Indeed, the saying, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” is so apt for our new president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari. There is a lot on his plate as he takes over the mantle of leadership. He probably needs to be a superman to please millions of Nigerians, many of whom voted for him as well as those who voted against him.
The Nigerian challenge is huge because it is multifarious and multidimensional. Buhari has to fight corruption, halt insurgency and curb insecurity. He has to come up with policies that will ensure there are jobs for the jobless tackle the rot in the petroleum sector and transform the power sector to ensure there is electricity for domestic and industrial use. These are serious challenges that, if surmounted, would have positive attendant effects on other areas of our national life.
However, these are not all the issues. As intertwined as most of the issues and challenges of Nigeria’s national life are, there is a sector that deserves utmost attention from our new president because of its peculiarity and importance. That sector is health.
Over the years, the health sector has deteriorated due to consistent neglect by successive governments who failed to give the sector its deserved attention. The attendant effect of that neglect is that the health sector as we have it now is unable to provide the needed care and succour to millions of Nigerians who need it.
In fact, according to a recent research by an indigenous company involved in facilitating treatment abroad for sick Nigerians, no less than 5,000 Nigerians travel abroad monthly for medical treatment. This health tourism comes at a huge cost which the company estimated to be about five billion dollars annually. This is a serious capital flight. The fact that our political leaders have to travel abroad for routine health checks and medical treatments that clinicians in our hospitals should be able to handle, if the required facilities are available, is an indictment on the political leadership of the country.
President Buhari must ensure that our hospitals are upgraded and equipped to deliver quality services comparable to the best available anywhere in the world. It is inappropriate for a country of Nigeria’s status to have citizens with health challenges that cannot be promptly and appropriately diagnosed and treated in our teaching hospitals, which are supposed to be the apex institutions for health care delivery.
The pharmaceutical sub-sector of the health sector also requires the special attention of Mr President. The fact that medicines are needed almost all the time patients visit their caregivers makes it imperative for any serious government to ensure that the sector providing the medicines is protected and supported to thrive.
I have worked as a health journalist for over 15 years and I am always appalled that year in, year out, at the different forums and programmes I have covered, the same issues are ventilated. The fact is that the challenges are known. The solutions to the problems have also been well articulated. It is the will to get things done that has been lacking.
It goes without saying that Nigeria needs to be self sufficient for essential medicines and stop the over-dependence on imported medicines. This is even more crucial in this period of global warfare and terrorism as all it requires for an enemy nation or group to inflict maximum and potentially calamitous damage is just to send in drugs that can wipe out the people in a country.
While it may be unavoidable to have some drugs imported from outside the country, however, conscious effort must be made to ensure that the nation is,at least, able to meet up to 70 per cent of its local drug requirement. All that is required is for the government to have the political will to consistently implement policies that will ensure the pharmaceutical sector is able to thrive. With our huge population, the market is availabe.
India is a good example of a nation that has followed this path and succeeded. Today, our drug shelves are full of Indian products. Even our local pharmaceutical manufacturing companies depend heavily on India for virtually all the inputs for their production. If the government implements policies to boost local manufacturing and also addresses other issues like the chaotic drug distribution and drug counterfeiting, the pharmaceutical sub-sector of the economy has the potential to contribute a lot more, not just to better health care delivery but also to the economy.
I have always believed the challenges facing Nigerians are obvious and surmountable. What has always been lacking is the required leadership to tackle the problem. President Muhammed Buhari has his job well cut out for him. Now he has to demonstrate the leadership qualities that made many Nigerians, including this writer, his fans.