COVID-19: Okowa calls for sustainable health financing in Nigeria

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By Ifeanyi Olannye

Asaba, Sept. 25, 2020 Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta has called for the adoption and implementation of a viable and sustainable healthcare financing programme for states in the country.

He made the call on Thursday in a statement issued in Asaba after he had addressed the 40th Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Scientific Conference of Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) in Oghara.

The NARD AGM, with the theme; “Health Care Infrastructure Optimization and Adaptation in the face of a Global Pandemic: The Coronavirus(COVID-19) Challenge”, held at the Delta State University Teaching Hospital, Oghara.

Okowa said that with an abysmal 0.5 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in public health spending, Nigeria had one of the lowest public healthcare financing globally.

He also advocated for a national policy on responding and managing unforeseen public health crises.

According to him, the absence of such a framework as well as the novel nature of the coronavirus, posed a major drawback in articulating a coordinated response at the initial stage of the pandemic in the country.

The governor said that his administration had agreed to fund 80 per cent of the training requirements enshrined in the Residency Training Act (2017) as agreed with NARD and DELSUTH and urged the doctors to reciprocate the gesture with renewed vigour and commitment to their duties.

He commended medical doctors and healthcare providers for their courage, commitment and determination to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

He disclosed that Nigeria survived COVID-19 and previous public health emergencies/outbreaks due to the sacrifice, dedication, ingenuity and resourcefulness of healthcare providers.

Okowa, however, said “regrettably, many of them got infected during the pandemic, while some, sadly, paid the supreme price.”

He expressed hope that the meeting would offer good opportunity to review the ongoing national efforts to combat the pandemic, as well as assess the country’s readiness to respond appropriately to future public health emergencies.

He said “I believe we can turn this crisis into an opportunity to bolster our health infrastructure, expand capacity and upgrade manpower in the health sector in such a way that our healthcare system will be better poised to deal with future outbreaks.

“Testing was a huge problem because of the shortage of human resources, testing kits, laboratories, and case definition for testing that prioritizes symptomatic cases and their contacts.

“The whole country only attained a daily testing capacity of 2,500 samples late in July, which is a far cry from what it should be for a country of our size.

“Testing was not only extremely low; it took days before the results could be known. Confronted with a fast spreading disease like COVID-19, the delay meant the virus could spread unchecked as it hindered early contact tracing.

“Here in Delta, samples had to be taken to the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Edo State, which served the entire South-South geo-political region of the country.

“The wait was excruciating and exerted immense physical/mental toll on critical health personnel who had to be making frequent trips to Irrua.”

The governor said that the state government was able to reach an arrangement with Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital in partnership with Pan African Network for Disease Outbreak Research and Rapid Response (PANDORA) to establish a molecular mobile laboratory in Delta.

He explained that “since then, we have conducted over 9,000 tests in the state, while confirmed cases stood at 1,799 as at Friday, Sept. 18.

“In Delta, we developed a strategic implementation plan focused on clear deliverables that are in line with the provisions of the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund component of the National Health Act.

“Similarly, the guidelines of the National Health Insurance Scheme were aligned to the prevailing peculiarities of the Delta State healthcare service system.

“As the frontrunner in the implementation of this scheme, I am proud to inform this gathering that Delta State Government has accredited 405 health facilities to operate the scheme.

“This comprise 268 Primary Health Care Centers, 66 Secondary Healthcare Facilities, 65 Private Healthcare Facilities, one Federal Medical Center, three Abuja Healthcare Facilities and two Lagos Healthcare Facilities to operate the scheme in the state.

“Total number of enrollees is currently 788,740; we can be proud of the progress we have made even though there is still much work to be done.

“In the post COVID-19, there is a compelling need to adopt and implement a viable and sustainable healthcare financing programme for all States in the country.

“Each State is primarily responsible for the financing and implementation of its healthcare system.

“A healthcare financing programme that is focused on up-scaling primary healthcare services, enhancement of human-resource-for-health capacity, deployment of a technology enhanced healthcare services delivery process and improved access to measurable quality healthcare services outcome for all, is an imperative”.

Okowa, who also inspected ongoing rehabilitation of facilities at DELSUTH, expressed his administration’s readiness to extend same to other facilities in the state within the limits of available resources.

The Chairman at the occasion and former Governor of Delta, Chief James Ibori, commended Okowa and former Gov. Emmanuel Uduaghan for conceiving the idea of building the teaching hospital in Oghara.

He said doctors were at the vanguard of saving human lives, especially in the pandemic and urged them to remain dedicated.

Also, Uduaghan, who was Guest of Honour at the event, congratulated NARD “for the dexterity in being the military arm of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA)”.

He also commended Okowa for approving the Residency Training Programme for doctors in the state.

He said that at the inauguration of Delsuth in 2010, his administration engaged diaspora doctors, nurses and pharmacists to exchange ideas.

“The staff mix helped the image of the hospital to successfully carry out knee replacement surgery and kidney transplant with partnership from the University of Texas.” Uduaghan said.

The President of NMA, Prof. Innocent Ujah, said in a message that NARD had evolved over the years to become vibrant, progressive and a dynamic affiliate of the Nigerian Medical Association.

The Chief Medical Director of Delsuth, Dr Onome Ogueh, said the institution was the apex health organisation in the state with a vision to provide world class health care for all Deltans.

He said the hosting of the 40th Annual General Meeting of NARD in Delsuth was the first time a state university teaching hospital was playing host to the NARD Secretariat.

The National President of NARD, Dr Aliu Sokomba, represented by First Vice President, Dr Julian Ojebo, said the pandemic had brought new challenge to medical practice in a very poorly funded health industry in Nigeria.

Sokomba said NARD fought to ensure the domestication of the Residency Training Act and lauded the contributions of Gov. Okowa to the National Health Act as well as his pioneering efforts toward domestication of the Act.

Highpoint of the occasion was the presentation of awards to Gov. Okowa as the Ambassador for State Health Tertiary Institutions in recognition of his contributions to the National Health Act and implementation of the Residency Training Act 2017.

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