Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, has called on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to focus on boosting comprehensive primary healthcare in its intervention programmes across the country rather than funding the eradication of individual diseases like polio, tuberculosis and the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Saraki gave the charge when the new Country Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Nigeria, Dr. Paulin Basinga, visited him in Abuja, according to a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Sanni Onogu, in Abuja.
He said since the country is hopeful of eradicating the polio pandemic, it would be good for the foundation to focus its intervention on provision of universal and qualitative primary healthcare support services both at the subnational and federal level.
Saraki said: "I would want you to take back one key message because it is our hope that we will eradicate polio and be certified as polio free country. The question now is what next as a foundation?
"This visit is timely in the sense that my view going forward has to do with one of the greatest concerns here in the Senate and the National Assembly which is basic and universal healthcare coverage. I believe that that is where the next discussion should be. My message to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is that that is where the focus and efforts should be.
"I think that at that level, the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly are where the collaboration should be because I believe that the kind of legislative framework we put in place will ensure the participation not only by states or local governments but more importantly, the private sector.
"I believe that universal health coverage can be done in such a way that would make it viable for the private sector to participate, apart from charitable foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to be able to mop up the funds that is required.
"Like I said to Bill Gates Foundation way back in 2008, I still have the strong view that in your efforts to address healthcare, we should move away from focussing on different types of diseases like tuberculosis, AIDS, or polio. We should go to the roots of the problem by addressing primary healthcare. That is where I believe that the Foundation can be of great value to this great country and the National Assembly is ready to partner with you to put up the necessary framework.
"If you really want to improve the health condition in Nigeria and the African continent, you need to also provide the enabling environment for providers who specialize in this care. I think it will also help for financial inclusion in the economy by the time you have those kind of investors in healthcare," he stated.
Earlier, the new country Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Paulin Basinga, said the visit was part of the Foundation's efforts to rethink its operations.
Basinga lauded the senate president for helping the foundation achieve record successes during his time as Governor of Kwara State and Chairman of the Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF).
He said: "At the Gates Foundation, we are rethinking our approach to development, as we are bringing most of our support and resources close to the ground. We support health, agriculture and financial inclusion. And we work very closely with different agencies of the federal government across the federation.
"We just wanted to come here and very sincerely thank you and your team for the amazing work you have been doing in moving major reforms in health sector, in agriculture because when you look at how Nigeria is moving, it is just impressive the amount of effort that is coming from the Senate down to the sederal and state level.
"You (Saraki) are known by the Gates Foundation as someone, from your time as Chairman of the NGF, it was an impressive time when you really called all the governors and helped us to realise for the first time that it was important to work very closely with the governors on intervention towards polio eradication.
"If you look at the data, it is only during that time that we started seeing the number of cases of polio going down and we built from that partnership with the NGF to also provide additional support to them and use the lessons learnt to strengthen the primary healthcare debate now," he said.