The Health Writers Association of Nigeria (HEWAN) has called on the new Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire and the Minister of state for Health, Senator Adeleke Mamora, to jointly tackle the myriads of healthcare issues bedeviling the nation.
The group said some of the key areas needing urgent interventions include the incessant poor health allocation in the national budget, the non-viability of primary health centres, high maternal and child mortality rate, brain drain, intra-sector rivalry, among others.
In a statement made available to THISDAY recently to congratulate the new ministers on their appointment, the President, HEWAN, Mrs. Chioma Obinna, said one of the issues affecting the sector was poor funding, adding that one of the priorities of the new ministers was to ensure the federal government increases health allocations, as this will not only help in ending brain drain, but also help in improving the entire healthcare of Nigerians.
The Nigerian government had in April 2010 in Abuja agreed with other members of the African Union to increase health sector allocations from the national budgets in their various countries to 15 per cent.
Nigeria has however, consistently reneged on this agreement, thereby allocating between 2.8 per cent to five per cent on healthcare annually. Last year, it allocated a paltry 3.9 per cent of the entire budget to health.
Obinna said: "We need to address brain drain. A 2017 poll by the Nigerian polling organisation, NOI, found that over 90 per cent of medical doctors in the country intend to seek employment opportunities abroad because of low job satisfaction, poor remuneration and high deductibles from their salaries. This should be addressed.
"We also want the new ministers to adequately fund primary healthcare as well as implement PHC policies it has put on ground. The disease burden will drop drastically if the challenges affecting primary healthcare are addressed properly.
"It is in the interest of the nation for the ministers to rejig our PHCs to make them viable. It is also pertinent for the ministers to continue with the 10,000 PHC project across the country."
The health writers body also called for subsidised healthcare services for the elderly, adding that there was urgent need to put in place measures to cater for aged Nigerians as old age comes with unavoidable associated ailments.
"We also call on our ministers to tackle medical negligence and misdiagnosis. The country is in dire need of effective medical laboratory services. Many of the national laboratory facilities have gone moribund. For instance, the vaccine laboratory in Lagos. There is a need to revitalise these facilities for better treatment outcomes as medical laboratory remains the bedrock of medical treatment.
"We are also expecting that maternal and child deaths are tackled head on in this dispensation. There is the need for improved efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality and morbidity, which has continued to be on the increase."
The group also called for an end to the reoccurring rivalry among healthcare providers.
"We believe that paying attention to the inter-professional rivalry in the public health sector should be among the first steps by the new health minister. There should be zero tolerance for discord in the sector.
"As a matter of necessity without prejudice, the age-long inter- and intra-professional rivalries, discord, acrimony, and crisis that have always thrown the Nigerian health sector into unending and perennial discord should be tackled.
"This has always been described in some quarters as irreconcilable differences and cold war. What this has brought to the health sector is retrogression, stagnation, motion without movement, among others."
She added that "the rivalry has eroded patient-centred practices, especially openly demonstrated in public health institutions. This has gone unabated for years. Patients have suffered the consequences in no small way, and has greatly led to the loss of confidence in our sector."
While noting that the appointments were round pegs in round holes, Obinna called for improved management of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), adding that the country cannot achieve Universal Health Coverage if health insurance remains optional.
HEWAN is the umbrella body of all health/science reporters and editors in Nigeria, including those with television, radio, print and online media.