Mrs. Abieyuwa Abel, a Social Anthropologist, has called on the Federal Government to use the National Health Act (NHA), 2014, to fast track Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Nigeria.
Abel made the call in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), on Wednesday in Abuja.
She was speaking ahead of the commemoration of International Day of UHC, slated for Dec. 12.
NAN reports that on Dec. 12, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) unanimously endorsed a resolution urging countries to accelerate progress toward UHC.
The idea was that everyone, everywhere should have access to quality, affordable health care as an essential priority for international development.
In 2014, the UN started to observe Dec. 12 as UHC Day to commemorate the date on which the General Assembly officially recognised the importance of UHC.
NAN reports that the theme of the 2019 UHC Day is 'Keep the Promise'
The social anthropologist said that the NHA was a viable framework, the implementation of which could help the country and its people achieve UHC.
"This Act sets the background to earmark adequate public resources to health towards strengthening primary health care through the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund.
"Fifty per cent of the fund will be managed by the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), to ensure access to a minimum package of health services for all Nigerians.
"forty-five per cent of the fund will be deployed to the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCA), for primary health-care facility upgrade and maintainable provision of essential drugs, and deployment of human resources to primary health-care facilities.
"The Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) will manage the remaining five per cent for national health emergency and response to epidemics.
"Counterpart funding from state and local governments is at the core of the National Health Act implementation," she said.
According to her, resource mobilisation and accountability are key factors for successful implementation of the National Health Act.
She said that though there was substantial evidence that public financing was key to the achievement of UHC, government expenditure on health remained had low, with domestic resource mobilisation weak.
Abel said that President Mohammadu Buhari's administration should creatively and aggressively explore innovative domestic financing despite attendant fiscal constraints.
She said that tax avoidance and inefficient tax collection were the major roadblocks that the President should tackle to improve domestic revenue generation.
The social anthropologist said that sufficient funds could be obtained through taxes on products that pose risk to health such as tobacco and alcohol, and progressive levies on phone calls or mobile phone purchases.
Other sources of income she identified included taxes on air tickets, foreign exchange transactions, and luxury goods.
Abel said that the government could also generate substantial fiscal capacity to fund national health reforms by cutting the country's enormous budget for fuel subsidies.
"Buhari-led government can also 'assert vision and control' to mobilise and align resources from domestic and external sources, and ensure efficient use of such resources to increase access to high-quality health care for Nigerians.
"The government should implement the 2001 Abuja declaration by allocating at least 15 per cent of its budget to health.
"With all of these in place, the government can demonstrate its political will to achieve the 2014 Presidential Summit Declaration on UHC and secure the crucial public support needed for other reforms," she said.
According to her, government should make health insurance compulsory by facilitating the amendment of the 1999 NHIS Act 35.
Abel said that with full implementation of NHIS, the 36 states of the federation and FCT should create their health insurance agencies with guidance from the NHIS, and implement innovative ways to capture the formal and informal sectors.
She described UHC as a political choice, which required vision, courage, and long-term thinking.
"It is the best investment for a safer, fairer and healthier Nigeria that is needed for people's health and sustainable development."
She said that universal health care could be cheaper if Nigerians had the courage to fight the existing powers and corporations.
"Forty-nine of the 50 most developed nations in the world have universal health care.
"The one nation where it is not yet a reality is the one we are living in. It can be a reality here only if our government keep to its promise."
NAN recalls that the UHC international day has become the annual rallying point for the growing global movement for Health for All.
The day aims to raise awareness of the need for strong and resilient health systems and universal health coverage.
Each year, on Dec. 12, UHC advocates raise their voices to share the stories of the millions of people still waiting for health, to call on leaders to make bigger and smarter investments in health, and to remind the world that Health for All is imperative to create the world we want.