economic development in any country that plays with its healthcare delivery system.

It is good that the Federal Ministry of Health has identified the primary health care centres across the country as the vehicle to provide universal health coverage to all Nigerians.  Government should go ahead to adequately equip them to ensure the success of the universal health coverage. For this programme to be effective, government should consider offering free medical services at these centres to the aged, women and children.

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Online Editor: Aderonke Bello
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