Prior to COVID-19, the health sector in Nigeria was already reeling under challenges like high burden of maternal mortality, high infant mortality rate, poor health financing, poor access and application of novel technology and interrupted quality-assured services.
Since the outbreak of the virus, however, the Nigerian health system currently face acute pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, findings of the Africa Sustainability Index shows that Nigeria faces high rates of maternal and neonatal mortality due to the pandemic.
With these challenges however, it is near impossible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) global target of reducing the global Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030.
The SDGs, unanimously adopted by the UN’s 193 Member States at an historic summit in September 2015, address the needs of people in both developed and developing countries, emphasising that no one should be left behind.
Broad and ambitious in scope, the Agenda addresses the three dimensions of sustainable development: social, economic and environmental, as well as important aspects related to peace, justice and effective institutions.
The new Agenda calls on countries to begin efforts to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the next 15 years. “The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals are our shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world’s leaders and the people,” said the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success.”
The SDGs 3.1 tasked governments, “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, according to Goal 3.”
Also, the SDGs 3.7 demands, “By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”
In addition, Goal 5.6 urges governments to “ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences.”
Nevertheless, family planning experts are optimistic that if government can upscale family planning activities, it will help to address the high infant and mortality rates in Nigeria.
Responding towards that direction, Nigerian government developed the family planning blueprint for 2020 to 2024, to tackle the challenges that have marred the uptake of family planning services in Nigeria.
The blueprint identified low demand and high unmet need for modern family planning, limited access to modern family planning methods due to a number of factors.
These include poor coverage of family planning facilities, limited trained healthcare workers and services as the challenges that have marred the scaling-up of family planning services in Nigeria.
Other challenges as highlighted in the blueprint are commodity stock outs due to unavailability or poor quality of actual consumption data to determine the true commodity need, poorly implemented annual supply plans and irregular last mile distribution.
The rest are poor warehousing conditions at state level, inadequate enabling policy environment for family planning, inadequate domestic funding for family planning activities and inadequate use of data for decision making.
The Federal Government believes that these challenges could be tackled through effective communication and expansion of young persons’ access to information by leveraging on new media. This way, the low demand and high unmet need for modern family planning would have been tackled.
Furthermore, there is need to develop and roll out national family planning training plan, integrate family planning into primary healthcare centre opportunities and strengthen strategy for introduction of new contraceptives to improve service delivery and supply chain management.
Similarly, expanding access to rights-based youth-friendly family planning services and engage federal and state governments to mobilise for procurement, warehousing and distribution of commodities would also help to improve service delivery and supply chain management.
In addition it is important for government to develop policy to increase indigenous private sector investment for family planning in Nigeria, advocate for policy implementation at state level, increase family planning financing through fulfilling the old and creating new financial commitments to family planning beyond 2020.
Other essential strategies are improvements of accountability and tracking of family planning, improvement of the quality and performance of family planning programmes at sub-national and facility level and strengthening national structures for coordination of family planning activities.
This strategy will definitely improve the uptake of family planning that can translate to the realisation of SDGs in Nigeria, if well harnessed.
But government cannot do it alone, hence the need for more partnership and collaboration to enable sustainable domestic financing for family planning.
Indeed, leveraging private sector networks to deliver family planning services and companies that have not traditionally been involved in health or family planning have significant roles to play.