Nigeria: National Health Dialogue Opens in Abuja

A panel discussion at the National Health Dialogue
15 October 2019

Abuja's Nixon Luxury hotel will play host to hundreds of players in the health sector from across Nigeria and Africa on Tuesday and Wednesday.

They are gathering for the second edition of the National Health Dialogue with lively debates expected on a range of challenges facing the health sector of Africa's most populous nation.

Themed "Universal Health Coverage - The role of State and Non-State Actors in Healthcare funding and support", the two-day annual event could not have come at a better time than exactly a week after Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria's president presented the 2020 budget proposal to the national assembly for consideration.

From an aggregate expenditure of N10.33 trillion, President Buhari on Tuesday proposed N46 billion for health - almost six times less than N262 billion for Works and Housing for capital expenditure.

Even the Universal Basic Education Commission received N112 billion - more than double of what was allotted to health.

Health experts have condemned the proposed capital expenditure for health, saying it cannot meet the health needs of Nigeria's almost 200 million people.

Health Not a Priority

Despite President Buhari's repeated expression of concern over poor funding for health, his latest spending plan for the sector fell short of the N71.1 bn and N51.1 bn respectively proposed in 2018 and 2019 for capital expenditure, an indication that Nigeria will again fail to meet the "Abuja Declaration" target of 15 per cent budgetary allocation for health for the 19th year running.

Much earlier in the year, Mr Buhari acknowledged the need to address Nigeria's gross out-of-pocket spending for health. He chose this year's study topic for the NIPSS - Nigeria's foremost think-thank institution - to be on finding solutions for funding healthcare in the country.

Meanwhile, a bill to make Nigeria's Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) compulsory has been on his table since June when the immediate past 8th National Assembly that initiated and passed the piece of legislation bowed out.

A mandatory health insurance programme has long been identified as necessary to protect Nigerians from out-of-pocket payment for healthcare. Millions of Nigerians continue to face health mishaps due to causes mostly preventable or at least treatable partly because they cannot afford quality care since health insurance has largely been ineffective.

This is why campaigns and advocacy calls have been channeled to the president, urging him to give a nod to the bill. He is, however, yet to take a decision.

Apart from poor funding, other challenges to health financing include untimely and non-release of budgetary allocations for health, a situation attributed to Nigeria's grim health indices.

Various statistics show that Nigeria has one of the worst health care delivery records in the world.

According to the World Health Organization, Nigeria is rated 187th out of 191 countries in terms of health care delivery.

Today, about 70 per cent of the country's population still spend out-of-pocket for health services, according to Budgit, a platform analyzing Nigerian budgets and public data.

Out-Of-Pocket spending on health negates the principle of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) which advocates for a system where everybody accesses care without being drained by its costs.

A call for National Health Dialogue

With the foregoing, organisers could not help but advance critical conversations initiated at the maiden edition of the National health dialogue in August 2017 which saw stakeholders and citizens interrogate the challenges and prospects of UHC in Nigeria.

To take things a notch higher, this year's dialogue seeks to stimulate discussions on the current status, challenges, opportunities and recommend actionable steps and strategies to better healthcare financing and support towards improved UHC, organizers said.

The event is organised by PREMIUM TIMES; Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, PTCIJ; the Project for Advocacy in Child and Family Health; PACFaH@Scale; the Project Pink Blue and the Nigerian Governor's Forum (NGF).

With seven fully packaged panels to be anchored by renowned health experts, advocates, and government officials from Nigeria and other African nations, the two-day event opens at 7: 30a.m daily.

Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria's Vice President, and health minister Osagie Ehanire are the special guests.

The Emir of Gombe, Abubakar Shehu-Abubakar; Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA); Muhammed Sambo, Executive Secretary, National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS); Lydia Dsane-Selby, Executive Secretary of Ghana's health scheme (NHIA) are major highlights of the event.

Dogo Mohammed, a former NHIS executive secretary will deliver a keynote speech to set the dialogue in motion.

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