The Lancet on Nigeria’s Health Bill

The Lancet editorializes the newly passed Health Bill, which is awaiting the assent of President Goodluck Jonathan.

It summarizes the nation’s health challenges:

“Life expectancy at birth averages just 54 years for both sexes. Maternal mortality is 608 per 100 000 livebirths, and the mortality rate for children younger than 5 years is more than double the global average at 157 per 1000 livebirths. Nigeria is the only country in the African continent to have never eradicated poliomyelitis, and only 3% of HIV-positive mothers receive antiretrovirals. Just 6% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is spent on health and there are enormous inequalities in its allocation between the rich and poor areas of the country.”

The Journal has an inside scoop on how the health bill could transform the nations health system:

The bill provides a framework for the regulation and provision of national health services, defines the rights of health workers and users, and stipulates guidelines for the formulation of a national health policy. Its promises will not change everything for Nigerians, but the bill does allow them to finally hold the government to account for their right to health, including equitable access to care. Never before has there been such momentum towards making a real commitment to improving health in this country.

The bill pledges to develop a national health policy that includes 60 billion naira (about US$380 million) devoted to primary health care each year, commitments to the provision of essential drugs, and comprehensive vaccination programmes for pregnant women and children younger than 5 years of age. It rightly devotes a whole section to strategies to reduce the crippling effect of the brain drain on health care; there are as many Nigerian doctors working in the USA as there are in the public health-care sector of Nigeria. The bill thus commits to providing adequate resources for ongoing education and training of doctors, including a continuing professional development programme. The health bill stipulates the need for measures of accountability, which are central to the bill’s success. The country’s performance and the state of citizens’ health need to be assessed by an independent authority, and the government must be accountable for delivering on their promises.

The full editorial is in The Lancet‘s current issue (pay wall).

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