I welcome the Senate’s endorsement & support disclosed today by the Senate President, of FG’s earlier determined policy to spend 1% of our budget on healthcare in line with the National Health Act. The policy reflects the Buhari administration’s resolve to improve healthcare.

Mr. Chairman, aside from lawyers, doctors are the next most important professionals. As one rude fellow said, lawyers are usually the cause of people’s medical problems, and doctors benefit from treating them.

Mr. President, (of the Republic, I mean) also recognises the first place of lawyers by appointing 7 lawyers into the Federal Cabinet. We are closely followed by doctors, 4 of them are in the cabinet.

But doctors have a “never say die” approach to life, and so when we thought we had won, we suddenly found a doctor sitting in the position of the President of the lawmakers. By that I mean, the distinguished Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki. We are, however, comforted by the fact that he is now more a legal personality than a doctor. I trust that none of us will take our medical problems to him!

It is a special privilege to be here at the 58th annual delegates meeting and scientific conference of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA). I am here to represent President Muhammadu Buhari, and I bring his warm felicitations and best wishes for a very successful conference to you all.

The theme of this year’s conference: “Quality Healthcare – An Indicator of Good Governance”, could not be more apt, for these times. There has been a considerable amount of attention being paid, in recent months on the importance of human capital development for Nigeria; at the heart of which are to be found healthcare and education.

A few weeks ago, we held a special expanded session of the National Economic Council (NEC), which I am privileged to Chair, on Human Capital Development. It was an opportunity for frank and detailed conversations by Governments, civil society groups and philanthropists, especially around healthcare and education.

Two crucial takeaways from that meeting: first, is that while public sector investment in healthcare must be substantially improved, it is unlikely that it would ever be sufficient; in other words, paying for healthcare from budgets, will not be enough to move the needle in healthcare funding. A robust National Health Insurance Scheme will be required, alongside private sector and donor partnerships funding.

The second is that these necessary investments and sacrifices in our healthcare systems must be made in a timely manner, and to demonstrate the patience and steadfastness required for the long-term planning and investment associated with enduring healthcare reform. These two takeaways are crucial from my extended meeting on human development in Nigeria.

It is no longer news, that we inherited a troubled healthcare sector which has been troubled for a very long time, as one of the manifestations of the severely low spending on infrastructure generally and healthcare in particular. What we have seen through the years, is a scandalously low level of funding for public health in Nigeria and healthcare in particular.

The levels of public sector investment in healthcare in our recent past, has in no way reflected our earnings, or high oil earnings, especially between 2010 and 2015 (that was when we earned the highest in oil prices).

Add to this, a devastating insurgency in the Northeast, which succeeded in bringing an already tottering health system in that part of the country to its knees, with the attendant impact on immunization levels and the availability of medical personnel. There were some issues that consumed a substantial part of our attention, and these issues were amongst them: the problems with the healthcare sector, poor funding and of course, the Northeast and the threat of the spread of some diseases, some of those diseases that had been under control on account of the fact that it had been extremely difficult to reach some parts of the Northeast until a couple of years ago.

I am pleased to note that we have since stabilized the dire situation we inherited. Our short-term Special Intervention Programme, and the medium-term Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), have helped set the economy solidly on the path of recovery and growth. The insurgency in the Northeast has abated considerably. Just this week in fact, Borno State celebrated its first public May Day celebrations in Maiduguri in five years.

Having identified healthcare reform as one of the major drivers of Nigeria’s economic development, and under the able leadership of the Hon Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, our administration has prioritized basic healthcare delivery services for Nigerians, through the revitalization of primary healthcare and retooled the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency for better performance.

President Buhari personally launched a pilot of this revitalization programme at the Primary Healthcare Centre in Kuchigoro village here in the FCT, last year. Also in line with this, in 2016, we disbursed US$1.5 million to each of Nigeria’s 36 State Governments and the FCT, to support them in strengthening their primary healthcare system, as part of the Saving One Million Lives Performance for Results Programme.
Another round of funding will shortly be disbursed to performing States based on results from an assessment of the impact of the first round of funding.

Just last month, we launched, in the presence of the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund. Implementation of the fund will soon commence as a pilot in three States, Abia, Niger and Osun States, with plans to scale up next year.

In terms of public health, the proactive and commendable effort of the Federal Ministry of Health, through the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), in coordination with the national response to recent outbreaks of infectious diseases like the Lassa Fever, Cholera/Acute Watery Diarrhoea and Cerebrospinal Meningitis is worthy of note. We expect that the passage of the NCDC Establishment Bill by the National Assembly will further strengthen the agency and provide a smoother environment for their operations.

Through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), we have launched an aggressive strategic plan, to attain 80 percent immunization coverage nationally by the year 2020, because it is clear that we must improve levels of immunisation coverage in Nigeria.

We have also, through our National Sovereign Investment Authority, recently invested $20 million in three of our Tertiary Hospitals – Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, and the Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia, Abia State – to establish world-class cancer treatment and medical diagnostic facilities. We intend to follow these with targeted interventions in the treatment of heart and kidney disorders.

Again, in line with our overall economic development plans, we are working hard on incentivizing private sector investment in healthcare. Already the CBN hospital intervention fund has helped fund some hospitals that have shown track records for game changing activity in healthcare. We believe that the next phase of healthcare development in Nigeria is going to depend a great deal on technology and innovation, which explains why we are paying a great deal of attention to the remarkable innovations of our bludgeoning tech sector.

Many young people are solving huge problems in Medicine and other aspects of our lives with a great deal of creativity. In the medical sector, we have LifeBank founded by Temi Giwa’s and Ola Orekunrin’s Flying Doctors. These two are two start-ups using technology and innovation to fill critical gaps in our healthcare industry.

LifeBank works on the blood shortage problem in hospitals and save lives by speeding up blood donations and delivery to hospitals in Lagos. Their LifeBank app connects donors and hospitals and they ensure delivery of blood within 55 minutes. Ola Orekunrin’s Flying Doctors, is the first air operated emergency medical service in West Africa. Her company provides air ambulances from a pool of 20 aircrafts and highly trained medical personnel for emergency evacuations.

Recently, we ran a Makeathon from our Northeast Humanitarian Technology Hub. It is one of the technology hubs we are developing as a government, in providing innovation to solve problems that have arisen in the Northeast. We’ve had hundreds of innovations proposing highly innovative solutions to public health problems. These are young Nigerians proposing ground-breaking solutions. We intend to engage even more robustly with our technology community on an ongoing basis. We believe a lot of the answers to some of our public health problems; rely on the creativity of these young men and women.

Our Social Investment Programme, through its Home-Grown School Feeding Scheme, is investing heavily in improving health outcomes for primary school children, by tackling stunting and malnutrition. We are working closely with the Partnership for Child Development (PCD), a research body based at London’s Imperial College, and with a track record of supporting interventions that translate into healthier and better-educated children.

The school feeding programme currently serves about 7.6 million school children, across 22 of Nigeria’s 36 states, and continues to grow as more States sign up for it. Although, it doesn’t cover all States, it is a very crucial programme especially in addressing the malnutrition needs of a large number of young children who are in derived areas or families.

And through the N-Power youth employment scheme we are expanding Nigeria’s cadre of health extension workers who will make a positive difference in hundreds of communities across the country. We have engaged about 40,000 of them, engaged directly by government as part of our N-Power programme.

As I close, let me use this opportunity to express my deep concern about the negative impact of strikes in our public health service. While agitations for better conditions of service by healthcare professionals are, and will continue to be necessary and legitimate expressions, we also wish that medical personnel should take on some responsibility for showing greater understanding in your dealings with the government, as we jointly work towards resolving the several problems and tensions in the health sector. Many of these problems predate many of us in so many ways; it predates your administration and predates our administration. But they are problems that must be solved seated round a table trying to resolve them. Where the resolution results in the several loss of lives of Nigerians, then we must take a second look on how to approach it.

On our part we will continue to listen to you, and to discuss solutions that are agreeable to all stakeholders. We have constituted an inter-ministerial committee to examine all previous reports, documents, policy instruments and laws, including the Yayale Ahmed Committee report, with the goal of engendering cordial working relationships among all health personnel, and between all of you and the Federal Government.

I commend the outgoing National Officers who have led the affairs of the association in the last two years, and a very impressive tenure devoid of acrimony and instability. I must also wish you successful, rancour-free proceedings as you elect new officers. I am most impressed by the excellent example of orderly elections and transition displayed by the Nigerian Medical Association. Please keep it up!

But I must not fail to convey to you, the sentiments of your compatriots of the legal profession, my profession. On this trend, your undisputed elections deprive us of very lucrative briefs which we would have if you were to prefer the route of litigations! While not encouraging that code of conduct, I must remind you that whenever people pray on the 31st of December every year, that may we not see litigations, some people don’t say amen!

It is now my singular privilege and honour to declare the 58th Annual Delegates Meeting and Scientific Conference of the Nigerian Medical Association – “Abuja 2018” – open.

Released by:

Laolu Akande
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity
Office of the Vice President
3rd May, 2018