Bill Gates, American business magnate, philanthropist, and co-founder of Microsoft Corporation revealed on Tuesday that Nigeria does not need to spend a large sum on the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. According to the business mogul, the area of focus should be more on reviving the weak and underfunded health sector. This is especially the primary health center.
However, a breakdown of the 2021 appropriation bill revealed that only 4.526 percent (about N592.166 billion) of the proposed budget was allocated to the health sector. This was quite surprising as the still ravaging pandemic has revealed the deficiency of the neglected health system.
A further breakdown of the proposed budget reveals that yearly medical care for every Nigerian is N2,960, N246.715 monthly, and N8.2 each day.
The meager less than 5% of the budget allocation to healthcare is in contrast with the committed agreement in 2001. Heads of State of African countries had agreed to allocate at least 15% of their annual budget to healthcare.
Prof. Innocent Ujah, President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) revealed that ‘at the heart of the fragile health systems are the perennial failure of governments (federal, state, and local) to prioritize health and allocate adequate resources to it’.
‘If you look at the primary health centers in the North, in particular, if you look at the vaccine coverage rates, there are literally millions of lives that can be saved if the primary health system operates at a level that some other countries at the same wealth of Nigeria if the system was this good’, Gates disclosed.
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The global storm created by the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the country’s weak health sector. There is also a high risk of a declining health system. Few populations can access the required health services. Most of the emergency funds and resources are given to the health sector has been reserved for the COVID-19 response.
Nigeria continues to struggle with some of the worst health indices. The maternal mortality rate (MMR) is 512 per 100,000 live births, infant mortality is at 67 per 1,000 live births of children 1 year of age, the prevalence of stunting in children under 5 is 36.8% nationwide, the contraceptive prevalence rate is 16.6% and DPT3/Penta 3 vaccine coverage is 50.1% nationwide, although there are regional variations in vaccine coverage.
The high decline in births with the assistance of skilled birth attendants is a major issue in the country. Nigeria makes up for 20% of global maternal deaths. With the prevalent pandemic, there is a possibility of higher risk in pregnant women delivery.
The Honorable Minister of Health earlier revealed that there is a drop in antenatal visits. This was resulting from the discontinued activities during the heat of the pandemic. Some private health facilities provided for patient assistance through telemedicine, however, it was a few among the thousands of hospitals.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a huge deficiency in the country’s health sector. There is a strain on the present facilities, especially at the primary health care level. The health system is known for its poor infrastructure facilities, and equipment coupled with the insufficient number of health workers.
Over and above the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need for increased funding in the health sector. This includes tackling the challenges of access to healthcare, quality of care, and financial support for poor families.
With the huge responsibility mounted on doctors, including the current COVID-19 pandemic, the monthly hazard allowance being paid is a meager N5000. Doctors are entitled to no coverage in health insurance following their illness or death on duty. Neighboring countries such as Ghana will be paid $4322 as health insurance coverage in the event of illness or death of a doctor in the fight against COVID-19.
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The inadequacies in the health sector have led to a distrust of the system and the overreliance on medical tourism. Professor Innocent Ujah revealed that ‘in rural areas, we have one doctor to 22 000 people, while in towns and cities, we have one doctor to 10 000 Nigerians or one doctor to 12 000 Nigerians, whereas the World Health Organization (WHO) said for any country to have a balanced ratio, it must have one doctor to 600 persons’.
The ravaging pandemic has awakened the world to the need for a buoyant health sector. Many countries have commenced the development of their health system to avoid another unexpected situation that the system would not have the capacity to handle. Nigeria is yet to be awakened to such a need. All that is being discussed is the procurement of the vaccine.
Chinedu Idoko, Public Health experts, stated that the implication is the ‘likelihood of not achieving the anticipated pursuits of improved human, material and financial resources needed for the very necessary rehabilitation of the nation’s health care.’
‘Nigeria should not divert the minimal money that it has for health into trying to pay a high price for COVID vaccines’, Bill Gates stated during his interview.
He disclosed that Nigeria can rely largely on groups like GAVI the Vaccine Alliance for COVID-19 vaccine. According to the business mogul, investing in the primary health system would boost coverage and build Nigeria’s response in addressing other diseases.
Gerry Lopez, American Journalist once stated that ‘waves keep coming, that’s the one thing you can count on in life’. The COVID-19 was a sudden event that revealed that the country is not adequately endowed with the capacity to sufficiently handle unexpected events just like the pandemic.
The vaccine is obviously a requirement. However, the huge sum being invested in the procurement is on the high side. A part of it can be invested in the sick health sector in need of urgent revival sooner than later.