The task before the new health minister
Prof. Isaac Folorunso Adewole, former vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan and now Nigeria’s Minister of Health, is a professor of gynaecology and obstetrics. Adewole, who prior to his appointment as health minister, was also president of the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer, is a distinguished researcher whose research interest is in the areas of human papilomavirus, HIV and gynaecologic oncology (a specialised field in medicine that focuses on female reproductive system cancers, i.e, ovarian cancer, vaginal cancer, uterine cancer, vulvar cancer and cervical cancer).
Aside from his contributions to the field of medicine, Adewole has also performed creditably in the educational sector as an administrator. As the VC of University of Ibadan, he introduced innovative reforms that raised the profile of the institution. His exploits as the helmsman of the oldest university in Nigeria, amongst his other qualities, must have caught the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari who has appointed him as a health minister.
As health minister, Prof. Adewole surely has his work well cut out for him. The health sector has, over the years, been dogged by challenges that are begging to be addressed to transform health care delivery in Nigeria. The good news is that these challenges are clearly surmountable. What has been lacking is the political will and I daresay a sagacious driver to drive the change required. With his impressive profile, Prof. Adewole can and indeed should be that driver.
I am pleased that Prof. Adewole is also starting his sojourn as health minister by saying the right things. While addressing newsmen in Abuja shortly after he assumed duty with Dr Osagie Ehanire, minister of state for health, he urged all stakeholders in the health sector to collaborate and work together to enable the ministry achieve President Buhari’s agenda on health.
I must however say that Prof. Adewole has to walk the talk in ensuring the collaboration of all stakeholders in the health sector. He has to lead by example and ensure he is not seen to be pandering to the wishes of one group at the expense of others. He must avoid the unfortunate situation of the recent past when other professionals in the health sector were at loggerheads with the health minister on allegation of kowtowing to medical doctors.
The major challenge facing the health sector in Nigeria is not just the absence of a common agenda and clear direction to move but the fact that virtually all the stakeholders in the sector have their agendas and vehemently push these agendas even when the attainment has serious negative consequences on the sector as a whole.
This clannish attitude in a multidisciplinary sector where success can only be achieved when there is partnership and collaboration has been a major albatross on the health sector. This must be properly addressed to ensure all stakeholders in the health sector have a good sense of belonging and are comfortable that their interests are well-protected.
Another important area that Prof. Adewole must look into is the low budgetary allocation to health. With the passage of the National Health Bill, it is important for the health minister to ensure that there is improvement in the funding of the health sector, as well as innovative funding of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to achieve Universal Health Coverage for Nigerians. The new health minister, in order to halt the increasing incidence of deaths from treatable health conditions, must ensure more Nigerians are enrolled for the NHIS and thus have access to prompt health care when they need it.
The new health minister equally needs to come up with a policy that will drive preventive health care in Nigeria. The nation is presently doing so much on treating diseases that, with proper sensitisation and awareness, can be prevented. We are having increasing incidence of non-communicable diseases that can be prevented and except some pragmatic steps are taken to prevent these diseases, experts have warned that many Nigerians could be down with them in years to come.
Prof. Adewole should equally look critically into the challenges facing the pharmaceutical sub-sector of the health sector. Aside ensuring the success of on-going efforts to standardise drug distribution and tame fake drugs in the nation, the minister should also champion initiatives to accelerate and boost local drug manufacturing and reduce the dependence of Nigeria on imported drugs. Nigeria should be able to produce 70 per cent of the drugs Nigerians require, instead of the present situation where over 70 per cent of drugs needed by the populace are imported.
A lot equally needs to be done to improve health infrastructure. Many of the nation’s public hospitals, including the teaching hospitals, are in such sorry state that it is not surprising that many Nigerians with the means shun these institutions to fly abroad to treat conditions we should have been able to treat in the country. Nigeria is losing a lot of money as a result of this phenomenon of health tourism.
I wish Professor Adewole success as he faces the challenge of delivering the change the health sector needs. May his tenure bring forth good fruits for the nation’s health sector and for Nigerians.