By Olakunle Olafioye
A media engagement organized by the Federal Ministry of Health in Abuja last Monday afforded Nigerians the opportunity to get the true picture of the efforts and the resources that went into the tackling of some of the major health challenges confronting Nigerians.
Notably among these are Nigeria’s impressive response to the management of the Coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the world and the recent certification of the nation as a polio-free country.
The event, which was tagged “Health Sector Next Level Agenda: The Path to Universal Health Coverage” witnessed the unveiling of the revised guidelines for the basic healthcare provision fund, which according to the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, is part of President Muhammadu Buhari’s agenda for the health sector.
The Minister, in his keynote address, noted that the tremendous impacts of various departments and agencies under the Ministry of Health in keeping Nigerians safe and healthy. And worthy of note among these efforts, in addition to the impressive performance of the Nigeria Center Disease Control, NCDC, the agency at the centre of the COVID-19 war; is the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, NPHCDA which remarkable efforts earned Nigeria the enviable status of a polio-free nation.
Nigeria cannot afford to rest on its laurel at the stage as the Minister noted. “The National Primary Healthcare Development Agency did very well in eradicating polio on the country and raising immunization coverage from 42 per cent to 87 per cent. However, this is not enough. The next level agenda aims at revitalizing the primary healthcare system in each political ward in the country,” Ehanire stated.
The minister’s message is not lost on the Executive Director, National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, whose agency has the mandate to provide technical and programmatic support to states and local government authorities on the development of primary healthcare in the country.
The Chief Executive Officer of NPHCDA who attributed Nigeria’s polio free certification to strong political will, commitment and accountability, financial power, technical expertise, partnership and collaboration, did not mince words in pointing out that the current primary healthcare system in Nigeria is under-utilized with significant burden transferred to the other tiers of the health systems- secondary and tertiary.
According to him, “the primary healthcare is designed to cater for at least 70 per cent of the population, but only caters for about 20 per cent. The implication of this, according to him, is that it creates additional burden for the secondary healthcare which is only designed to cater for at least 27 per cent, but ends up overburdened to the tune of 70 per cent.”
But in spite of this, NPHCDA still ranks top among the parastatals under the federal Ministry of Health in the outgoing year. In August, Nigeria was certified wild polio virus free.
Commenting on this the NPHCDA boss said: “Achievements recorded with the polio eradication is a testament that the PHC system can work and deliver expected outputs when properly funded and administered.”
Besides the polio-free certification success, NPHCDA also received commendation from stakeholders at the Ministerial Media Engagement for the improvements recorded in the area of access and coverage to routine immunisation services in the country in the last few years.
The Executive Director of the agency said that the improvements came at a critical time when the routine immunisation coverage had been on a steady decline. Although he conceded that the data from NNHS 2019 was only preliminary as the results were yet be validated and disseminated to all stakeholders, he identified the National Emergency Routine Immunisation Coordination Centre (NERICC), through a war room approach, fast-paced analytics partnership as one of the strategies adopted by the agency in achieving the feat.
In keying into the Buhari-led administration agenda for universal health coverage, the NPHCDA said that the agency has come up with a four-point agenda.
This, according to him, include: PHC revitalization and HRH; improved technology for PHC data, services and vaccine distribution; social and behavioural change communication and, post-polio PHC strengthening.
For Nigeria to be on the path to universal health coverage, the NPHCDA boss pointed that, “public funding for PHC must expand while reliance on out-of-pocket expenditure must decline; leveraging technology to strengthening data management, supply chain and remote access to health services in order to achieve equitable and increased coverage of traditional and new vaccines as well as leveraging and adapting lessons from polio eradication initiatives and injecting polio experiences and resources to sustainably strengthen the primary healthcare system.”
To achieve the four point-agenda, the NPHCDA intends to mobilize resource through crowd funding approach for infrastructure upgrades, human resource development among others. The NPHCDA boss therefore called on all stakeholders- the government, civil society organisations, private sector, implementing partners, donors, academia and research institutes and media. “Improving primary health care delivery could significantly improve maternal mortality rate over the next year period with up to 110,540 lives saved, while up to 3.1 million under 5 deaths could be averted within this same period,” he noted.