Thought Leadership

The State of the Nigerian Health Sector in 2017

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The year 2017 rounds up this week, and we at Nigeria Health Watch reflect on what has been a challenging year for the Nigerian health sector. There have been set-backs, but also notable triumphs, and below are prominent themes that dominated the Nigerian health sector in 2017.

The critical role of leadership
Leadership has always been a fundamental factor in moving the Nigerian health sector, or any other sector for that matter, forward. In 2017, Nigeria’s Minister for Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, unveiled the Buhari Administration’s plan to revitalize the country’s primary health care system. The National Council on Health also came out with a report to support the argument that healthy Nigerians will help the economy thrive. Earlier in the year, the newly appointed leaders of three health parastatals spoke of what they hoped to achieve at the helm of their offices, and why leadership was important. On the Global scene, 2017 brought into leadership the first African Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom, and also saw the passing away of a great health sector leader, the late Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.

The Nigerian Mother & Child
Maternal and Child health indices in Nigeria have remained consistently dismal and in 2017 it became clear that as a country, we could not expect to make any significant progress in development if we were unwilling to recognize the startling fact that pregnant women were dying in unprecedented, alarming numbers. The #SayHerName and #GivingBirthInNigeria campaigns during the year brought into focus the commonality of this problem and the need for urgency in addressing it. In addition to maternal health, 2017 brought into sharp focus the silent nutrition tragedy facing Northern Nigeria, and the need for government at all levels to no longer turn a blind eye to Nigeria’s children. The #FeedNaijaPikin campaign urged both citizen engagement and government action to keep the issue of under-5 nutrition on the forefront of discus. With Dangote Foundation and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation making significant commitments to nutrition interventions this year, as well as the kick-off of the Buhari administration’s school feeding program, we hope that 2018 will be a better year for the Nigerian child.

Combating Disease Outbreaks and Resistance
2017 appeared to be the year of back to back disease outbreaks, from a different strain of the seasonal meningitis outbreak earlier on in the year in Northern Nigeria to Lassa fever and then the unexpected emergence of monkey pox in several Nigerian states, a situation that had Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Health, calling for calm as the nation’s “disease detectives” at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, went to work to contain the situation. The critical issue of antibiotic resistance was the focus of world antibiotics awareness week later on in the year, and of course one of the big issues discussed at this year’s Nigeria Field Epidemiology Training Program Conference.

The Road to Universal Health Coverage
A ton of advocacy went into the fight towards Universal Health Coverage for Nigeria in 2017. From discussions about the role of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) in helping Nigeria achieve UHC, to scrutiny as to whether Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs) are necessary for Nigeria’s route to UHC, to the UHC Day Walk, #Health4All, that highlighted the role of advocacy in pushing for UHC, 2017 has seen Universal Health coverage become one of the leading issues in the Nigerian health space. The #Health4AllNaija Campaign supported by Christian AID UK Nigeria has consistently kept UHC in the thoughts of Nigerians this year. With the Nigerian Senate poised to pass the 2018 budget inclusive of the 1% Basic Health Provision Fund, the hope is that the upward momentum towards UHC in Nigeria will continue into 2018.

The State of the Nigerian doctor
#BeingADoctorInNigeria was not an easy task in 2017. A joint survey by NOI-Polls and Nigeria Health Watch explored the reasons why doctors are leaving Nigeria in droves, with a poignant reflection by Nigeria Health Watch Curator Dr. Ike Anya on reasons he left and what the government and educational systems in place can do to help stop the brain drain of health personnel.

Collaboration Across Sectors

2017 also made space for discussions about how the practice of healthcare could innovate by leveraging other sectors, most especially the technology and business sectors. In 2016, Nigeria Health Watch brought to fore discussions about how healthcare and technology could collaborate in our annual Future of Health Conference, themed #HealthMeetsTech. This sparked further collaborations in 2017, including the #HealthMeetsTech hackathon held in Lagos by EpiAFRIC, ccHub Nigeria, Nigeria Health Watch and DigitalHealth Nigeria, and sponsored by Facebook. The hackathon sought to foster technology solutions for health sector problems. In 2017 discussions around how business principles could elevate the practice of healthcare in Nigeria was the centre of focus at the 2017 Future of Health Conference themed “The Business of Health.”

As 2018 draws near, there is much at stake for the Nigerian health sector. Admittedly there will be new challenges ahead, but also… new opportunities to create the health sector of Nigeria’s dreams.

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