Nigeria Health Watch: Stronger Together in 2017

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As 2017 dawns, we at Nigeria Health Watch continue our advocacy for the health sector of Nigeria’s dreams with a deep sense of resolve and excitement to build on the momentum that we felt in 2016. We continue to strive to put health not only on the political agenda but also on the social agenda, to ensure that the Nigerian people, who are at the heart of our efforts, can look forward to a better health sector for themselves and their children.

On 15 August 2016 in Muna Garage IDP Camp, Borno state, Nigeria, a UNICEF health worker uses a pen to mark the thumb of Ajeda Mallam, 6 months, who has just been vaccinated against polio at a camp for internally displaced persons outside Maiduguri northeast Nigeria. It is her first vaccination, having been born under Boko Haram captivity. UNICEF and partners have started an emergency polio immunisation campaign in Borno State, as a result of two wild poliovirus cases recently found among children in the conflict-affected area. Nigeria – and the continent – had its last confirmed polio case two years ago and was within a year of being certified polio-free. Photo credit: Andrew Esiebo/UNICEF

In 2016, we were witnesses to several key moments in the Nigerian health sector. No doubt the hearts of many health advocates sank to see the re-emergence of polio in the country, after being declared polio-free just the year before. The quick response of the Ministry of Health towards tackling the re-emergence was a small victory for the health sector. In addition to polio, Lassa Fever continued to affect Nigerians, with a renewed call for people to take better sanitation measures in their homes and environment.

On the global health and finance front, 2016 saw the exposure of the corruption scandal that rocked the Global Fund and the HIV community. The GAVI scandal, which had already begun in 2014, was reopened after President Buhari came into power with a few arrests made. The year also witnessed the International AIDS Conference returning to South Africa after 16 years, with a sober look at how far the country, and the global fight against the disease, had come in that time. Later on in the year, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) held it’s own HIV Prevention Conference themed “Hands on for HIV Prevention.”

South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa (centre) with former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and other special guests at a press conference during #AIDS2016. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

The release of Northeast Nigeria from the clutches of Boko Haram by the Nigerian army revealed the deplorable health status of many Nigerians living there, with malnutrition one of the major concerns that came to light, prompting international agencies to cry out for immediate action to support the region.

On the government front, the 2017 budget was passed at the end of the year, and health advocates waited with bated breath to see how much financial commitment and political will the government would show towards the funding of the National Health Act and its provisions. Advocates during the year had led campaigns and held dialogues to spotlight the need for the government to implement the National Health Act, which was passed into law in 2014.

 

Photo courtesy: Guardian.ng

Most notable was ONE Campaign’s #MakeNaijaStronger campaign, which petitioned for signatures to present to Senate President Dr Bukola Saraki. At Nigeria Health Watch we organised a policy dialogue asking if President Buhari has the political will to implement the National Health Act and fund Universal Health Coverage. While the government did allocate funds towards the Act, there was no allocation for the Basic Health Provision Fund, which would give the average Nigerian access to the most basic of health care access, a first and necessary step towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC). The growing momentum for universal health coverage is one we hope to continue fuelling this year, alongside other advocates.

In a rather unprecedented side swipe, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari in the second half of 2016 unseated the heads of the 5 largest health parastatals in the country, appointing their replacements in one fell swoop. This admittedly shook the consciousness of the health sector awake, with many advocates hopeful that the changes would breathe new life into the system. The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, also unveiled the government’s “Better Health For All” program, part of its Rapid Results Initiatives, which propose to deliver health care to the “poorest” Nigerians. We continue to track his promises.

 

The National Health Insurance Scheme came into the spotlight in late 2016 when the new Executive Secretary released a scathing insight into the Scheme’s activities, and admitted that the Scheme could not state the number of Nigerians it was providing insurance cover to yet it was paying Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs) incredible sums of money for coverage. It was a blistering revelation that again reminded us how far we still need to go to ensure accountability and transparency of government use of tax payer’s funds.

Despite the blatant tunes of corruption in the health sector, 2016 was also an incredible year in terms of the growing awareness of the importance of innovation and technology in driving the sector forward.

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook recently visited Nigerian tech firms. Photo Courtesy: techtrendsng.com

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to Nigeria highlighted the burgeoning tech space in the country. Shortly afterward, our 2016 Future of Health Conference highlighted the convergence of health and technology, bringing together an A-list of experts from both fields, thanks to the incredible support of our partners, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Facebook, Shell, Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria, The TY Danjuma Foundation, Christian AID Nigeria, Pro-Health International, Society for Family Health and JNC International. The “Health Meets Tech” Conference allowed the health sector to open up a critical dialogue with the tech sector that we at Nigeria Health Watch plan to build upon this year.

A full house at the Future of Health Conference during “The Leaders” session: Panellists were Olufemi Akingbade (NHIS), Akinwumi Fajola (Shell), Ernest Madu (Heart of the Caribbean), Mairo Mandara (Gates Foundation), and Emeka Afigbo (Facebook). Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

The annual Medic West Africa Conference again displayed the top notch equipment available for the health sector while seminars highlighted healthcare leadership and health financing concerns. And in Sokoto, partners working on the important issue of family planning held a regional conference that brought together traditional and religious leaders to help sustain the momentum for family planning practices in the Northwest region.

A vaccine for Ebola has been discovered. Photo courtesy selectoday.com

The Ebola story took an incredibly positive turn at the end of 2016 with the discovery of a vaccine for the virus that has been proven effective. The incredible sacrifice, hard work and dedication of all who were involved in the effort to end the epidemic have certainly not been in vain, and we celebrate them.

And so as 2017 begins, we know of course that there is work to be done. Buoyed by the incredible support and partnerships that have been forged over the last year, and looking forward to building new relationships in this important mission, we enter 2017 confident that there are people ready and incredibly willing to work alongside us, that together we will make Nigeria’s health sector better. We are… Stronger Together!

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