The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged the Federal Government of Nigeria to prioritize health funding to aid the country’s preparedness and prevention in the fight against disease outbreaks. The organization’s country representative, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, gave the FG this charge at the third edition of Nigeria Health Watch Prevent Epidemics Journalism Awards in Abuja. He said that every country needs to find, prevent or stop epidemics. He added that Nigeria accounts for 50 percent of tropical diseases in Africa and contributes 27 percent of global cases of malaria and 24 percent of deaths.
There is a category of contagious illnesses which are known as neglected tropical diseases. They are common in tropical and subtropical areas of the world. They also have gotten little (or no) attention in terms of prevention and control for many years, hence, why they are categorized as neglected. These diseases are identified and controlled under the guidance of WHO and mostly affect women and children in poor communities. These people live in overcrowded houses in rural areas and have inadequate access to basic amenities like bathrooms and clean water.
Recent pandemic and other emerging diseases have revealed gaps in preparedness.
Dr. Mulombo said that non-communicable diseases account for 29 percent of deaths in Nigeria. He acknowledged that the prevalence of malaria is declining (from 42 percent to 23 percent), but the country still contributes a significant number of cases and deaths from the disease. The WHO representative also added that premature mortality from the four main NCDs (hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and malnutrition) account for 22 percent of all non-communicable deaths in Nigeria. He commended the organizers for facilitating a strong collaboration with the media through the “Prevent Epidemics” project to raise public and policymaker awareness, demand for epidemic preparedness, and build understanding and support among policymakers for dedicated epidemic preparedness funding.
Continuing on, he said that the recent COVID-19 pandemic and other emerging diseases, such as Lassa Fever and cholera, have revealed the gaps in the epidemic preparedness of many countries, including Nigeria. Many Nigerians would argue that the Federal Government adopted a trial-and-error mode of response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020. He said that if this unpreparedness is unchecked, it can result in terrible danger for the country. “Nigeria needs a pivot to prevention in the fight against diseases by addressing the root causes,” he said.
Poor health funding makes us susceptible to outbreaks.
Ms. Vivianne Ihekweazu, the managing director of Nigeria Health Watch, said in her welcome address at the event that poor health funding makes us all vulnerable to disease outbreaks. She said that health security should not be seen as the responsibility of the Federal Government alone. The state and local governments should also fund such initiatives. Therefore, she called on Nigerians to hold politicians accountable in the spirit of electioneering campaigns in order to improve public health.
The Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa lauded the critical role the media plays in tackling epidemics. Also, the Nigeria Coordinator, Prevent Epidemics Dr. Emmanuel Alhassan, said the 2023 budget witnessed a dip in allocation to the health sector. Over a trillion naira was allocated to the health sector in the 2023 budget. The budget shows a substantial increase from the N826.9 billion allocated to the sector in 2022 and the N547 billion allocated in 2021.
Funding is needed for mass administration of drugs for prevention and control.
Despite the increase in the allocation, only 5.75 percent of the budget is allocated to the health sector. Hence, the country has refused to meet the commitment made by African leaders in the Abuja Declaration to allocate at least 15 percent of their annual budget to the health sector. In order to prevent and control these tropical diseases, drugs must be administered in large quantities. Substantial funding as well as human resources are needed for this.