The poor state of the nation’s health sector is indeed lamentable. From the primary care to tertiary care, it can be safely said that all is not well with the health sector. The nation’s health system has so collapsed that only concerted efforts by all tiers of government can revamp the comatose sector. Therefore, as we approach the New Year, we specifically appeal to all tiers of government to frontally tackle the challenges in the health sector.
Our politicians must stop paying lip service to the sector. The government should treat health as a priority and give it the utmost attention in terms of funding. To revive the sector, Nigeria should allocate at least 15 per cent of its national budget to the health sector annually. There is no doubt that the sector did not quite fare well in 2019. Unfortunately, there are no strong indications that things will significantly improve in the poorly funded sector in 2020.
According to some international health agencies, Nigeria’s health indicators are some of the worst in Africa and even in the world. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) says with a population projected to hit 440 million by 2050, Nigeria drags down the socio-economic indicators for the African continent.
Apart from having the highest malaria burden in Africa, it has the second largest number of people living with HIV globally. Some years ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) ranked Nigeria 187 in the global health index among 190 countries. The United Nations (UN) recently put the life expectancy in Nigeria at 55 years, the third worst in the world.
Therefore, the federal, state and local governments should particularly check brain drain as well as stem the rate of medical tourism in the beleaguered sector. It has been reported that about 2,000 medical workers leave the country annually for developed countries probably in search of greener pastures. In 2018, the British government disclosed that 5,405 Nigerian-trained doctors and nurses were working with the British National Health Service in the United Kingdom.
It has been reported that Nigerian medics also constituted 3.9 per cent of the 137,000 foreign staff of 202 nationalities working alongside British doctors and nurses. Apart from the UK, Nigerian doctors and other medical workers have also migrated to United States, Canada, Australia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and South Africa.
In May 2019, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) lamented that less than 40,000 Nigerian doctors were practicing in the country. Unarguably, the migration of Nigerian doctors to Europe and America has tacitly encouraged the growing medical tourism in the country. Nigeria’s doctor/patient ratio put at 1:6,000 is below the WHO recommended doctor/patient ratio of 1:600. It has also been established that countries with low doctor/patient ratio have worse disease outcomes and life expectancy.
Arising from this development, some of our political leaders and some affluent Nigerians have decided to go overseas for all manner of medical treatments. It has now become a fad for Nigerians to travel overseas for medical treatment even for ailments that can be adequately handled in the country. It has also become fashionable for some Nigerian mothers to have their babies delivered in notable hospitals abroad.
It has been established that Nigerians spent over one billion dollars annually on medical tourism. Available statistics show that many Nigerians travel to the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, India, Thailand, China and many others to treat kidney, liver and heart diseases. They also go there for eye surgeries, cosmetic surgeries and others.
It is lamentable that after decades of independence, Nigerians still troop abroad for medical attention. Apart from adequate funding and manpower training, we think that the best way to address the worsening state of the nation’s health system is for the government to achieve the universal health coverage for its citizens.
We, therefore, urge the government to use the primary health care centres across the country as a vehicle to provide universal health coverage to all Nigerians. For this to work effectively, government should substantially improve the welfare of doctors and other health workers.