By Ama Mba Uffiem
In the quest to provide quality health care services and improved health conditions for Nigerians, the senator representing Abia North Senatorial District in the National Assembly, His Excellency, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, through the Orji Uzor Kalu Foundation, has inaugurated a fully-funded scholarship scheme to benefit 700 Nigerians across the 36 states of the federation during the 2021/22 academic year.
The scholarship scheme offers beneficiaries the opportunity to pursue courses in the medical discipline obtainable from both foreign and Nigerian universities. In our mutual interest and quest for quality, affordable and accessible health care delivery, the scholarship intervention offers hope for our brilliant but indigent youth to attain their lofty goals in life
On successful completion of their courses, it is expected that the current doctor-to-patient ratio, which is very much at variance with the World Health Organization’s recommendation, would have been abridged to a tolerable threshold. The beneficiaries would have also been well trained and highly skilled enough to deliver quality healthcare services and products to their communities in line with their mandate and profession. This is with the overall goal of improved conditions of health, wellness and well-being of the Nigerian people.
There is no gainsaying the fact that this well-targeted approach to health care development will go a long way in bridging the yawning gaps that exist in the efforts to provide quality, affordable and accessible health care services to Nigerians, especially those residing in rural communities.
Roughly 70 per cent of Nigerians live in rural areas, where there is inadequate or abject lack of good health care facilities, personnel and services. And, perhaps, where these exist at all, qualified doctors to cater for the health needs of patients are in acute shortage or non-existent. Due to abject poverty and ignorance, the sick, especially children, women and the elderly, resort to quacks to take care of their health needs.
Health, they say, is wealth. Good health and well-being is the focal point for sustainable development and a prosperous society. Health, according to WHO, is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” By implication, this involves a feeling of well-being that is enjoyed by individuals when the body systems are functioning effectively and efficiently together and in harmony with the environment in order to achieve the objectives of good living.
In Nigeria, there has been a major progress in the improvement of health since 1950. Although lower respiratory infections, neonatal disorders and HIV/AIDS have ranked the topmost causes of deaths in Nigeria, in the case of other diseases such as polio, malaria and tuberculosis, progress has been achieved.
Among other threats to health are malnutrition, pollution and road traffic accidents. In 2020, Nigeria had one of the highest cases of COVID-19 in Africa.
The deadly COVID-19 pandemic, which is ravaging mankind, is a pointer to this assertion that health is the king of all the socio-economic and infrastructure development metrics. However, health care delivery systems that are working to improve patient experience can face daunting challenges. Currently, Nigeria’s healthcare system ranks among the lowest in the world, according the WHO.
Health indicators, such as life expectancy, maternal and mortality rate, etcetera, in the country are reported to be some of the worst in Africa. The country is reported to have the second largest number of people living with HIV globally and accounts for 9 per cent of the global HIV burden. For malaria, Nigeria still has the highest burden of the disease globally, which remains the major cause of child illnesses and mortality.
According to the WHO, Nigeria’s health outcome indicators are still huge, despite some modest improvements in the sector. The country’s health outcome indicators are still unacceptably high as reported by reputable global health bodies, despite modest improvements, such that maternal mortality ratio is still 814 per 100,000, mortality rate for infants and children under five years is 70 and 104 per 1,000 live births, respectively. Life expectancy is still low in Ngeria.
It is reported that, for years, Nigeria’s health care network has been rated among the worst in the world: a 2018 study in the Lancet of Global Health Care Access and Quality ranked Nigeria 142 out of 195 countries.
Among the biggest challenges facing the country’s healthcare delivery system is the lack of qualified health workers, especially medical doctors, who are at the forefront in the fight against deadly diseases and epidemics. Nigeria is currently bleeding to death health-wise, due to the acute dearth of qualified medical doctors, as well as the seemingly intractable brain-drain syndrome, poor health facilities, poor remuneration of health workers, poor medical infrastructure, equipment, drugs and quality of health manpower generally.
This acute shortage of qualified medical doctors in Nigeria to provide for the health needs of citizens, especially at the community level through quality, accessible and affordable health care delivery services and products calls for concern.
Today, the news media is inundated with numerous stories of the grinding effects of the brain-drain syndrome, which has caught up with Nigerian professionals, especially medical doctors and other healthcare professionals and experts, who daily migrate to other climes where the grounds are fertile and more congenial enough for them to practise their professions seamlessly.
The brain-drain syndrome has left our health system vulnerable, and so the country is continuously bereft of the best and the brightest brains any nation can boast of.
Successes and failures in fighting diseases are premised squarely on the doorsteps of the quality of the health manpower. This goes to demonstrate that the more quality and qualified doctors a nation has in its healthcare system, the more chances of improved and effective healthcare outcomes.
Currently, the nation’s doctor-patient ratio of one doctor to 3,500 patients is a far cry from the World Health Organization’s recommendation of one doctor to 600 patients. What this translates to is that Nigeria needs about 300,000 doctors to meet the WHO recommendation.
Nigeria’s ambition for the development of robust, equitable and efficient health care delivery is possible, if, and only if, the policy-makers and practitioners at the commanding heights of our health care system do the needful things to improve the health conditions of citizens.
It is against the background of providing quality health care services and improved health conditions for Nigerians that Distinguished Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, representing Abia North in the Senate, through the Orji Uzor Kalu Foundation, inaugurated a cutting-edge, impactful scholarship scheme to benefit 700 Nigerians across the 36 states of the federation, starting from the 2021/22 academic year.
The first 50 beneficiaries who are qualified Nigerians will be placed on fully-funded scholarship in highly-rated medical schools in Venezuela, South America, while 650 others will be assisted to purchase and process their JAMB application forms, preparatory to gaining admission into selected Nigerian universities across the nation for the fully-funded scholarship.
The programme is a wakeup call to all other well-meaning and wealthy Nigerians to come to terms with the reality that health is everything. The ravaging effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, which debuted in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, is a case in point whereby achievements recorded on many fronts of the development domain over the years have, in a twinkle of an eye, been reversed by a tiny virus, decimating and crippling global economies, overstretching health systems, curtailing human rights and many more.
The scheme is a boost to efforts to change the negative health outcome indicators seen in our country today. The scheme will halt the upward drift to other countries for greener pastures on account that the right policy frameworks are put in place, as well as conducive and congenial climate created for doctors and other health professionals to practise their vocations.
The scheme will contribute substantially in redressing the situation by helping to provide a crop of well-trained end highly skilled medical doctors who on successful completion of their programme will contribute in no small way in bridging the yawning gaps that currently exist in our healthcare system, especially in medical manpower demands.
The goals and programmes of Orji Uzor Kalu Foundation align with the Nigeria’s national policy on health, as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development goals number 3, which states: Ensure healthy lives and promote well- being for all at all ages, including a bold commitment to end the epidemics of AIDS, Tuberculosis, malaria and other communicable diseases by 2030.
The UN SDGs also aims to achieve universal health coverage, as well as provide access to safe and effective medicines and vaccines for all. Though the SDGs did not contemplate the emergence of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, its overwhelming negative impacts have relegated all other health concerns to the background.
The mission of the Orji Uzor Kalu Foundation through the scholarship scheme is also in alignment with the new goal of the worldwide Good Health which promotes healthy lifestyles, preventive measures and modern, efficient healthcare for all. And specifically, over the last 15 years, the number of childhood deaths occurring in Nigeria has witnessed a substantial decline by about fifty percent. This is as a result of aggressive interventions by a variety of strategies and efforts.
If the Foundation’s scheme is consistently and consecutively sustained over time for say ten years, it is projected that Nigeria will have additional 7000 doctors from this scheme alone, which reinforces the fact that the process of narrowing the doctors-patients ratio has taken a new dimension with clear evidence of improved health conditions of the citizens. The sustained programmes will take medical manpower education and development to such an enviable pedestal that the current manpower deficit in the doctor-patient ratio will be substantially addressed for the benefit of all and sundry. This will also help to reduce the impact of the chronic brain-drain syndrome plaguing the nation, as well as its toll on the already over stretched health system.
From the foregoing, it is evidently clear that the Foundation is on course to change the ugly narrative and redeem the battered health outcome indicators in Nigeria. Kudos to His Excellency, Distinguished Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, senator representing Abia North Senatorial District for his insights, perspectives and thoughtfulness in this innovative and laudable humanitarian ideals designed to significantly reduce the manpower deficit in our health outcome indicators.
The humanitarian gesture of the distinguished senator offers yet another opportunity to demonstrate his unparalleled patriotism, care and support for the most vulnerable individuals in a nation where 150 million of its citizens live in extreme poverty, and roughly 70 percent of the population are found in rural areas.
Nigeria’s quest for the development of a robust , equitable and efficient health care delivery is possible. Finally, we would have succeeded in keeping hopes alive in the Nigeria’s health sector for the good and benefit of the over two hundred and fifty million Nigerians, especially the over seven percent of the population living in the rural communities.
•Uffiem is an Abia State-based development consultant