Former President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, has called for stronger political will amongst politicians and policymakers to achieve universal basic healthcare in Nigeria.
Speaking on Thursday, December 16th, at the Universal Health Coverage Summit organized by Chatham House, which was held at the Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja, Saraki stated that to put healthcare and health security coverage on the front burner, Nigerian leaders at the national and subnational levels needed to take healthcare delivery for all its citizens more seriously.
“To achieve development, the Nigerian population must be healthy. If we can get healthcare coverage right as a nation, we will be doing a lot for our citizens. However, the people that truly matter, the political leaders and decision-makers at the national and sub-national levels should be the ones at summits like this one to discuss what their manifestos and plans in the healthcare sector are for the Nigerian people,” the former Kwara State Governor said.
Saraki, who as Senate President spearheaded the passage of the inclusion of one percent for basic primary healthcare from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in the 2018 budget — the first occurrence of this nature in Nigeria’s history — emphasized that Nigeria had the technical knowledge, tools, and resources to achieve universal healthcare coverage, however, it still lacks the political will at the executive level.
“We can pass three more laws or five more laws. However, unless the leadership of the nation and our states believe in holistic healthcare coverage for all like all the doctors and healthcare public policy experts in this room, we will not be able to achieve universal healthcare coverage.
“In 2007, when I was the Governor of Kwara State, I realized that what everybody wanted to see was fancy hospitals and ‘ribbon-cutting ceremonies.’ However, given the infancy and maternal mortality rates, what my state needed at the time was basic primary healthcare at the grassroots level.
“The real work is in training healthcare workers and taking them to the rural areas. Which is what we did at the time. The real work is in sustainable long-term solutions for this critical sector,” Saraki said.
Saraki charged the Nigerian populace to interrogate politicians during campaigns before the 2023 election.
“Very soon politicians will soon start campaigning to be president or to be governors. Nigerians must ask them: ‘What are your plans for universal health coverage?’ and ‘How do you intend achieve it?’ When the time comes, the answers to these questions must be considered by the electorate,” Saraki charged Nigerians.
The former Senate President also emphasized that in a post-2023 Nigeria, the federal government and states must increase the number of those covered by healthcare insurance from the present 3 to 7 percent of the population, to working to attain 100 percent coverage.
“We must look at how we can achieve this between 2023 and 2027. The state and federal governments must first focus on how to ensure that the less privileged in our society receive healthcare coverage between 2023 and 2025.
“Additionally, the present allocation to healthcare by the states and the federal government must also increase to 25 percent of their overall spending. Most importantly, within 24-months of the next election, all the primary healthcare centers across the nation must be upgraded and re-equipped.
“Finally, we must make healthcare insurance compulsory for all Nigerians — in order to have a healthier population,” Dr. Saraki said.
Abubakar Bukola Saraki Media Office, Abuja