International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on the 8th of March to celebrate the achievements of women in the social, economic, cultural and political areas of society. In addition to celebrating the achievements of women, International Women’s Day is also an important day for making calls to action to address the challenges and concerns faced by women.
We, the women leaders of civil society organizations in the PACFaH@Scale project are happy to celebrate of all the great achievements of Nigeria women this 2021 International Women’s Day. As women leaders, however, we must address the numerous challenges and hardships faced by the women of this country on a daily basis.
We are meeting here today to celebrate International Women’s Day in the middle of the global pandemic, Covid-19, which has had impacted negatively on all Nigerians (men, women and children) but on women in particular who bear the burden of child and family health.
In a Press Statement of July 2nd 2020, the Federal Minister of Health signalled the threat Covid-19 poses to child and family health of the nation and to the mothers, grandmothers, aunties and sisters who are traditionally responsible for the health of children and the household. In the statement, the Honourable Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire said “Immunization rates, skilled birth attendance, RMNCH+N have declined”.
The Honourable Minister’s statement has been backed up by words of caution by UNICEF, the WHO and by the research findings of health professional associations in the PACFaH@Scale project such as the National Association of Public Health Practitioners of Nigeria.
Not only has routine immunization been affected as Primary Health Care Centres all over the country are unable to provide full immunization services, but women have been finding it harder to access to family planning services and trainings scheduled by so many state governments for CHEWS on new treatment protocols for childhood killer diseases have been put on hold due to Covid-19. There is no doubt that there has been a disruption of Essential Health Services throughout Nigeria as a result of Covid-19.
The Nigeria National Strategic Health Development Plan II Lists Reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health, plus nutrition (RMNCH +N) first in the definition of essential health services care package. Disruption to services means disaster for the woman who must care for her family.
We commend the Nigerian Government for developing the National Action Plan for Health Security (2018-2022). This Plan seeks to protect Essential Health Services such as RMNCH and incorporates these routine services into emergency health responses for Covid-19. While we appreciate government’s foresight for developing this Plan, as CSO leaders of the PACFaH@Scale project, we have done the research and know the reality on the ground is one where adequate funding is not made available for Essential Health Services. We also know that even when funding is allocated, it seldom released in a timely manner. Moreover, while there are clear and dedicated budget lines for Covid-19 related expenditure, budget lines for Essential Health Services such as Routine Immunization are not separated. Rather funds for routine services are merged together in bundled up and opaque lines labelled in some states as “counterpart funds”.
Some of us here today are women civil society leaders who are also clinicians in Medical Women Association of Nigeria trying to provide family planning services for women in the face of commodity stock outs. Since 2020 we have been asking, and please bear with us as we ask again today – where is the 75% cut to the 2019 family planning budget, which was reallocated in the 2021 budget and why has it not been released? Why are these funds still stuck in the Service Wide Vote? Should the Service Wide Vote not serve the needs of the women of the nation? Since the Nigeria National Strategic Health Development Plan II prioritizes Reproductive health as a primary and strategies component of Essential Health Services, is it not essential and strategic to fund the family planning needs of the women of Nigeria?
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day – Choose to Challenge – is timely and relevant for all the women of Nigeria. Over the past 4 years we have been working together as women leaders in the PACFaH@Scale project to pose challenging questions to our public officials to keep the promise of giving adequate and priority attention to Essential Health Services while also addressing the Covid-19 emergency.
In this regard, we will like to conclude by quoting the very important words of the Honourable Minister of Health when he observed in the Press Statement of July 2nd 2020 that: “The healthcare sector cannot afford negative impact … and must be mindful of the collateral damage that can befall us, wipe out disease control gains we have made in past decades and threaten our not so strong health system…. We must therefore take steps to ensure that we sustain routine health services to our people.”
Gentlemen of the media the Minister’s statement also includes you. You must also take steps to sustain routine health services by using your profession to amplify the messages of women and women’s associations as they advocate for improved child and family health of the nation.
I thank you very much for making time to be with us here today to be part of the challenge to improve child and family health.
I would like to acknowledge and thank my sisters here today on this panel and the 15 other women leaders of the PACFaH@Scale project:
- Dr. Gloria Laraba Shoda, mni, National President, National Council of Women Societies, NCWS-PAS
- Dr. Rahila Mukhtar, President-elect Medical Women Association of Nigeria, Kano State. (MWAN-PAS)
- Halima Ben Umar, Women in Media Communication Initiative (WIM -PAS)
- Hajiya Halima Jibrin, National Amira, Federation of Muslim Women Association, FOMWAN