By Sunday Oyinloye
The second annual Legislative Summit on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and Nutrition in Abuja, Nigeria has come and gone but some of the revelations at the event which brought lawmakers and other stakeholdere country under one roof speak to the fact that Nigeria needs to declare an emergency in the health sector if the country must have a healthy workforce and healthy population. One of the unfortunate revelations at the summit is that thousands of Nigerians, mostly children and women die on daily basis from preventable diseases and during childbirth ; more shocking was the statistics on nutrition which indicates high figure of stunted children even when Nigeria produces food s with high nutritional contents.
For those who have been monitoring the nation’s health sector space closely, most of the statistics rolled out at the summit especially on mortality rates may not be news to them, but they all agreed that something very urgent needs to be done to save Nigeria from more avoidable deaths and have a healthy society.
The Deputy Governor of Kano State, Professor Hafiz Abubakar in his presentation titled “Investing in Nutrition is the Key to Sustainable Development: The case for the inclusion of Nutrition in the BHCPF” was emphatic about the need for Nigeria to declare emergency on nutrition because of high rate of stunted children especially in the Northern part of Nigeria. According to him, for the future of Nigeria to be bright and secured, it must declare emergency on nutrition stressing that part of the security challenges in the North East part of Nigeria could be traced unemployment and poor nutrition which may have affected the brains of some of the insurgents.
Hafiz argued that Nigeria cannot achieve anything positive in the healthcare sector unless the issue of nutrition is urgently addressed adding” you are what you eat”. The Deputy Governor noted that Nigeria is creating one of the burdens of nutrition in the world stressing that adequate nutrition from pregnancy until the baby is two years is critical to brain development. Using his State example, he said every one out of two children born in Kano is stunted even as he regrets that Nigeria is the only country keeping Africa on polio map something he described as ‘”very embarrassing”.
Some ways out of the challenge the Deputy Governor noted include awareness campaigns on nutrition, full implementation of all nutrition related policies, adequate budgetary allocation for nutrition and proper coordination of nutrition intervention programmes.
The Deputy Governor is not the only one worried about Nigeria’s nutrition crisis, many speakers at the summit did not only call for adequate funding of the heath sector, they also raised alarm about the danger ahead if Nigeria refuses to address her nutrition challenges. Dr Chris Osa Isokpunwu, Head Nutrition Division at the Federal Ministry of Health also revealed that malnutrition is the underling cause of death of many children in Nigeria adding that one in every three children are stunted. He disclosed further that over 10 million children are affected in Nigeria. According to him, child malnutrition affect the North more than the southern part of Nigeria. Dr Isokpunwu called for the inclusion of nutrition in the BHCPF, a position also taken by some of the participants.
Apart from the issue of nutrition, another major issue that came up was funding. Dr. Emmanuel Meribole Director Research and Statistics at the Federal Ministry of Health speaking to “The thrust of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund” commended the government for the inclusion of 1% in the consolidated Revenue Fund in the 2018 budget, he however said the money must be used judiciously, something that would make government to be encouraged to increase the fund. The Director however called for more funding of the health sector and continuous engagement by all stakeholders as well as the establishment of Social Insurance Agency by the states that have not done so.
The Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Folorunso Adewole who was part of the summit said the Federal Government was committed to the health care and well-being of all Nigerians adding that there has been government interventions in many health facilities across Nigeria. In his word ‘’health is key under the present administration” .The Minister who lamented that Nigeria is not making as much progress as it could in the health sector said “we need to change gear and work harder, we need more money to change the narrative in the heath sector “. Adewole assured that the Federal Government would give priority attention to the poor and rural dwellers in the provision of healthcare. While stressing the importance of Health Insurance, the Minister advised the states and the private sector to key into it. He also advised states to pay more attention to their secondary healthcare facilities to reduce the rate at which people go to Teaching Hospitals when there is no need for such. The Minister who agreed with the fear of other speakers about the challenge posed by malnutrition assured that government would do the needful as it addresses health issues.
Also speaking at the Summit, the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi said nutrition could not be separated from attainment of sustainable growth in the economy. The royal father who was represented by Alhaji Wada Aliyu said more attention should be given to nutrition adding that malnutrition related deaths are unacceptable. The Emir disclosed that traditional rulers would continue to educate their people on the importance of girl child education. Sanusi advised that all hands must be on deck to achieve Universal Health Coverage.
Earlier in his welcome address, the Chairman Senate Committee on Health, Olanrewaju Tejuoso went down the memory lane of how Nigerian lawmakers were mobilized towards harnessing their statutory functions to reposition the health system and set it on the path of Universal Health Coverage.
Senator Tejuoso disclosed that the convergence of the lawmakers in Abuja in July last year and their resolution to throw the weight of their constitutional responsibly and powers behind UCH goal gave birth to Legislative Network for UCH. He recalled that at the occasion, the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki made a commitment that the Senate would protect the Basic Health Care Provision Fund if appropriated by the Executive arm of government.
According to him, one year after, the lawmakers have surpassed expectations. His words’ As a case in point, the National Assembly went ahead to appropriate for the BHCPF in the draft of the 2018 appropriation bill despite some challenges faced and this was retained in the final budget passed by the President”
Tejuoso revealed further that efforts are on top gear towards producing a more robust and vibrant legal framework for the National Health Insurance Scheme adding that the legal framework will address identified defects in the existing laws that set up the agency. This he said was a move at expanding the Health Insurance coverage to all Nigerians and set the country on the path of Universal Health Coverage.
The Federal lawmaker however sounds a note of warning saying the task ahead is daunting “we should not allow our modest achievements in the last one year to breed complacency and constitute hindrance to our future accomplishments; we have to consolidate on the gains of the last one year and do more towards achieving the ambitious goal of UHC”
Tejuoso said further” we cannot afford to go to sleep because BHCPF is appropriated , we have to ensure its release and more importantly, ensure that the health sector in Nigeria will improve as a result of the implementation of the BHCPF”
The Senate President, Dr, Abubakar Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara in their messages to the summit reiterated the commitment of the National Assembly to achieving Universal Health Coverage.
Before the lawmakers departed to their various locations, they made many commitments, part of which include accelerating the implementation recent financial autonomy law for states legislatures with a view to strengthening oversight mechanism on UHC, state Houses of Assembly will provide coordination support for the Legislative Network for each geo-political zone and ensure UHC is captured in the manifestos of all registered political parties as sustainable movement. They also agreed to strengthen the mechanism to monitor progress of UHC, ensure the preservation of all earmarked funding especially 1% Consolidated Revenue Fund for the BHCPF is listed under statutory transfers amongst other commitments.
With the curtain of the summit drawn, ordinary Nigerians are watching the government to see how far the country can go and how fast it can move as the journey to attaining Universal Health Coverage and Nutrition begins.