How 60% Commercialisation Of Health Services In Nigeria Has Left Out Poorer Citizens — Report

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The commercialisation of healthcare services in Nigeria, estimated to be up to 60%, has been described as one of the worst injustices done to the Nigerian masses and a major factor undermining the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other critical services offered by operators in the country’s healthcare sector.

This much was revealed in a report, entitled: ‘The failure of commercialised healthcare in Nigeria during the COVID-19 pandemic: Discrimination and inequality in the enjoyment of the right to health.’ It bemoaned the provision of an estimated 60% of all healthcare services by the private sector, said to be among the largest shares in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The report by the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in partnership with the Justice & Empowerment Initiatives and with the support of Corporate Accountability & Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), was presented to the media in Lagos, Wednesday.

It detailed how governmental policies and international development actors have encouraged the growth of private and commercial healthcare since the late 1980s, saying it is against the country’s human rights obligations to realise the right to health for all as it breeds inequalities in accessing healthcare services, especially among poorer citizens.

For instance, the report listed successive policies which had aided the commercialisation of healthcare services in the country to include an enabling environment for public-private partnerships and private sector engagement in healthcare between 2004-2018, the National Strategic Health Development Plan (2018-2022) which has its main goal as the promotion of public-private partnerships in healthcare.

“This highly commercialised system has not been able to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Nigeria has a critical shortage of lifesaving equipment to treat acute cases of COVID-19, such as ventilators, oxygen and qualified specialists. The country had only 500 ventilators in May 2020, against the 20,325 that would be needed to address the epidemic, and only 0.17 intensive care unit (ICU) beds per 100.000 inhabitants. Unfortunately, this was to be expected. Healthcare services are severely underfunded: health spending as a share of general government expenditure decreased from 7.3% in 2006 to as little as 4.4% in 2018, below similar African states such as South Africa and Kenya, and far below the 15% of their annual national budget to which the African Union States committed to in the Abuja Declaration.” The groups said in a joint statement made available to The New Diplomat.

The report further lamented the gulf that exists between the ‘haves and the have-nots’ while trying to access Covid-19 test centres, saying it is largely dependent on persons’ socio-economic background. “Even if testing for suspected COVID-19 cases is provided for free at government laboratories, there are only 84 public testing laboratories as of February 2022 for a population of over 200 million inhabitants. This is clearly not enough, as evidenced by reports in the media that several public health facilities redirect suspected COVID-19 cases, including those with visible symptoms, to fee-paying laboratories due to lack of capacity and corruption which charge as high as 50,400 nairas (132 USD) per test. Some private providers also add extra fees for ‘logistics’, up to between 60,400 and 100,400 nairas (159 – 264 USD) for a COVID-19 test, which is approximately two to three times more than the monthly minimum wage in Nigeria.

The report also finds insufficient regulation and monitoring of private health providers. “In early 2020, private facilities were initially not allowed to admit COVID-19 cases for treatment because authorities had concerns over their quality, resulting in untapped capacity and empty beds when it was most needed. Partly because of lack of regulation, many private providers also offer substandard care and fail to comply with medical protocols. While academic study already signalled low quality of private provision in malaria treatment, during the COVID-19 pandemic private health facilities used expired reagents for COVID-19 testing and issued fake tests across at least two Nigerian states.”

Commenting on the findings of the report at the media presentation, Ms. Rossella De Falco, Programme Officer on the Right to Health at the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said: “Widespread commercialisation and privatisation of healthcare services stand in the way of the realisation of the right to health in Nigeria. Public healthcare systems are more resilient to shocks such as pandemics and are thus fundamental for the realisation of the right to health.”

Speakers also decried the failure of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to deepen healthcare insurance coverage among Nigerians over the years.

The New Diplomat reports that the level of health insurance penetration in Nigeria is less than five per cent as below 10 million Nigerians have health insurance at present, something that has continued to encourage out-of-pocket payment for healthcare services in the country.

According to Mr Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, the “Commercialisation of healthcare services is not what Nigerians need. It will only lead to costs that are unaffordable for the poor and vulnerable. What Nigerians need is healthcare service that is publicly funded and available to all irrespective of social and economic status”

Mr Andrew Maki, Co-director at Justice & Empowerment Initiatives, said: “Access to quality health services should not be determined by whether you are rich or poor. The government must do more to guarantee the right to health for all Nigerians — outsourcing services to private companies doesn’t fulfil this obligation.”

Part of the recommendations in the report urged government to increase funding to health sector to at least 15% of the budget to meet the Abuja commitment and expand the availability of quality, well-coordinated public healthcare services.

Other are: “Reverse the current policies intended to encourage higher for-profit private sector engagement in healthcare; Ensure that all healthcare providers are strictly monitored and regulated at the federal, state and local levels; Take concrete steps to ensure universal access to social healthcare insurance or another pre-pooled financing scheme.”

'Dotun Akintomide
'Dotun Akintomide
'Dotun Akintomide's journalism works intersect business, environment, politics and developmental issues. Among a number of local and international publications, his work has appeared in the New York Times. He's a winner of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Award. Currently, the Online Editor at The New Diplomat, Akintomide has produced reports that uniquely spoke to Nigeria's experience on Climate Change issues. When Akintomide is not writing, volunteering or working on a media project, you can find him seeing beautiful sites like the sandy beaches that bedecked the Lagos coastline.


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