Research Indispensable in Achieving Universal Health Coverage, Experts Say

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– As NIMR holds 5th International Scientific Conference

For Universal Health Coverage (UHC) to be a reality in most African countries, health-related research  must be prioritised, just as governments must be willing to invest more in scientific research for the general wellbeing of their citizens.

This was the submission of science experts at  the recent 5th International Scientific Conference, organised by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR).

The scientists, who included Minister of State for Health, Federal Ministry of Health, Abuja, Dr Osagie Ehanire; Director General, NIMR, Prof. Babatunde Lawal Salako; Vice President for Research, South African Medical Research Council, Professor Jeffery Mphahlele; Vice-Chancellor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof. B.C. Ozumba;   representative of Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Mrs Ilori Erson; Representative of fhi 360, Mrs Olufunmilayo Ojo; and others, made significant observations and recommendations on the actualisation of Universal Health Coverage in Nigeria.

L-R: (Front row) Vice President for Research, South African Medical Research Council, Professor Jeffery Mphahlele; Vice-Chancellor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof. Chukwuma Ozumba; Professor Oni Idigbe; Director General, NIMR, Prof. Babatunde Lawal Salako; Dr Daniel Duvall, US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr Rosemary Audu, NIMR, with others at the conference.

South African Professor  Mphahlele, who was the keynote speaker, bemoaned the state of health-related research in Africa, noting that Africa is not doing well in terms of research, because only one per cent of global investment in Research and Development is spent in Africa.

According to him, “For a continent like Africa that  shares 12 per cent of global population and yet produces less than one  per cent of  total science output, obviously, we are not doing well”.

He therefore charged African leaders and governments on increased funding of science-related research, for the attainment of Universal Health Coverage in African countries.

Research indispensable in achieving Universal Health Coverage, experts say
A cross-section of participants at the conference.

Speaking with Pharmanews in an exclusive interview at the conference, NIMR DG, Prof. Salako, highlighted the plethora of challenges facing the Nigerian Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) vis-à-vis the realisation of Universal Health Coverage.

Salako noted that the temporary challenges facing the NHIS cannot prevent the country from achieving its goal of universal health coverage.

Salako however picked a hole in the current operation of the scheme, saying it is not effective enough in its coverage, as major parts of the country are neglected by its operation.

This,  he said, should be a major concern for policy-makers to review.

“NHIS is not covering the major parts of Nigeria and probably covering only a few states but I think the progress should be faster than what it is now. The National Council on Health should really make it a priority in all states, to have a functional health insurance scheme for the citizens.

“And it is not only NHIS that is needed to make reasonable impact on Universal Health Coverage, as there are other factors to be considered  like that of mutual relationship among the health workforce, and recurrent health workers strike.

“Even if we have money today, the relationship between our healthcare team in hospitals is unhealthy and that also has to be addressed. The issue of frequent strike and industrial actions here and there by members of the ministry of health has to be resolved and infrastructure has to be put in place”, he asserted.

On his part, Vice-Chancellor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof. Chukwuma Ozumba, noted that there should be a well-articulated health insurance scheme to address communicable diseases and maternal health, adding that if Ethiopia and Rwanda, who do not have as much money as Nigeria could successfully decimate maternal mortality, Nigeria had no excuse for not meeting up with the healthcare needs of its populace.

Ozumba, who was also the chairman of the opening ceremony, expressed optimism in the achievement of Universal Health Coverage by 2030.

Said he: “It can actually be achieved if the right things are put in place. Firstly, we have to make sure that there are community based health insurance schemes and then nationally.”

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