Nigeria has asked the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, UNICEF, for support in building capacity of health extension workers working at the primary health care centres in communities across the country.
The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, tabled the request on Monday during a meeting with officials of the agency in Abuja.
The concept of health extension workers was introduced by a late minister of health, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, to provide healthcare services at community levels across Nigeria.
According to a statement by the ministry, Mr. Adewole said improving the capacity of the health workers would help in achieving the objective of the Saving One Million Lives Programme for Result Initiative, which the federal government introduced to improve the health of mothers and children in Nigeria.
UNICEF is a United Nations programme that provides humanitarian assistance to children and mothers in developing countries.
He said the government believes that investing in primary healthcare system at the community level was the only way to improve the health indices of Nigeria.
"When you look at our healthcare indicator, our problem is not the rich, not the educated, 95 per cent of educated Nigerians receive antenatal care, 20 per cent of the poor receive antenatal care.
"So if we want to truly address maternal mortality, we must focus on the rural and the poor. Same goes for immunisation, the rich can take care of themselves, they can take the next available flight out of Nigeria to access care but the poor have nowhere to go", Mr. Adewole said.
The minister appreciated the support of UNICEF in the fight against polio, child survival, prevention of mother to child HIV/AIDS transmission and nutrition
Speaking earlier, the Deputy Executive Director, Programme, UNICEF, Omar Abdi, restated the agency's commitment to improving maternal and child health, strengthening immunisation and revitalisation of primary healthcare system in Nigeria.
Mr. Abdi said UNICEF and the ministry of health have a long history of partnership in improving healthcare system in Nigerian.
Also speaking, Marie Pierre Poirier, from the agency's West and Central Africa Regional Office, Dakar, Senegal said UNICEF considered Nigeria a very important country in West and Central African Region.
She said that sharing ideas between the minister and UNICEF may offer solutions to some of the numerous challenges confronting the Nigerian health sector.
"We sought for a conversation with you to hear your vision and strategy so that we can support it, we want to set specific objectives, which would include immunization component which may support the fight against polio in the country.
"We want your guidance, we are on the process of shaping the next five years programme, so we want to make sure that what we want to do in the health sector in Nigeria is in line with your priority, but also we shall together define it in terms of actual result that we would achieve on children."