Alaran Aishat

Over the years, the health and well-being of people in sub-Saharan Africa have been deteriorating at an increasingly alarming rate and Nigeria happens to be a major hotspot for this menace. Seemingly, this menace is being encouraged by the high out-of-pocket expenditure on health care services in Nigeria.

This has become very worrisome and as a matter of fact, has gone a long way to further pauperize the masses who have little or no means of financing their health. In order to curb this rising threat, the Universal Health Coverage, UHC has been put introduced by the World Health Organization to combat the problems of health financing.

Sadly, very little is known about Universal health coverage in Nigeria and the little that is known is due to limited research as a result of little or no financial support, and from a public outcry through the mass media about our poor health system. Numerous approaches have been taken by stakeholders and key players in the Nigerian health sector to curb the threat of health financing but its rise amongst her citizens cannot be over-emphasized.

Although these approaches have been quite feasible, there is still a need for all hands to be on deck to tackle these problems of health financing in Nigeria. The paradigm shift in the role of the pharmacist from a product-oriented to patient-oriented practice and the fact that primary health care, which Pharmacists are highly involved in and a big part of, has been said to be key to the attainment of the goals of Universal health coverage has put us at the very forefront in the journey towards achieving the Universal Health Coverage.

 Towards Achieving UHC in Nigeria: Pharmacists and Pharmacists-In-Training as Agents of Change

According to the World Health Organization, ‘Universal health coverage (UHC) means that all people and communities can use the promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services they need, of sufficient quality to be effective, while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship’.

Currently, only 4% of Nigerians (mainly federal government employees and their households) are covered by health insurance. This gives a very bad reputation to the Giant of Africa! The way a country finances its health care system is a critical determinant for reaching universal health coverage (UHC). This is so because it determines whether the health services that are available are affordable to those that need them.

In Nigeria, the health sector is financed through different sources and mechanisms. The difference in the proportionate contribution from these sources determines the extent to which such health sector will go in achieving successful health care financing system. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, achieving the correct blend of these sources remains a challenge, hence it is very important for pharmacists and pharmacists-in-training to realize the important roles they play as agents of change in achieving universal health coverage in Nigeria.

The role of the pharmacist has evolved over the past 50 years, in order to accommodate the health care needs of the population. In addition to dispensing medications and ensuring patient safety, pharmacists today are taking on a larger role as medical counselors, educators and advocates and pharmacists-in-training are expected to follow suit. This signifies how indispensable pharmacists are when it comes to healthcare in the 21st century.

However, many low- and middle-income countries lack the pharmacy workforce needed to provide universal health coverage. It is imperative we recognize pharmacists as an integral part of any healthcare system. Pharmacists are critical to the attainment of the goal of universal health coverage and equitable access to essential health services, particularly in relation to access to medicines and medicines expertise- the Pharmacist is unarguably your expert when it comes to medicines.

Pharmacists— as the most accessible healthcare professionals in the world are more often than not the first point of contact with the health system in many countries, this is highly evident in a country like Nigeria, where access to hospitals can be a long and tedious process.

This serves to reinforce the unique responsibility that Pharmacists have towards the provision of safe, effective, quality and affordable medicines — a key objective of universal health coverage. Furthermore, the leading causes of inefficiency in the health system in Nigeria has been highlighted to include the use of substandard and counterfeit medications, inappropriate and ineffective use of medications and medication errors.

The pharmacist has a unique opportunity to curb this inefficiency, hence the role of the Pharmacist as a member of the healthcare team cannot be understated. To lay further emphasis to this point, the theme of this year’s World Pharmacist Day held annually on the 25th of September is “Safe and Effective Medicine for All.” The Pharmacist, therefore, has the patient’s best interest at heart.

Exploring better ways of encouraging classic improvement services in health care in Nigeria is important. The patients’ accessibility to pharmacists has brought to the fore issues encompassing the roles of a pharmacist in prevention, initiatives, and interventions. This is a trend in the positive direction among pharmacists. Health promotion activities by pharmacists include health education, behavioral and lifestyle modifications among patients.

Providing care information about the available choices for disease prevention or management encourages positive behavioral change in care providers. This is not without information on policy areas that border on health like good nutrition, physical exercise, and weight control, avoidance of overcrowding, medication use, good housing, and self-care, monitoring of illnesses, and working conditions.

Conclusively, many good examples exist worldwide which will prove invaluable in our quest to achieve the Universal Health Coverage in Nigeria. We as pharmacists or pharmacists-in-training should not, nor should we ever, take our responsibilities lightly.

As a matter of importance, we must look beyond our ivory towers to other health professions educators, our employers and more importantly, the masses as we seek to find new ways to solving the challenges facing health care financing- a necessary step as agents of change towards achieving the Universal Health Coverage in Nigeria.

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