As the world marks another health day (April 7), VICTOR OGUNYINKA writes on some critical occurrences in the health sector and some vital areas government could explore in coming years.
A lot of events eclipsed the calendar year of a nation. For developing countries, it is always in the circle of political instability, terrorism and more importantly, health.
The Nigerian health sector has witnessed series of ups, but in all, there are still miles of ground to cover in ensuring a better health sector. One of the biggest threats to having a standard healthy environment is our inability to sustain a policy as a nation.
The height of health consciousness and awareness attained after successes recorded in the quest of eradicating the ebola virus have since vanished as the Federal Ministry of Health no longer devote time to establish the importance of continuity in observing personal hygiene.
The advent of a new Minister for Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, after five months of the President Muhamadu Buhari-led administration was greeted by a new episode of Lassa fever, affecting about 17 states and claiming hundreds of lives.
Prof Adewole stated that the Lassa fever outbreak was as a result of the inability of the President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration to implement a roadmap on health which was drawn in 2012.
While reacting to providing lasting solution to reoccurrence of Lassa fever, Dr Babasola Olugasa, the principal investigator of the centre for control and prevention zoonosis and a senior lecturer in the department of veterinary public health and preventive medicine, University of Ibadan inputted that grassroot surveillance is germane, stating that “the national programme, state and local programme, eradication should be the goal. Shouting after annual outbreak without a programme or managing the human to human occurrence is not enough.”
Also, in ensuring that the deadly virus doesn’t reappear as was in 2005, 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015, the minister said: “We will concentrate on prevention because currently there is no vaccine, but as of today, I have been notified of a candidate vaccine, which we will put through chemical trial to find out if it would work. We call it a candidate vaccine and we would want to run it through trials and that takes some time.
“Hopefully, we will do that this year, once we consider it to be effective and safe then we put it to use. If it works then that means that we would be able to immunise people in the affected areas, but for now, we will continue with our surveillance,” he said.
Analysts have pointed out that the successes of the health sector is hinged on the development and good use of the primary health centres, which is seen as the bedrock of development for health.
While speaking on his strategies and challenges to improve health in Nigeria, the Minister of State for Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, highlighted preventive, promotional, curative and rehabilitation healthcares as his focus, stressing that the more aware people are about their health, the less they get into health problems.
Dr Ehanire stated that poor hygiene, sanitation and water supply account for the huge cause of health problems in Nigeria, adding that curative healthcare has been the sole focus for too long and it is by far the most expensive part of medicine.
“We need to focus on primary healthcare and build a health centre in every ward that is about 10,000 primary health centres nationwide. We might need to identify some existing ones, renovate and equip them, there will also be need to employ personnel and the plan is to use the local community without which primary healthcare wouldn’t work.
“The National Health Insurance Scheme will play a very important role in having a healthy environment. First, we have to make it compulsory; it is going to be a cornerstone of healthcare delivery and it is going to be better than what we are seeing at the moment,” he said.
Furthermore, while giving his appraisal on the health sector in the turn of the year, the president, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Ahmed Yakasai, applauded the achievements of the government to prevent new episodes of polio virus infection, which he described as a step in the right direction towards being certified polio free in 2017.
He however stressed on the need to improve access to public health intervention, “while diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are still with us.”
Yakasai also advocated the need to review Nigeria’s dependence on donor agencies, adding that “the government should strongly create enabling environment by way of intervention funds to enable our local drug manufacturers to produce antiretroviral drugs and even vaccines. As we are all aware that global alliance for vaccines and immunisation initiatives is gradually withdrawing from Nigeria.”
The pharmaceutical president also stated that the Federal Ministry of health must promote a “true” public-private partnership agenda, which is fashioned out in conjunction with the relevant regulatory agencies and professional bodies with regards to the health professions.
Moreover, in times where local production of goods is on the rise, there is no better time to critically look into the travails of the traditional medical practitioners.
For all its worth, a reasonable percentage of Nigerians still find comfort and more so, solutions to their health problems in the hands of the traditional practitioners.
For the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to recognise and register some of their products mean that they might prove handy in some cases.
While expressing his dissatisfaction on the way the traditional medical practitioners are put on back foot in the country, the national secretary general of the National Association of Nigerian Traditional Medicine Practitioners (NANTMP), Prof Dayo Oyekole, lamented that other professional body are established under law; they have their various guidelines and the condition for registration of practitioners, herbal medicine has none.
“There has been no bill or law controlling the practise of traditional medicine in Nigeria till now and that is why it is difficult to really apprehend anybody perpetrating quackery. So, we want to appeal to the National Assembly to please pass the bill controlling traditional medicine in Nigeria. Institutional support and the funding are the two main targets of focus of our administration.
Dr Ehianre however explained that research is ongoing in moving institutions to study the efficacy of some of the herbs and plants used by traditional medical practitioners. “Traditional practice of medicine needs to be regulated to check charlatans, who misuse the trust of Nigerians,” he said.