By Our Editors
Continents have been plagued by epidemics at various times in history with devastating trails of pain, sorrow and death. Medical science talks about them in nomenclatures that belie their severity. There have been cases of Bubonic Plague, Spanish flu, Russian flu, Asian flu, Influenza, Small pox, Chicken pox, Measles and Cholera.
Some parts of Africa experienced the devastation caused by Ebola and more recently, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) which began its scourge in late 2019, and continues to rage across the world, scarring countries, leaving the total number of global deaths at 1.94 million as of January 11, 2021. And while the world struggles to understand and contain this virus, Nigeria has had her fair share of deaths caused by the same virus.
Recently, a news report stated that the scientist who discovered the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo, claimed that there are more deadly diseases waiting to happen. One called ‘Disease X,’ is described as the first discovered infection of a new pathogen that could spread across the world as fast as COVID-19.
However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that at present, ‘Disease X’ is hypothetical. The world is hoping that it remains that way. Regardless, scientists and public health experts fear that its outbreak could lead to a deadly disease in the world. ‘X’ in this context stands for the unexpected.
With all of these theories flying around and the anxieties they portend, it begs the question regarding how prepared Nigeria is should the unexpected happens.
Some of the most advanced countries of the world, like the United States of America (USA), for instance, use pre-emptive measures to deal with security threats which some of these diseases pose. This has made them succeed in their fight against external threats of terror. Perhaps, it is time, in our view, for the country to wear similar cloak of frenzied anticipation in dealing with epidemics before they breakout and if they do eventually so as to be able to manage them to minimise their impact.
We point out with immense sadness that in 2018, available report indicates that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had a budget less than $4 million, whereas its counterpart in the United States, same year, had a budget of a whopping $11 billion. With meagre amounts allocated to the health sector annually, hope for an improvement appears to be a distant dream that would be hard to realise, or worse, a mirage.
The United States is a country that also promotes health insurance coverage. Its counterpart, the United Kingdom (UK), is well known for its robust NHS plan which caters for healthcare expenses of the citizens. Nigeria can borrow a leaf or two from these developed countries to address its ailing health system.
There are several factors at present affecting Nigeria’s healthcare, ranging from poor infrastructure, inadequate human resources, poor maintenance practice, brain drain of nurses and doctors, poor welfare as well as pitiable health insurance coverage.
In 2020, an international report noted that “Nigeria’s healthcare system has gone from being comparable to the rest of the world in the 70s and early 80s, to one of the world’s most underfunded and least robust.”
It further stated that Nigeria has 3.8 doctors per 10,000 people — or 0.38 doctors per 1,000 people. Targets set by the United Nations (UN) in 2015 points out that countries should aim for a minimum of one doctor per 1,000 people. It also revealed that Nigeria would require at least 200,000 doctors to adequately address health issues of 200 million people.
As a newspaper, our attention has been drawn to the fact that in spite of the 2001 declaration of African Heads of State and governments, called the “Abuja Declaration” which demands that at least 15 per cent of the national budgets be dedicated to healthcare, the federal government has consistently not given up to 10 per cent of its budgets to healthcare.
Inevitably, in our opinion, inadequate infrastructure results therefrom and poses, in the process, a nagging problem contributing to a declining health sector. It is estimated that Nigeria has 24,000 hospitals in both public and private sectors. This is not good enough.
Therefore, we are of the considered view that the federal government should reassert itself and honour the Abuja Declaration. This way it can begin to prioritise and adequately fund the health sector. It is trite to emphasise that funding of infrastructure is necessary. More research laboratories need to be constructed with permanent isolation centres for any form of disease outbreak.
The welfare of nurses and doctors should be taken seriously to avoid brain drain. And the federal government should provide the funding and resources for doctors and scientists to work on vaccines and investigate epidemics. Regrettably, some of these things which are taken as given in more civilised climes are still regarded as real issues in Nigeria, This exposes how prepared the nation really is should another pandemic raises its ugly head.