Opinion: Let’s call the state of health in Nigeria what it is- a crisis

by Hon. Chike John Okafor

The horror of the terrorism in North East Nigeria shocked the world, and rightly caused a strong government response. But there is another killer which is as lethal but less visible, and one the government must act on also: the broken health care system that means people die from illness that could have been prevented.

The impact of inadequate care is huge. In 2015 alone malaria killed 192,284 people in Nigeria, diarrheal diseases killed 143,688 people and neonatal and maternal disorders killed 212,557 women and children. Put another way, for every one Nigerian killed by terrorists, 36 Nigerians are killed by mosquitos, 27 are killed by dirty water, and 40 women and children died during pregnancy and childbirth.

These numbers add up to a crisis as dire and urgent as direct violence.  Yet for every 1 Naira spent on health, 2.5 Naira are spent on defense. It is time the government’s response to the crisis of poor health be as swift and aggressive as the response to national security threats.


The Federal Government has rightly put a great deal of effort into tackling the terrorism in the North East, boosting funding and activity to fight Boko Haram. President Buhari has done much to turn the tide against them, and the military’s work to bring back our girls is progressing.

Other crises, such as Ebola, have also seen the government spring into action. The World Health Organization called Nigeria’s response to Ebola a “spectacular success story”, whose swift response blocked the disease spreading.

A similarly robust response must happen to end the crisis in the health system. Government’s approach must be long-term and systematic, moving beyond an approach that tackles isolated emergencies but doesn’t build foundations for a stronger Nigeria. Bold action and financing is needed to end the crisis by building a resilient primary health care system. To do so, the Government of Nigeria must do two things.

First, we must openly acknowledge that the 212,000 deaths of women and children in a single year proves the major health crises is real. This crisis must not continue, and citizens must call on government to react with the same vigor and determination as they did with the security crisis in the north.

Second, the national Government must commit to  improving minimum health services by committing to a timetable to reach the 15% Abuja Health budget target and must  immediately implement the National Health Act.  This should start by funding the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF)  with no less than 1% of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation – or about 38.6 billion Naira – in the 2017 budget. By providing a minimum package of health services to all citizens by creating primary health care facilities, this fund will save thousands of lives.

Delivering this funding could have a significant impact and put the country on a path to better health once and for all. Evidence suggests that a 10% increase in total health expenditure per capita leads to a 21% decrease in under-5 mortality rates and a 22% decrease in infant mortality rates. It would also serve as a clear signpost of the country’s desire to honour its commitment to the people of Nigeria and the world, to stem the health sector crisis.

Any preventable death is a tragedy, and it is a tale many Nigerians feel personally. With investment in health we can change this story.

The National Assembly and particularly the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is poised to reposition Primary healthcare services in Nigeria with a view to making healthcare accessible and, affordable with sustainable financing mechanisms. This will in turn ensure that at least 80% of Nigerians access basic .essential healthcare, resulting in Universal Health Coverage

Please join us and other well-meaning Nigerians as we participate in the two day Public hearing by the House of Representatives Committee on Healthcare Services on November 22nd and 23rd, 2016 at the hearing room of the House of Representatives. Your informed contributions will help re-shape the course of healthcare delivery in Nigeria.

Statistics sourced via: Institute of Health Metrics

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Hon. Chike John Okafor is the Chairman, House Committee on Healthcare Services

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