Last Monday, Linda Ikeji broke a story on the death of Oluwaseun Ezekiel, who had just graduated from the University of Lagos and was due to serve her fatherland in two weeks. She died from complications of cardiac failure, having been rushed to the emergency room at midnight on the day of her demise.
On arrival at the emergency room, it took over 15 minutes before she was seen by a doctor. To make matters worse, her relatives had to pay for medical supplies, including an oxygen tube, which were necessary to administer life-saving treatment. In the critical moments needed to save her life, additional, precious minutes were wasted waiting for a cashier to finish eating his meal before they could make the payment for the much needed medical supplies to save Oluwaseun’s life. In the end, she was transferred to a resuscitation unit that had only a single functional heart monitor and no defibrillator. The result: another promising young Nigerian had been lost to our decrepit healthcare system.
The failures, medical and administrative, that led to Ms. Ezekiel’s untimely demise occurred at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Nigeria’s premier teaching hospital, which ought to be at the forefront of healthcare delivery in the country. If such a thing could happen at UCH, what hope is there for a patient seeking care at a primary health centre in rural Nigeria? Take a moment to imagine the fate of such a patient.
How did it get so bad? The answer isn’t far-fetched. The lack of political will to revamp our ailing healthcare system is to blame for thousands of preventable deaths that occur each year all over the country. Our healthcare system is in shambles and not much is actively being done to stem this dangerous tide. The paltry allocation to the health sector in the 2018 Budget tells the story of a government that trivializes the health and well-being of its citizens.
This year, only N340.45 billion out of Nigeria’s N8.6 trillion budget was allocated to the health sector. This represents less than 4 percent of the annual budget, a regrettable decline from marginally higher allocations of 4.16 and 4.23 percent in 2017 and 2016, respectively. While our budget allocations to the health sector have dwindled, our health indicators have worsened.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nigeria is rated 187th out of 191 countries in terms of healthcare delivery, only outperforming the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Myanmar. Even more alarming is the fact that our country has the third highest infant mortality in the world! Little wonder Nigerians spend N359.2 billion on medical tourism every year, more than our budget allocation on health.
Our N340 billion allocation to the health sector translates to a derisory N1888 for the health of each Nigerian during the entire fiscal year. The situation becomes even more distressing when one considers that N269.34 billion, about 78 percent of the budget for the health sector, is earmarked for recurrent expenditure such as routine operations and services, wages and salaries, and current grants and subsidies. Only N71.11 billion is allocated for much needed capital expenditure required to revamp our healthcare infrastructure.
As a signatory to the 2001 African Union Accord (Abuja Declaration), Nigeria, along with other African nations, pledged to commit at least 15 percent of its annual budget to improving healthcare in the country. Our current allocation does not even get a third of the way towards fulfilling this pledge. Advanced and emerging economies around the world understand the inexorable link between the health of their people and the wealth of a nation; hence, these countries make substantial allocations to the health sector in their annual budgets. If Nigeria intends to take its rightful place among the comity of nations, it must begin by demonstrating a firm commitment to improving the health of its citizens.
A government that fails to make the health of its people a priority cannot be trusted to bring about meaningful change or progress in any other sector of the nation. The coming elctions in 2019 presents us with a golden opportunity to reject the negligence of the current administration and instead choose a government that understands that the health of the people is the wealth of the nation.