Every year since 1950, the world has celebrated April 7th as World Health Day. So, in essence, we have had over sixty decades of this celebration. The question I ask myself however is “has this yearly celebration impacted Nigerian and indeed global health in any way?”
When I think about the fact that in this age and time, Nigeria is still grappling with communicable diseases as cholera, meningitis and malaria, that Nigeria still contributes 10% to global maternal mortality or that we lose over 2,000 under five year olds daily and I am greatly saddened. Only now are we even beginning to consider tackling non-communicable diseases such as cancer, hypertension, mental illness etc. The picture I see daily of our Health system is that we have had and still have governments who do not care much about the health of its people.
From non-functional Primary Healthcare centers to under-equipped or under-staffed ones to teaching hospitals that may not be readily accessible to the majority of citizens or those that even lack the most basic health facilities or instruments… Every day, the picture is that of doom and depression, which brings me to the theme of this year’s World Health day celebration “depression: let’s talk”.
It is all too important for us to talk about depression in Nigeria because even our health system causes one to be depressed most times! Imagine if you live in a community of over 5,000 inhabitants and there is no functional Primary Healthcare facility in that community, so people in the community have to either recourse to private health facilities where they will have to pay through their noses, further pushing them into poverty or travel long distances to the nearest public health institution (imagine if there was an emergency!).
On another hand, let us even say you do not live in a rural community; you live in a city where all the public health facilities are functional with top line facilities. Alas! A patient is rushed into the hospital on an emergency and is left unattended to until he/she dies or even that there is no doctor to attend to the patient because all doctors are on strike for unpaid salaries or the patient is in need of oxygen and there is no oxygen in the entire hospital. I am certain there are many who can relate to most or all of these scenarios (I can because I have been in some of these situations myself).
Beyond all of these instances and storytelling is the fact that there is an urgent need for a revamping of the Nigerian Health system which a lot of health advocates (me included) will argue should begin with putting more money into the health sector. Unarguably, it is true that the Nigerian health sector is largely underfunded but beyond increased funding, there should also be increased transparency in how the funds are being utilized. It is pertinent that before we insist that more money be put in, we demand for explanations and visible proof of how current funds are being expended so that we do not end up funding that same corruption we are claiming to fight by giving it more money in the end.
As citizens, one of the key roles we have to play is in holding our government accountable to its responsibilities. By voting them into power, we sign a social contract with them where we as citizens get to play our part and they as government get to play their part. So, do not just sit back and complain, get involved, get interested in the issues and arm yourself with adequate information, join a community of like-minded people and ACT now!
To join our growing community of activists who are working tirelessly to ensure transparency and accountability in how public funds are being expended, go to www.ifollowthemoney.org and request an invite. Let us work together to change the face of governance and healthcare administration in our beloved country.