By Dayo Adesulu
Professor Patrick Utomi has said that only by bringing new ideas into the healthcare sector can Nigerian government addressed the needs of Nigerians and also attract the confidence of citizens in Diaspora who are doing well in the field of medicine to return home and boost the profession both in tertiary institutions and hospitals .
Speaking recently on Health Policy, Human Capital and National Competitiveness in Nigeria at the fifth Felix Oladejo Dosekun memorial lecture at the College of Medicine, Idi-Araba, Lagos, charged the government to make healthcare delivery both financial attractive to certain types of investors, as well as affordable to patients and to also discuss ways in which macroeconomic policy that reduces the cost of capital due to a shift in long term inflation expectations can spur an expansion in investor willing to invest in the healthcare sector from hospitals to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) centers to pharmacies.
Lamenting the condition of our health care in Nigeria, Utomi said that we should work to improve access to healthcare for all our citizens, noting that there are a number of dimensions to improving access.
Moreover, he insistedÂ that healthcare is good with both private and public benefits, stressing that a healthy work force benefits the individual as well as society at large.
According to Prof. Utomi, Nigerian institutions, should start offering â€œHealth Challenge Grants.â€ These should be competitive grants that cover both the needs for capital equipment and funding of personnel on specific diseases.
He suggested that such funds be available to research-focused healthcare start-ups and universities as venture funding for well_designed initiatives to commercialize research adding that Nigerian researchers should be part ownership in their own inventions so that risk and reward are appropriately aligned with specialized university technology development corporations focused on licensing these technologies andÂ professors allowed to go and start new ventures to bring new drugs and technologies to market.
He urged the federal government to grant the researcher and host university or corporation a right to use the findings of the research for example in drug creation on an exclusive basis for 20 years, provided clear guidelines on investment into commercialization are met noting that in return, the federal government will have an irrevocable right to 10%-20% of the profits generated from the sales of any drugs or non-drug innovation emerging from such labs.
His words: â€œThe individual should be able to buy insurance at a competitive price including for pre-existing conditions, with the Federal Government providing a backstop funding support especially for catastrophic cases. That way, the general risk pool is not distorted and insurance costs will remain competitively priced for the majority of Nigerian citizens. I anticipate that as policy and the enabling law is rethought, new financing initiatives will emerge that seek to leverage a broad balance of private capital and focused public funding to make sure Nigeriaâ€™s 140 million citizens are covered.â€
Utomi reiterated that, to create broad based access for all citizens in rural and urban areas, it is critical that we develop a rich portfolio of clinics, hospitals, specialized health centers and laboratory services, stressing that achieving that will require a revision of certain existing regulations related to the establishment of hospitals, pharmacies and specialized support services.
He further enjoined the government to work towards bringing back thousands of Nigerian healthcare professionals who have left the country asserting that, if we are successful in attracting only 25% of the broad pool of medical personnel who left since 1985, the impact would be material for Nigeria, anticipating that such personnel will return with some capital as well as their wealth of world class experience and insight. That should lead to a blossoming of medical personnel access across the nation.
Utomi however advised that, our government should review the pre_existing sector and recommendations regarding the training of new healthcare personnel from laboratoryÂ workers to pharmacists to radiologists to surgeons and nurses.
Continuing, he said that Nigeria needs a creation of electronic patient records and treatment management system. The records should be in a secure database that authorized physicians and other healthcare workers can have access to. Creating the records will also give Nigeria better access to health intelligence as well as create the data to drive innovations in patient management, saying that, a review of most global patent databases show that Nigeria is not considered an innovative nation.
The culture of Research and Development (R&D) designed to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and create new wealth is sorely lacking. Or where such R&D exists, such as we often find in long forgotten federal institutes and labs, it is simply ignored by the government, nor is it backed by venture capital due to a broad environment that has failed to link ideas and commercialization in our institutions of higher learning. We now need to urgently inspire a generation of scientists and risk takers to once more try to break the code on sickle cell disease, as well as stake their claim in gene based therapies.
â€œWe also need to enthusiastically work to own the R&D frontiers on a range of tropical ailments, as well as the process of disease management and patient treatment from computerized patient databases to social support and counseling networks. A critical element of our shared future is the ability to deploy existing knowledge as well as create new knowledge,â€ he said.