BY SOLA OGUNDIPE
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of the UNFPA, and former Nigerian Minister of Health, Professor Babatunde Osotimehin, has urged Nigeria and other developing countries to commit more resources towards ensuring better health and education for the people.
Oshotimehin, who asserted that Nigerians have a right to health, told Good Health Weekly in an exclusive chat, that a developing country would not advance if it does not invest in the health and welfare of its people.
“Developing countries must be compelled to look at their priorities in a different way from the developed countries. There is no way a developing country can develop if it does not invest in its greatest resource – the people.
“You do not get services if you do not pay. I do not think governments can continue to hope that these things will happen. It is not just about talking, but about putting money on the table,” he remarked.
Arguing for sustained quality of care, the UNFPA chief executive explained that there are various steps to ensure the final beneficiary gets the care.
“I have always been an advocate for the belief that human capacity development is the most important investment a country can make to provide sustainable development. I think that is a major shift in the thinking that must happen for us to move forward. I know of countries that have recently developed and are spending up to 60 percent of their budget on health and education.
Further, Oshotimehin said: “There are two things I have noticed. First we know that most governments in Africa depend on overseas assistance to treat HIV patients. That is not acceptable because if suddenly there is change in government, which we have seen before, there could be a change in ideology. People would take away their resources from the government and what happens? Patients would be left on the ledge.
“The second has to do with Nigeria. There was a period when the USAID was responsible for almost all the immunisation for our children., then there was a change in government, and the USAID withdrew. At that time USAID was providing immunisation for almost 83 percent of our children. When they left, our immunisation coverage dropped to about 20 percent.
“We have to take those difficult decisions to put resources for the health and education of our people. It is the smart thing to do. As government, we are not doing the people any favour when we ensure they are healthy or educated/ What we are doing is making sure we have sustainability in the system. It is a decision that must be taken.”
Oshotimehin recalled that in 2000, Africa resolved to commit 15 percent budget to health, but just six or seven countries out of the initial 52 have actually kept to that pledge. “Political will must be translated into resources, and the good resources must be utilised judiciously.
“I have a World Bank data that demonstrates that only 10 percent of what we spend on health is from Official Development Assistance, while 90 per cent is from domestic resources, but what is hidden and what the Report also shows is that 70 percent of that 90 percentis from out of pocket, so seeking health care in our country impoverishes the average person because they have to pay for everything from their pocket, which is why the health seeking behaviour is not there.
“If there is no money they do not go anywhere. They may end up in a church or somewhere. That is what happens. Governments have to do something about that. The fact that a woman is expecting doesn’t mean she has to be poor. We should find ways to ensure that essential care is available without people tipping themselves into poverty.
We need to support the system and make sure we refine it to deliver good to more people than before,” Oshotimehin concluded.