COVID-19 nightmare exposes Nigeria’s wobbling healthcare system

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The trend of embarking on expensive office projects for government agencies to the detriment of the health sector is a phenomenon that has plagued Nigeria for many years.The heads of state of African Union countries on April 2001 met in Nigeria and pledged to set a target of allocating at least 15 per cent of their annual budget to improve the health sector. The resolution is known as the Abuja Declaration.However, since then, the country’s budgets for health oscillate below 10 per cent to the chagrin of stakeholders in the sector.Nigeria’s health budget for 2018 stood at N340.46bn, which was 3.96 per cent of its N8.6tn proposed national spending. A breakdown of the health budget showed Nigeria, then estimated to have a population of 186 million, allocated approximately N1, 832.62 for each citizen.Of the total N9.45tn budgeted for 2020 by the Federal Government, N427.3bn (4.5 per cent) was allocated to health.During his 2015 election campaign, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), made many promises, several of which pertained to the health sector.The President promised to increase the number of physicians from 19 per 1,000 population to 50 per 1,000 through deliberate medical education as epitomised by nations such as Ghana, as well as to increase national health expenditure per person per annum to about N50,000 (from the less than N10,000 then).He also pledged to invest in cutting-edge technology such as tele-medicine in all major health centres in the country through partnership programmes with communities and the private sector and increase the quality of all Federal Government-owned hospitals to world-class standard by 2019.But the health sector has since been fraught with continuous neglect and protests over basic entitlements, not to mention institutional and infrastructural decays.A major criticism aimed at the current regime argues that the government hadn’t delivered on its promises assessed against the 2015 campaign promise of prohibiting government officials from embarking on medical tourism. Between 2015 and 2019, Buhari spent at least 217 days in the United Kingdom, mostly on health grounds and for meetings of Commonwealth Heads of State and Government.In July 2019, for instance, the National Association of Resident Doctors threatened to embark on a strike over three major grievances against the Federal Government, including unpaid salary arrears, skipped salaries of N23.6bn and irregularities in the implementation of the Resident Doctors’ Act

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