Tax mobile phone calls to fund health, group advises Nigerian govt

Mobile ohones used to illustrate the story.

The Nigerian government has been advised to charge one kobo per minute for every outgoing mobile phone call in the country to fund healthcare for the citizens.

A coalition of civil society organisations (CSO) and professional associations in the Partnership for Advocacy in Child and Family Health at Scale (PACFaH@Scale) gave the advice on Monday at a press conference in Abuja held to mark the International Universal Health Coverage (IUHC) Day.

The international UHC day is celebrated every December 12. The theme for this year is “Unite for Universal Health Coverage: Now is the time for collective action.”

The press conference was held ahead of the day and rounds off a two-day workshop that provided the CSOs in the group an opportunity to learn more about UHC.

UHC means all citizens accessing quality health services where and when they need them, and without suffering financial hardship.

On innovative means to achieve UHC, the PACFaH @Scale coalition proposed that the government should introduce a mobile phone tax that will involve charging one kobo per minute on every outgoing phone call in Nigeria.

Speaking at the conference, the Vice President, Society of Gynecology and Obstetrics (SOGON), Habib Sadauki, said the call for collective action to achieving UHC is very important because even other parts of the world are overwhelmed with providing healthcare for their people.

Mr Sadauki said the one kobo per minute proposal is not entirely a novel idea. He said as a former member of the House of Representatives, he sponsored the idea as a bill.

He said the bill passed first reading in the House but, however, could not proceed because he did not make it back to the House.

“The non-continuity of the sponsor does not mean the bill should die. Almost everyone uses a mobile phone. The Nigerian Communications Commission says there are 162. 3 million active lines in the country. Pulling resources for UHC through that means will go a long way in assisting to achieve UHC,” he said.

He added that the bulk of the people who do not have access to healthcare are in the informal sector.

“So we believe that source should cater for that. It is time for collective action and it is doable. There is no free lunch and people need to take action to achieve UHC. We are just looking for a medium which will include collective collection and collective inclusion,” he said.

Also speaking at the conference, the Executive Director, Women in Media (WIM), Halima Ben-Umar, called on the three tiers of government to fund the second National Strategic Health Development Plan (NSHDP II) and ensure accountability in its implementation.

The NSHDP document was developed by the Ministry of Health and its development partners as a stewardship guide to strengthen health care delivery across all the three tiers of government in Nigeria.

Mrs Ben-Umar said government exploring new innovative ways to fund the health system has become necessary for Nigerians. According to Nigeria’s National Health Account of 2014, for every N1, 000 spent on health, about N700 is out of pocket expenditure, a situation that is driving millions of Nigerians into poverty and denying them basic healthcare.

“Just as the theme for the day, UHC requires a collective action for everybody to contribute their quota to achieving UHC. One way we can do that in the country is to pool funds through the collection of one kobo per minute from every phone call made to be saved for individuals to accessing quality health care.”

She lamented that the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) has not been effective “as it is only four per cent of the nation’s population that is on the scheme.

“The NHIS does not also cover the informal sector and this is the majority of people who need access to quality health services in the country.

“We believe that the objective of the UHC will be achieved in Nigeria if all the three tiers of government have political will to implement recommendations proposed by the coalition,” Mrs Ben-Umar said.

Speaking in a similar vein, the Secretary-General of Network for Nigerian NGCOs, Ayo Adebusoye, said the country needs alternative means to generate funds for UHC because the meagre investment in health sector is further compounded by delay or non-release of appropriated funds.

“Even when funds are released, there are challenges of utilisation and accountability. Other lingering barriers to UHC in the country include low political will to adequately fund healthcare, poor governance, mismanagement of resources and lack of coordination among federal, states and local government.”

Mr Adebusoye called on the media to join in the advocacy for UHC, saying this will benefit everyone.

According to the coalition, the three tiers of government in Nigeria must keep their promises for the health sector so the country can achieve universal health coverage.

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