By increasing its budgetary allocation to public health, Nigeria could be solving some of its most daunting public health challenges including high maternal and child mortality rates which is at the heart of Goal 3 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Nigeria pride itself as the Giant of Africa but it seems this famous catchphrase of the continent’s most populous nation may not always be true. As Africa’s biggest economy, one would think Nigeria will lead other African states by example in all aspects of development: governance, education, infrastructure, and of course public health.
Sadly, when it comes to according priority to one of the most critical sectors of its socioeconomic development – if not the most critical – the country is not only lagging behind countries like South Africa but it is also pitifully lagging behind even smaller African countries like Swaziland, Malawi, and Togo.
One therefore wonders why a country which spearheaded and hosted a special summit of the Organisation of African Unity [African Union] on health in 2001 – where it alongside other member states pledged to commit to public health at least 15% of its annual national budget – will annoyingly fail to honour such a pledge 16 straight years after; even for the sake of proving to other African states that indeed it is the continent’s leader.
This is even more disheartening looking at the nexus between quality public healthcare and sustainable social and economic development. For, without a shadow of doubt, the socioeconomic development of all nations is directly linked to quality of healthcare services available to citizens. Thus, a country that fails to prioritize the health of its people is as well doing a great disservice to its sustainable socioeconomic development.
Sixteen straight years after the Abuja Declaration was made, Nigeria is yet to get close to meeting the basic demand of the declaration, as could be seen in its annual budget expenditures from 2001 to 2017. For 2017, Nigeria’s proposed budgetary allocation to public health of N304 billion ($0.997m) is a paltry 4.17% of its proposed annual budget; a figure that has been described variously as a “poor improvement” and “negligible improvement” over the 2016 health budget which stood at N250 billion (4.13%).
In reality, the 2016 health budget was even higher than that of 2017, considering the current United States Dollar-Naira exchange rate in a country where the health services sector is largely import depended. This is so because whereas in 2016, when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) pegged the exchange rate at N197/1USD, the health budget was N250 billion which was equivalent to $1.269m. Today, with the exchange rate of N305/1USD, the proposed 2017 health budget of N304 billion is just equivalent to $0.997m – which makes it 21% lower than that of 2016.
Unquestionably, if Nigeria must truly claim its position of being the Giant of Africa, it must as well begin to rethink its commitment to the health and wellbeing of its people in general and its budgetary allocation to public health in particular.
It is only by increasing budgetary allocation to public health that the country can end some of its onerous public health challenges including reducing its high maternal and child mortality rates and achieving health and well-being for all, at every stage of life, which is at the heart of Goal 3 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
By upwardly reviewing the 2017 public health budget to even 10% and implementing the provision of the country’s National Health Act (which provides for the establishment of a Basic Health Care Provision Fund that will be financed by 1% of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) of the Nigerian federation) Nigeria will not only be doing a great service to its over 170 million people but will also be claiming its rightful position as the true Giant of Africa.
At a time when the country’s economy continue to sink deep into recession, an increased budgetary allocation to public health by Nigeria would lead to a healthier and more vibrant population, one that will bring about increased productivity among Nigeria’s huge youth population who have the potential of propelling the country out of its recession and bringing about economic prosperity through wealth creation.
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