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A day with Nigeria’s National Advocates for Health

Group photograph of the National Advocates for Health

By Sunday Oyinloye

Professor Oladapo Ladipo needs little introduction in Nigeria’s health sector. However, it is not only in Nigeria that he has proved his professionalism; the Obstetrician is international recognized as one of the pillars that hold the health system in Africa. Oladapo through his research activities has to his credit about 160 publications in reputable international and national journals.  The Professor who has deep knowledge about how the health system in Nigeria is being run is however worried about the future of his country’s health system and  therefore cautioned that something urgent has to be done to put it back on track. The highly respected Medical Practitioner recalled that the University College Hospital, Ibadan was one of the best in the world in the 60s. He said, same cannot be said of the health facility and other Teaching Hospitals in the country today.

The Founder / President, Association for Reproductive and Family Health believes that adequate funding of the Health sector and effective utilization of such funds are keys to bringing about the desired improvement in Nigeria’s health delivery services.

He was one of the 25-member National Advocates for Health that held its 2021 Annual Retreat in Abuja on Monday with the theme: Sustainable Financing for Health in Nigeria; The Role of Advocates

L-R Hon Hon. Muhammad Usman, Hon.Samuel Babatunde Adejare, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe and Alhaji Ibrahim Tafawa Balewa

The renowned Obstetrician said “while Nigeria has produced the best of the best healthcare workers, we have been exporting our brightest brains. COVID-19 has further opened the door for our health workers to travel abroad. This shouldn’t have happened if the environment at home is conducive. They are traveling because health is not a priority of the Federal, State and the Local Governments. No research is going on in our Teaching Hospitals.

“We should have professionals who would be able to advise the government rightly. If you go to some Primary Health Care Centres, you will be ashamed as a Nigerian. The way out is for our Primary Healthcare facilities to be put in proper shape and the health workers trained and retained. There should also be effective utilization of funds allocated to the Health sector. Security, Health and Education should be given priority by the government”

Professor Oladapo was not the only one that made a wakeup call at the retreat that witnessed the investiture of six new members, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Dr. Ibrahim  Oloriegbe also decried  what is happening in the Health sector.

He observes that while monies   are allocated for some projects, the funds are not effectively utilized. Oloriegbe therefore argued that it is not just enough for more money to be allocated to the Health sector,” Nigerians deserve to see how the funds are utilized and feel the impact”

The Senator revealed “As at October, 2020, the Ministry of Health had not utilized the money allocated to them. Budget for cancer was not utilized. Money was budgeted for Benin Bone marrow Centre but the centre is not there”

He said further “Our advocacy should be towards effective utilization of funds released for the Health sector. The states in particular should be more effective in the utilization of money allocated to them. They should not see it as free money.

Oloriegbe disclosed that more still need to be done in the Health sector by the Federal, State and Local Governments, adding “The three tiers of government should harmonize in the task of providing health healthcare services to Nigerians”.

Also speaking along the same line, the immediate past Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole agrees with Professor Oladapo that the Health sector in Nigeria needs more funding.  According to him, more attention should be given to the Health sector by the three tiers of government. According to him “investment in health has high returns”.

Professor Adewole advised that former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu  Dogara should become members of National Advocates for Health  for their roles in ensuring that  1% of the Consolidated Federal Revenue   goes to Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF). The BHCPF helps to implement more equitable and efficient health care financing to provide essential services to the most vulnerable members of the population.

Still on the need for more attention to the Health sector, a National Assembly member, Hon. Mansur Soro said the time to stop Medical Tourism in the country is now. He however observes that this could only happen if more attention is given to the healthcare delivery services in Nigeria.

According to the Federal Lawmaker, Nigeria is underfunding the Health sector and things will only get better  when more attention is given to health adding that the House of Representatives is committed to  the transformation of the Health sector.

Speaking in the same vein, another National Assembly member, and Deputy Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Health Services, Dr. Samuel Babatunde Adejare, lamented a situation where   Nigerians are dying because they could not afford to pay for health services. He disclosed that mortality rate is high because people do not have access to healthcare easily.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire who was represented at the retreat by Dr. Salma Anas-Kolo however gave assurances that the Federal Government was committed to the transformation of the Health sector using primary health as a platform to achieve that.

Osagie who stressed the importance of health in the development of any country, said covid-19 pandemic has affected the economy which makes funding difficult stressing “we are however committed to the development of the health sector, particularly the health of women and children”

The Minister disclosed that COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed the weaknesses of the health sector. He assures that the lessons learnt from the pandemic would enable the government to strengthen the Health sector.

While he agrees with the other speakers that the three tiers of government should channel their resources to the development of the health sector, Osagie advised the National Advocates for Health to focus more on issues affecting women, children and brain drain.And to the local governments in the country, the Minister said they should have budget line for health.

Earlier in his welcome address, the Chairman, National Advocates for Health, Hon. Muhammad Usman who traced the his history of the organization said the Advocates was committed to using their influence to get better financing for Nigeria’s health sector adding that though the journey is still a long one, the Advocates have recorded some successes as regards Basic Health Care Provision Fund.

According to him, the retreat was organised to take stock of the journey so far, how to make the impact of the Advocates better felt by Nigerians, and to also give room for some Nigerians of like-minds to come on board.

While introducing the National Advocates for Health 2021 Annual Retreat, a veteran Journalist and Executive Director of International Society of Media in Public Health, Moji Makanjuola explained that the 25-member organization is made up of Nigerians who have passion for the development of the health sector, stressing that the six new members share the same vision and have the same passion for the development of the Health sector.

The six new members are former Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, a visiting Professor of Mass Communication, Caleb University, Lagos, Professor Adebayo Fayoyin, an accomplished Development expert, Dr. Nihinlola Mabogunje , an expert in Project Management, Family Planning and Reproductive Health,  Onoriode Ezire, Health strengthening  expert, Peter Oshaji ,and Deputy Chairman House of Representatives Committee on  Health Care Services, Dr. Samuel  Babatunde Adejare.

As reflected in the remarks of everyone that spoke at  the retreat, the Health sector in Nigeria is in dare need of rescue;  how far the National Advocates for Health  could go to bring  about the desired change is what Nigerians will be waiting to see

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