On October 1, Nigeria turned 57 years. On this day in 1960, Nigerians gained their right to vote and above all, got a chance to actualize the nation’s potential through self-rule. It has been an eventful 57 years since. Nigeria has faced civil war, ethnic and religious tension, periods of economic hardship, political instability, military coups and an ongoing insurgency. However, the country has withstood all these to boast Africa’s largest or second largest economy (depending on recessionary effects), a vibrant and highly influential cultural scene, a major role in the security and leadership of Africa and a litany of highly accomplished individuals in almost every walk of life.
There remain big challenges to the nation’s ability to reach its full potential over the next 57 years, none more so than the country’s continued inability to provide basic healthcare to its people. I pondered this during a recent visit to Garki Hospital in Abuja, where I have primarily accessed healthcare over the past two years. On that busy Wednesday morning, I spent about an hour in the hospital, a thoroughly stress-free period during which I was attended to by courteous staff, had a brief but satisfying consultation with a young doctor and exited the building with the medicines I was prescribed and a feeling of general satisfaction with the experience. That feeling was vindicated by an improvement in my symptoms over the next few days. Garki Hospital is not what most Nigerians imagine a government hospital to be, with its computerized records, impressive surgical capabilities and advanced fertility treatments. Yet, that is precisely what it is. Garki Hospital is a government facility managed through a partnership with a private company over the past decade, a partnership that has transformed the facility into one where relative efficiency and competence are the norm.
However, government hospitals like Garki Hospital are not the norm across Nigeria. In fact, government-owned hospitals are generally viewed as less able to provide adequate care to patients than private facilities which have become the preserve of the wealthy and middle classes due to their prohibitive costs. The poor state of Nigeria’s public healthcare system is apparent in its national health outcomes. 58,000 mothers in Nigeria die every year from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes. In addition, 41,000 children become infected with HIV in Nigeria yearly, more than any other country in the world. UNICEF has rated Nigeria’s basic immunization coverage as the eighth worst in the world and one third of Nigerian children under the age of 5 are stunted due to malnutrition.
With Nigeria’s population expected to double to 400,000,000 in the next 33 years, the country must begin to replicate the public healthcare experience I had last Wednesday morning for all its citizens. The future implications of the ongoing population boom depend greatly on Nigeria’s ability to provide basic services and create an environment where Nigerians are able to thrive and maximize their obvious potential. Healthcare will be a crucial dimension in the country’s struggle to meet its population’s needs over the next generation. Despite the inadequacies of the current system, Nigeria has taken important policy steps towards meeting the healthcare needs of Nigerians. In April, 2001, the Heads of African countries met in Abuja and pledged to set a target of allocating at least 15% of national budgets towards healthcare provision. In addition, the National Healthcare Act of 2014 stipulates the allocation of 1% of the Consolidated Revenue Fund as the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund. These two commitments by government, if fully implemented and backed by open contracting and financial transparency in the sector, could form the basis a healthcare system capable of meeting the basic healthcare needs of the next generation of Nigeria.
Recognizing the importance of these commitments to the Nigeria’s future, ONE will continue to campaign for their realization through Make Naija Stronger, working with partners across civil society, government, media, entertainment and business. In the coming weeks and months, the Presidency and National Assembly will need to place healthcare at the very top of their priorities in the formulation of the 2018 budget. Healthcare is simply too imporant to continue to be underfunded, just as the pressure on the existing system continues to mount.
As the country reflects on its past and plans its future this Independence Day, it must decide that the country’s promise should no longer be hampered by an inadequate and struggling public health system, a decision that must be matched by policy and budgetary actions. Only then will the limitations and unfulfilled potential of the past 57 years be replaced by the development and prosperity Nigerians deserve in the 21st century.