Will the new National Health Policy work?


In 2007, I gained admission to study for a Master’s degree in Public Administration at the Lagos State University (LASU). Since I had obtained a first degree in the discipline (Public Administration) some years back, I was quite curious about what fresh insight I could get from the course, especially in consideration of the almost criminal maladministration that had become the lot of the Nigerian nation.

The fact that it took me almost three  years to complete the Master’s programme in administration, which was supposed to last just about 18 months, was a confirmation of how deep-rooted the problem of maladministration is in the country and how it has affected all sectors of our national life. For several months during the programme, the school (LASU) was shut at different times for all sorts of flimsy reasons.

Nevertheless, my experience during the programme further reinforced the fact that a major reason our public sector has consistently under-performed was due to government’s inability to effectively implements most of its policies.

One of my lecturers at LASU, Dr Patrick Mbieli, who taught me Public Policy Analysis in one of the class sessions, stressed that public policies are only useful when they are implemented, especially when they make positive impacts on peoples’ lives.To say this is apt is an understatement

The Nigerian government has always been very good at formulating policies, as well as presenting histrionics on how the policies will transform the nation, but very lackadaisical towards the implementation of such policies.

Consequently, when the distinguished Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, recently announced that the Federal Executive Council had approved a new National Health Policy aimed at promoting the health of Nigerians and accelerating socio-economic development in the country, my first thought was: Here comes another policy!

I was and I am still skeptical about this new National Health Policy because I know that this nation had had two national health policies in the past (The first in 1998 and another in 2004) without much to show for it.  Rather than these policies transforming the health sector, the sector has over the years retrogressed so much that those who have the means now prefer to travel abroad to get treatment for conditions we should be able to treat in the country.

The fact that the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari has been in the United Kingdom for almost two months for medical reasons is an indication of the sad state of things in the health sector.

Apart from President Buhari, thousands of Nigerians travel annually to countries like India, Malaysia and other third world nations for medical reasons.

It is therefore fundamental to ask Prof. Adewole what the health ministry will do differently to get a different result in his quest to effect changes in the health sector through this new health policy.

The health minister said the new policy, which had been approved by National Council on Health, will provide directions to improve the performance of the national health system, focus on primary health care as the bedrock of the health system, provide financial risk protection to all Nigerians particularly the poor and vulnerable population, ensure reduction of maternal and child mortality as well as ensure wider-immunisation coverage and better control and prevention of public health emergencies.

These are good talks, but talk is cheap. We have heard all these promises before. The reality today is that most of our public hospitals, including the teaching hospitals, cannot provide quality care because of huge infrastructural deficit. This is not the time for talk. The Nigerian government should jettison talk and demonstrate the political will to implement policies like this new National Health Policy that will touch the lives of the people.

The task before Prof. Adewole and his team is therefore very simple and straightforward: Ensure that the new policy is implemented, and reposition the health sector to enable it consistently deliver on its mandate of providing succour to Nigerians when they are sick.