IS THE NIGERIAN HEALTH SYSTEM PERPETUATING POVERTY?

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adequate funding for the health sector as well as funding for immnuization programs will ensure that families do not need to spend more to keep their children alive

Wealth and poverty are measured by the number of people that can afford the bare essentials of shelter, food, clothing and healthcare.

It is often said that “”health is wealth”. How much of this statement is true?

Today, on the International day for the elimination of poverty, let us ponder on the following:

  • A large proportion of Nigerians already live below the poverty line: according to the National bureau of statistics (2011), over 100 million Nigerians live on less than a dollar per day.
  • If you are ill, nothing else matters…your physical, emotional and psychological balance is distorted and the only thing that makes sense is that you want to get well. So, you would naturally do anything to get well (well…this is true for most people).
  • You can do no work when ill…so in essence, your ability to earn a living at this time is greatly reduced.

Now, let us consider the Nigerian reality in terms of these scenarios:

  • If we all agree that nothing else matters when one is ill, it means that in the absence of free primary healthcare services and facilities, patients are forced to do more “out of pocket” spending to take care of their medical needs.
  • The absence of health and social security services means that a lot of people, especially laborers, artisans and other blue collar workers tend to either lose their sources of income during this period of illness or in some extreme cases, lose their jobs altogether.
  • So, if a large proportion of Nigerians are already living below the poverty line and people have to do more “out of pocket spending” when they are ill or lose their sources of livelihoods during periods of illness, does this not push them further below the poverty line?
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out of pocket spending still accounts for the highest amount in Nigerian health spending by citizens. photo credit: Nigerian journal of clinical practice

Countries that have low maternal mortality, low prevalence of HIV/AIDS etc. have many of their citizens living above the poverty line. France, Austria, Singapore and Japan rank very low for maternal mortality and low HIV/AIDS prevalence among other health problems. And while these looks like random statistics, these four countries are in the top 10 rankings of countries with good health systems. Nigerian ranks 187 out of 190 countries on the health system rankings.

Being able to afford basic healthcare is one of the biggest problems in Nigeria today. The disparity between people who can afford basic healthcare and people who can’t is as wide as the disparity between the highest income earner and the lowest income earner in Nigeria.

Dr Christopher Murray, Director of WHO’s Global Programme on Evidence for Health Policy once said: “Although significant progress has been achieved in past decades, virtually all countries are under- utilizing the resources that are available to them. This leads to large numbers of preventable deaths and disabilities; unnecessary suffering, injustice, inequality and denial of an individual’s basic rights to health.”

The health and well-being of any people depends on the health systems that serve them. The health systems in turn, should both be readily accessible and cheap to the people or else the number of poor in the society would increase. In Nigeria’s case, a better health system; a product of better policies from the government, would contribute to the removal of the poverty burden from the backs of many Nigerians.

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