National Health Act critical to achieving universal health coverage – Experts

Universal Health Coverage (UHC) has been an issue of serious global concern with international health organisations and professionals advocating for the implementation of the system which is believed to provide health care and financial protection for all. The issue was the focus at a one-day symposium on the National Health Act, entitled: ‘‘Achieving Universal Health Coverage in Nigeria,’’ organised by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Yaba, to mark the fifth year anniversary of Prof. 

Innocent Ujah as Director-General of the institute. Making their presentations at the symposium, experts and researchers from various public health institutions urged government to implement the recently passed National Health Act, saying that it would lead to the achievement of universal health coverage in Nigeria. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Universal coverage (UC), or universal health coverage (UHC), is defined as ensuring that all people can use the promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services they need, of sufficient quality to be effective, while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship. 

Prof. Oni Idigbe, former Director General, Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR); Prof. Innocent Ujah, Director General, NIMR; Prof. Kofo Odeyemi, Professor of Public Health, College of Medicine (CMUL) and Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and Barrister Ali Emmanuel, Administrator, ADR Track during the a one-day symposium on “National Health Act: Achieving Universal Healthcare Coverage in Nigeria,” organised to mark the fifth year anniversary of Prof. Ujah as Director-General of the institute recently.

This definition of UC embodies three related objectives: equity in access to health services – those who need the services should get them, not only those who can pay for them; that the quality of health services is good enough to improve the health of those receiving services; and financial-risk protection – ensuring that the cost of using care does not put people at risk of financial hardship. Universal coverage brings the hope of better health and protection from poverty for hundreds of millions of people – especially those in the most vulnerable situations. Against this background, Dr Mohammed Lecky, the Executive Director, Health Reform Foundation of Nigeria (HERFON), who was the guest speaker during the symposium on Wednesday, called on the Federal Government to fully implement the National Health Act which he linked to the achievement of the universal health coverage in the country. Lecky made the call describing the act as a rallying framework toward achieving universal health coverage in the country. 

The Executive Director, HEFRON said: ‘’The act is inclusive and unifies health services for the regulation, development and the management of the nation’s health system. ‘’If this act is well implemented without corruption, it will reshape the Nigerian health landscape to the extent that all Nigerians, without any exception, would be entitled to basic minimum package to health services,” he added. ‘’Healthcare will be accessible and affordable to all. Perfecting the strategies of implementing the health act is the only way to achieve universal health coverage in Nigeria,’’ he said. Lecky concluded: “Finally, as we transition to the post-2015 era, the inherent capacity of the National Health Act to re-shape tie Nigeria health landscape is as real as it is ambitious. 

It is a unifying legislation, coherent, clear and an unambiguously most powerful piece of legislation (some would say since independence) that is aimed at social equity and justice. “We should have good reasons to expect great things on account of the National Health Act in years ahead. But, can we rise to this collective challenge? Lecky asked rhetorically? Also speaking, Prof. Akin Osibogun, a former Chief Medical Director of Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), said that research was a vital tool in advancing medical practice in the country. Osibogun who was the Chairman of the occasion said that the medical care being enjoyed was as a result of investigation and research into diseases of public health and the invention of treatments. 

He urged the management of the institute to continue to contribute to the revolution in medical knowledge in Nigeria through intensified and sustainable health research. In his remarks, Dr Kayode Obembe, the National President, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), said that universal health coverage could not be achieved without collaborative efforts by all stakeholders. Ujah had earlier decried poor funding and lack of sufficient capacity for health research in the country. He expressed concern that only two per cent of the annual allocation to health was expended on research. 

According to him, majority of researches in the country today are dependent on foreign grants. “We call on the Federal Government to set aside a fund reserve for health researches for continuous research activities in the country. ‘’This will help in keeping the country ready for emergencies like the recent Ebola outbreak. “Also, it will set her on the path of progress and development as well as universal health coverage,’’ he said. 

This story was published in Newswatch Times on July 11, 2015.


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