Nigeria’s health care system has long been held down with challenges such as under-funding, manpower shortages, inadequate facilities and poor equipment, among others.
In the public healthcare institutions run by federal and state governments, there is the usual shortage of healthcare personnel, and patients, in addition to buying their own drugs, are usually required to pay for basic medical consumables such as syringes, plaster, cotton wool, hand gloves and other accessories.
These structural and functional inadequacies have caused the fortunes of healthcare delivery to fall short of expectations. Today, in Nigeria, healthcare is neither readily accessible nor affordable. The National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, introduced several years ago to cushion the negative effects of unaffordable healthcare has failed to achieve that objective.
With no reliable national healthcare financing arrangement in place for the average Nigerian and the very poor, out-of-pocket payment has remained the order of the day to access healthcare services.
That the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened an already bad situation in the health sector is an understatement. The rising cases of COVID-19 infections is fast overwhelming Nigeria’s healthcare system.
The situation has become so critical that in some tertiary health institutions, all non-emergency cases are being suspended in order to devote more time and resources to COVID-19 care.
We have observed that hospital admission is now guaranteed only after deposits of huge sums of money. Some private health facilities demand a deposit of between N2 million and N10 million to admit a COVID-19 patient, apart from the cost of treatment which could be up to N300,000 per day.
It is alarming that presently in Nigeria, a COVID-19 patient who requires oxygen would, on the average, need 8 to 16 cylinders of oxygen daily at the cost of N20,000 to N50,000 per cylinder.
This sudden high demand for oxygen has triggered a booming black market for the life-saving gaseous element. Currently a patient is spending a fortune on oxygen alone in order to stay alive.
Such rising cost of healthcare in Nigeria, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has thus become a potential death sentence to majority of Nigerians who live below the poverty line of less than $1 a day.
The approval, last week, of N6.45 billion by President Muhammadu Buhari for the setting up of gas plants in 38 locations nationwide to produce oxygen for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, is a step in the right direction.
We are hoping that this gesture will be properly and quickly implemented and expanded to other areas of critical need, and will be followed by similar interventions that will rekindle the hope of all Nigerians. Certainly, a lot more needs to be done. Healthcare is a right for all Nigerians and must always be available, accessible and affordable.
To alleviate the plight of Nigerians of less than average means, the nation’s entire healthcare system must be restructured.
The era of out-of-pocket payment for healthcare must be abolished once and for all. We commend the states that have set up their own state and community health insurance schemes, and urge them to give the schemes a human face even as we admonish the Federal Government to rekindle the comatose NHIS.
Government must further subsidise the cost of health care. There must be emphasis on the allocation of more funds for provision of life-saving facilities, qualified health care personnel and provision of equipment such as oxygen tanks, respirators, ICUs, among others.