The Nigerian healthcare system has suffered serious neglect over the years.
In spite of the resources channelled to the sector, the country still faces deficit in infrastructure, equipment and adequate personnel in the health facilities.
As a consequence of this utter neglect, many Nigerians of means have engaged in medical tourism abroad, using the nation’s hard-earned foreign exchange to enrich other countries and denying the health sector of needed resources.
It is estimated that Nigerians spend over one billion dollars annually on outbound medical care (PWC, 2017). There is no gainsaying that Nigerians often travel to countries like India, UK, U.S, U.A.E, Thailand, China, Turkey, France, Canada, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore, Egypt and South Africa in search of medical attention.
The deficiencies of the country’s healthcare system, no doubt, cut across the primary, secondary and tertiary facilities, considering the dearth on infrastructure, equipment and inadequate personnel to attend to millions of Nigerians.
Apart from inadequate infrastructure, equipment and personnel, the country’s pharmaceutical industry also lacks the capacity to produce sufficient drugs for Nigerians which necessitated the importation of drugs from overseas.
The advent of COVID-19 pandemic has, therefore, overwhelmed Nigeria’s fragile healthcare facilities. As the country’s COVID-19 rises above 37,000 and still counting, authorities are advising patients to self isolate, while some patients are receiving treatments in their homes.
And to further compound the situation is the continuing exodus of Nigerian health workers, including doctors and nurses, who are leaving in droves to seek for greener pastures abroad.
Shortly after Nigeria recorded some cases of COVID-19 in March this year, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) introduced a N100 billion credit support intervention for companies in the country’s health and pharmaceutical sectors to enable them expand and revitalise their facilities in order to meet the rising demand for healthcare occasioned by the pandemic.
The CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, said the intervention fund would help improve healthcare delivery capacity, while supporting improved production of health-related products and services.
Emefiele said currently, 20 projects valued at N26.278 billion have so far been funded under the N100billion credit support intervention for the healthcare industry.
Emefiele said that some hospitals, research centres and pharmaceutical industries have benefitted from the fund.
According to him, the CBN intervention fund is also part of proactive measures to cushion the impact of COVID -19 on the economy and to support the growth of the healthcare sector.
Similarly, the apex bank has just inaugurated Healthcare Sector Research and Development Intervention Scheme (HSRDIS) to develop local vaccines and drugs not only for COVID-19 but for other infectious diseases.
Speaking on this scheme, Emefiele explained that the programme was designed to increase the nation’s research and development activities that would help support the development of Nigeria-made vaccines, drugs and herbal medicines.
He said through the provision of grants to biotechnological and pharmaceutical companies, institutions, researchers, and research institutes, the country’s domestic capacity to curb the spread of COVID-19 and other communicable or non-communicable diseases would be improved.
It is expected that these grants will be channelled by these institutions to fund research and development of drugs, herbal medicines and vaccines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.
“Providing grants for Research and Development in new or revalidation of drug molecules, phytomedicines and vaccines will help in the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases in Nigeria.
“It will boost domestic manufacturing of validated drugs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients or APIs), herbal medicines and vaccines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases in the country.
“And this will reduce the nation’s dependence on other countries for these drugs and vaccines.
“It will help to support the capacity of relevant health agencies toward attaining WHO’s Maturity Level three, a prerequisite for manufacturing of vaccines in Nigeria,” Emefiele said.
The CBN governor also disclosed that the apex bank has so far received more than 20 proposals from applicants requesting for N67 billion grants under the new scheme.
Commenting on the scheme during the inauguration of the body of experts, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha, commended CBN for the intervention to save the sector.
Mustapha said COVID-19 has exposed the weakness of Nigeria’s health and governance systems as well as the security infrastructure.
He said the intervention by CBN will set the country on the path of recovery. “I often mention it that we do not have an opportunity of reconsidering the reconstruction of our health infrastructure in this country.
“This is a golden opportunity that has availed itself. And it will be the greatest disappointment of our time and generation, if we do not seize the opportunity to redress all deficiencies we have in our health system and other infrastructure in this country,” he said.
The SGF expressed confidence on the calibre of members of the body of experts charged with the responsibility to review and evaluate submitted research proposals, as well as recommend the projects with high potential for financing.
He urged them to ensure that the process was driven by science, data and facts that would be available to the experts, adding that this was necessary as the country was dealing with the negative effect of COVID-19 and with this Nigeria would also set a new pace of its health care delivery system.
Speaking on the interventions, Mrs Zainab Abubakar, Lecturer in Economics, Federal University, Dutse, said the apex bank should be lauded for a well-thought idea to develop and expand the health sector for the benefit of the citizenry.
Abubakar said these interventions would strengthen the economy through expansions of hospitals and pharmaceutical industries as well as boosting diversification of the economy.
She stated that health was vital in human capital development because only a healthy person could be productive and invest in the economy.
She added that most importantly, the intervention by CBN to address challenges of infectious diseases in the country was necessary because such ailments were public health concern.