For watchers of healthcare delivery in Nigeria, it did not come as a surprise when the country was ranked among the worst countries with weak national health systems; ranking 197 out of 200 in a recent World Bank survey. This poor ranking was attributed to inequitable distribution of healthcare resources between urban and rural areas; and lack of functional referral system due to poor funding. To refresh our minds, only 39 percent of births are assisted by skilled health professionals, just as only 23 percent of children between12 and 23 months receive full course of immunization against childhood killer diseases.
Against this backdrop, the ANPA Blog sought the audience of the Nigeria’s Minister of Health Prof. C.O.Onyebuchi Chukwu on these and other issues related to healthcare delivery in Nigeria during his visit to the United Nations in New York. It is a fact that most diseases responsible for mortality and morbidity in Nigeria are preventable and tied to areas outside of the ministry of health’s purview (water supply, sanitation, environmental pollution). The ANPA Blog posed this to the minister and wanted to know what the ministry of health was doing to educate the leadership of the ministries involved and mobilize them for a common purpose of improving the nation’s health.
The minister agreed with facts as posed by the Blog and said that inter-sectoral cooperation was vital to improving the health and health outcomes for Nigerians. He said: “We have engaged those ministries (particularly Education, Water Resources, Environment, Interior and Finance) in bilateral discussions but intend to establish the inter-ministerial/inter-sectoral committee meeting on health.” He maintained that the better educated the leaders of these sectors are, the better will be the health of Nigerians.
The minister touted the great strides made in polio prevention in Nigeria saying “From January 2010 to October 2010 only 10 cases (2 awaiting confirmation) of Wild Polio Virus transmission has occurred in Nigeria.” and that WHO acknowledges that Nigeria has reduced transmission by 98%. The ANPA Blog congratulated the minister on this achievement but reminded him that successes are directly the result of immunization campaigns that are largely driven by external agencies and that there are still pockets of morbidity to vaccine preventable diseases, for example the 100 cases of polio paralysis reported from Jan to Sept 2009 in Kano alone. The ANPA Blog was concerned about the over-reliance on outside funding agencies and minimal national resources devoted to vaccine preventable diseases. The minister acknowledged that foreign donors are helping in the polio eradication program in Nigeria, but that more domestic funds have been committed to the operational cost (about 80%) of polio eradication effort in Nigeria than from external sources. He said: “External donor funds have been used to bridge funding gaps. This is not peculiar to Nigeria.” With regard to polio vaccine procurement, the minister said that domestic funding accounts for 50% while external funding accounts for the balance of 50%.
It is our hope that the minister will follow up on his promise to forge true inter-sectoral cooperation to improve the health of Nigerians particularly the poor and disadvantaged.