Funding a Better Health Sector in 2018

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For the umpteenth time, the federal government may have again dashed the expectations of Nigerians hoping for a revamped health sector in 2018, considering the amount it allocated to the sector in the budget estimate recently presented to the National Assembly. Analysis of the 2018 budget presented to the nation’s lawmakers last November by President Muhammadu Buhari reveals that only a paltry N340.45 billion was allocated to the health sector out of a budget totaling N8.62 trillion.

According to the budget details, health came a distant 12th on the priority list of the government, as power, works and housing received the highest vote for capital projects, getting N555.88 billion. Further breakdown reveals that the N340.45 billion allocated to health represents just 3.9 per cent of the budget, which is not only a far cry from the 15 per cent recommended by the African Union and which smaller countries like Botswana, Malawi and Burkina Faso have been consistently complying with to their own advantage, but also a decline from that of 2017 which was 4.15 per cent.

Going by the recent statistics which puts Nigeria’s population at over 180 million, the federal government has, by allocating a measly N340.45 billion to health, indicated that it intends to spend less than N2000 on the health of each Nigerian in the whole of 2018. This is grossly inadequate and ridiculous, considering the present poor state of the nation’s health sector.

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Details of the figures of the 2018 health budget also show that out of the total figure, about N269.34 billion has been earmarked for recurrent expenditure, consisting mainly of spending on wages, salaries and purchases of items and services, meaning that only N71.11 billion is earmarked for capital expenditure. Considering the long years of neglect of the nation’s health infrastructure and the huge deficit of needed equipment in all the federal teaching hospitals, including the State House Clinic, Abuja, which the wife of the president recently slated, this health budget is, to say the least, abysmal.

It is quite disheartening that the Nigerian government continues to relegate health-related issues, in a nation that is reputed for its appalling health infrastructure and life expectancy. Recently, the World Health Organisation ranked Nigeria 187 out of 191 countries with the worst healthcare delivery system, and the third highest in infant mortality in the world. One would expect that, with this alarming rating and particularly its implication for the wellbeing of the citizenry, the government would be declaring a national emergency to resuscitate the health sector, not further plunging it into the quagmire of decrepitude.

We cannot overemphasise that a key strategy in restoring the faith of citizens, observers and potential investors in the nation’s health sector is adequate funding. It is high time that the government began to revisit its priorities by understanding that good health is the bedrock of national progress, productivity and prosperity. Government must begin to see and treat health as a cardinal feature of the nation’s development indices.

Let it be noted that without citizens being alive and healthy, the huge investments government continues to make in security and infrastructure would only amount to an exercise in foolhardiness.  Only recently, the government proposed allocation of an additional one billion dollars to fight Boko Haram insurgents; an amount that is about N360 billion. Yet, as much as it is important to quell insurgency in the country, it would be much more transformational for the nation if as little as just 10 per cent of that figure can be earmarked as an emergency fund to tackle the myriads of problems facing the health sector.

We urge the federal government to rethink and review its budgetary allocation to the health sector in 2018 by considering sending a supplementary budget to the National Assembly that will essentially focus on helping to revive the many decaying health infrastructures in the nation’s health system. We also urge the government to expeditiously begin the implementation of the National Health Act which was signed into law in December 2014, stipulating that one per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund be set aside to finance health initiatives in the country.

It is our view that if these steps are taken, they will go a long way in ensuring availability of adequate funds for the health sector, through which laudable initiatives like the revitalisation of 10,000 Primary Health Centres being pushed by the health minister will be made possible.

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