Last week, President Bola Tinubu submitted the list of his ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation.
Although the number of nominees, 28, falls short of the expected total number of ministerial position, from every indication, when cleared, this first batch of ministers will be posted to critical sectors as cabinet constitution process evolves.
Health sector will likely get a minister from among this first batch. For a sector that is faced with so many challenges, Nigerians expect so much from the incoming minister.
In Nigeria public health sector investment is not among the best globally; maternal and infant mortality remain among the highest in the world while brain drain is surging.
Also health emergency preparedness remains low, HV and AIDS remain of public health concern and Universal Health Coverage still low, the incoming minister already has the work cut out.
Dr Gabriel Adakole, a public health expert, says there is a toxic mix of problems including in accessible quality health care, poor hygiene, corruption and malnutrition.
According to him, there is also the challenge of access to safe drinking water, poor health infrastructure, fake drugs, insufficient financial investment, and lack of sufficient health personnel in the country.
“The new minister must prioritise the development and improvement of healthcare infrastructure, including the construction and renovation of hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities.
“This is crucial to ensure that citizens have access to quality healthcare services.
“He or she is expected to focus on improving the quality of healthcare services provided to the Nigerian population,” he said.
According to him, this may involve investing in training programmes for healthcare professionals, improving access to essential drugs, and ensuring the availability of necessary medical equipment.
He urged the incoming minister to work towards achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC); and ensure that all Nigerians have access to affordable and quality healthcare services regardless of their socio-economic status or location.
He said he expected whosoever becomes the new minister to prioritise diseases prevention and control, including communicable and communicable diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis diabetes, hypertension cancer and other infectious diseases
Dr Abigail Banji, a Health Economist, said achieving success in the sector would require the new minister to implement effective policies, promote vaccinations, and undertaking public health campaigns to raise awareness and educate the population.
Banji urged the new minister to develop and implement policies to expand health insurance coverage in the country in order to accommodate vulnerable populations.
“He or she should also work towards promoting accountability and transparency in the health sector, ensuring that funds allocated for healthcare are utilised effectively and efficiently,” she said.
She said this might involve measures such as auditing and monitoring healthcare facilities, and cracking down on corruption within the sector.
Mrs Lydia Dimka, a retired nurse, decried the manner in which registered nurses, midwives, doctors and other healthcare workers to leave the country for greener pastures and urged the incoming minister to stem the tide.
Dimka said the mass migration was affecting the nation’s healthcare system because many of those leaving are experienced healthcare providers who were supposed to mentor the younger ones.
“The new minister needs to enhance the working conditions, provide competitive salaries, and create more job opportunities that can incentivise skilled individuals to stay and contribute to their own country.
“He or she needs to develop a strong education system and invest in research and development to attract and retain talented individuals.
“This includes providing scholarships, grants, and other incentives for students and researchers to stay in the country,” she advised.
Ms Eunice Ali, an environmental health specialist, urged the incoming minister to foster partnerships with relevant stakeholders, including international organisations and non-governmental organisations.
Ali said this would enable the country to benefit from external expertise, funding, and resources to strengthen its healthcare system.
The Managing Director, Nigeria Health Watch, Mrs Vivianne Ihekweazu, quoted the World Health Organisation (WHO) as saying that Nigeria carries the burden of over 20 per cent of global maternal deaths, making it to rank second in the world.
According to Ihekweazu, ending preventable maternal death must remain the top priority of the new minister’s agenda.
She said urged the incoming minister to consider the private sector as crucial partners in the efforts to improve maternal healthcare.
According to her, as demonstrated by the success of the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) during Nigeria’s COVID-19 pandemic response, the new minister should integrate the private sector to improve the health outcomes of women.
Also, the Health Sector Reform Coalition (HSRC) said that the any person appointed as the minister of health should ensure that the National Assembly members prioritised UHC in constituency projects.
The Chika Offor, Chair of HSRC, was recently quoted by the media as saying the minister should encourage the organised private sector to allocate more of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) fund to health and vulnerable groups in the country.
He urged the incoming minister to ensure that the National Health Act was revised for its increased funding and streamlined implementation.
He tasked the incoming minister to ensure the Patient Bill of Rights as a demand-side initiative and all healthcare facilities came into operation.
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) and the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) produced the document.
According to Mrs Jennifer Shoshan, the potential minister should ensure that Nigeria increased its vaccine production capacity.
Shoshan is a medical laboratory scientist with Innovative Biotech Limited, Karu, Nasarawa State.
Shoshan said the country’s vaccine manufacturing sub-sector faces various challenges, including inadequate infrastructure, limited funding, and inadequate technological expertise.
“Developing local vaccine manufacturing capabilities could potentially reduce the cost of vaccines, making them more affordable and accessible to the Nigerians.
“It would also create jobs and contribute to economic growth. It can also foster the development of skilled workforce and stimulate technological advancements,” she said.
She said that building vaccine manufacturing capabilities aligns with the broader goal of achieving self-sufficiency in healthcare.
Shoshan said it would strengthen the country’s healthcare system, reduce reliance on imports, and enhance local research and development capabilities.
Nigerian is among the countries where consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has constituted a major health challenge.
Some stakeholders say addressing the consumption of such beverages would mean improved wellbeing for many Nigerians.
The National Action on Sugar Reduction Coalition,(NASR) urged the incoming minister to ensure the increase of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB), tax to 20 per cent, noting that the country’s current tax on SSBs was only 6.7 per cent.
“We need a higher tax rate to have a significant impact on health. The money collected from SSB taxes should be allocated to supplement the health budget and provide nutrition for those who are at risk of malnutrition.
“The incoming minister should ensure that the government considers SSBs as a sin tax and include it in a comprehensive excise duty bill.
“This approach has been taken by Ghana, which recently introduced a 20 per cent tax on SSBs to address their public health crisis,” said the National Action on Sugar Reduction Coalition, (NASR).
This is contained in one-day regional stakeholders forum on SSBs organised by the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa and the National Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Coalition
Nigerians expect Tinubu administration to deliver on this critical. Life expectancy in Nigeria is estimated at 53.8 per cent in 2023 as against 64.1 per cent in Ghana in 2020 and 62.8 per cent in Kenya in the same 2020.
The resoluteness and character of the incoming minister will, no doubt, go a long way in changing the face of Nigeria’s health sector for the better. (NANFeatures)