AS 2017 gradually winds to a close, it is necessary for all tiers of government in the country to firmly resolve to strengthen and improve the funding of the nation’s health sector to ensure better medical care for all Nigerians in the year ahead. The state of healthcare in the country this year held out little to cheer for our beleaguered people who had to bear the brunt of the parlous system which forced many Nigerians abroad in quest of better medical services at a huge cost to the economy.
It is sad that after 57 years of independence, our leaders and other rich Nigerians still troop abroad for medical attention, leaving the poor to their sorry fate in our ill-equipped and, oftentimes, badly administered hospitals. These leaders failed to replicate in Nigeria the efficient medical services that they enjoy in the foreign medical institutions they patronise.
Unbridled medical tourism contributed to the utter neglect of the health sector by successive Nigerian governments. From the early gains recorded in the sector a little after independence in 1960, our public hospitals became “mere consulting clinics” in the military era. Despite the efforts to revamp the university teaching hospitals by the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the hospitals, which are designated as “centres of medical excellence”, are today mostly not living up to that name.
The three levels of healthcare in the country – primary, secondary and tertiary – are in disarray, but the primary care sector is the worst hit. The poor remuneration of our health sector workers, especially the doctors, has not helped matters as more and more medical doctors leave the country every year for greener pastures abroad. The brain drain in the sector has invariably led to a shortage of good hands in these hospitals. Frequent strikes by health workers also contribute to poor healthcare delivery.
Nigerians still suffer heavily from malaria and some lives are lost to the easily treatable disease, every year. So much money is spent on the battle against malaria. The ailment accounts for more hospital visits and admissions than any other disease in the country. It is the major cause of absenteeism from work and schools.
Nigeria is hardly ever free of the epidemics ravaging the world. We had our share of the Ebola virus disease, and we are now battling monkey pox. We are also still waging relentless battles against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and cholera. Many Nigerian children still die of preventable child killer diseases such as measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus and hepatitis. Many mothers die while giving birth to babies while we still record high infant mortality.
More and more Nigerians suffer from various cancers (breast, ovarian, skin, prostate, blood), which, alongside kidney and heart diseases, send them on medical tourism to European, American and Asian countries. These are some of the issues that call for a holistic revamping of our health sector.
Since the welfare of the citizenry is the primary duty of every responsible government, the Federal Government must ensure that all Nigerians have access to adequate medical care by rehabilitating all government health facilities across the country, beginning with the primary health care centres.
It is necessary to have at least one functional health facility in all the 774 local government areas in the country, for a start. If more funds are available, the number of such health facilities can be increased to cater for the health needs of our rural dwellers.
General hospitals in all the states should be upgraded and well equipped to cater for secondary care level. In the same vein, all tertiary hospitals must be upgraded and equipped to handle special cases that would be referred to them from the secondary care level. There is the need to build special cancer and kidney centres in some parts of the country, with one in each of the country’s six geo-political zones, to handle increasing cancer and kidney cases in the country.
To refurbish our medical facilities and pay all health workers reasonable wages, the allocation to health in the nation’s annual budgets must be increased from what it is at present. Increasing the remuneration of health workers will considerably reduce the incessant strikes in the sector and also ensure the provision of better services to the people.