MORE than 150 million Nigerians, that is, 96 per cent of the country’s estimated 160 million population, don’t have access to reliable health financing mechanism, Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu has revealed.
Chukwu and the President/Chairman of Council, Institute of Directors, Nigeria (IoD), Arc. Thomas C. Awagu, yesterday at a breakfast seminar on ‘Investment Opportunities in the Health Sector’ organised by IoD in Lagos, decried the poor participation of the private sector in the country’s health services, and the increase in medical tourism by Nigerians.
Medical tourism is the rapidly-growing practice of travelling across international borders to obtain health care. It also refers to the practice of healthcare providers travelling internationally to deliver healthcare.
Chukwu said active participation of the private sector is required in partnership with government towards facilitating quick achievement of government’s healthcare targets.
“A number of factors tend to discourage private sector investment in the Nigerian health sector. They include high cost of borrowing funds, current security challenges, poor infrastructure base resulting in high cost of doing business, and absence of reliable health financing mechanism for more than 96 per cent of the populace,” he said.
Chukwu added that the federal government is leading efforts at addressing the challenges through facilitating access to funds held by development banks; establishing intervention funds; restructuring, retraining, and retooling of security personnel by addressing issues relating to poverty and employment generation. It is also giving priority to providing power, water and roads and is revamping the railway system and developing the inland waterways.
The health minister said government has also introduced community based social health insurance, and the voluntary contributor social health insurance scheme. These, he said, are in addition to the federal public sector scheme.
He said the National Health Bill will also boost private sector participation in health, and that government is exploring innovative funding mechanisms to achieve universal emergency medical coverage through the introduction of special levies and taxes.
On his part, Awagu said that despite the seeming huge growth potentials within the Nigerian health sector, investment is quite low in the sector. He also observed that despite the country’s position among developing economies, and the government’s efforts at growing the economy both in real and monetary terms, the health care sector still remains largely untapped, as adequate health care delivery still remains a major challenge.
“For a population of over 160 million, drug consumption is still relatively low – a factor that contributes to the pharmaceutical market being described as one of the smallest among the Middle and East African (MEA) region (13th out of 14 countries and ahead of only Zimbabwe),” Awagu lamented.