Nigeria needs its government and private individuals working together to revive its health sector and provide quality healthcare for its people.
The Managing Director, Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), Uche Orji, said this in Abuja on Wednesday at the annual National Health Dialogue (NHD) organised by Premium Times.
He said the health sector is in a big problem and needs urgent attention.
The dialogue, themed “Universal Health Coverage” – The Role of State and Non-State Actors in Healthcare Funding and Support”, was organised in partnership with the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), the Project for Advocacy in Child and Family Health (PACFaH@Scale), the Project Pink Blue and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF).
Mr Orji said NSIA has been investing in healthcare development as one of its interventions, with its focus on cancer treatment. He said the agency chose cancer treatment because it is an area where many Nigerians lack quality treatment.
He said the health sector needs equipment, pharmaceutical products and effective training of health workers to give optimal performance.
Mr Orji said NSIA’s strategy in healthcare development is to focus on areas of need in tertiary healthcare that are driving Nigerians into medical tourism in Europe, East Asia and the Middleeast.
He said research revealed four areas in which Nigerians seek medical attention abroad. These are cancer, which tops the chat with 40 per cent, followed by cardiovascular treatment, as well as renal and orthopaedics (surgery).
Mr Orji said many Nigerians seek medical attention abroad because the country does not have the equipment, drugs and aftercare to manage most of the ailments presented at health facilities.
Mr Orji said NSIA had partnered with Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) to set up an advanced cancer treatment centre to enhance cancer treatment in Nigeria.
The Cancer Treatment Centre was established under a public-private partnership (PPP) between the NSIA and LUTH.
The project is an $11 million dollar investment for rehabilitation, equipping and operation of an existing cancer centre co-located in LUTH, which will provide advanced radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment services.
Mr Orji said NSIA will also be commissioning other centres and training medical doctors to handle the treatment centres across the country.
He said the agency chose to focus on cancer because it discovered that radiotherapy machines installed in eight facilities broke down at the same time, leaving only two machines functioning in the country.
He said the two remaining machines were also breaking down frequently.
“They have started building a training centre where medical doctors and oncologist will be trained,” he said about the intervention of his agency.
“13 programmes are in the pipeline that we intend to roll out and we are using LUTH as a training centre,” he said
He said post-care training for nurses and health workers is also very important to guarantee quality healthcare.
He said post-care is an area where Nigeria is having problems because the quality of care patients receive after treatment is as important as the treatment they get from medical personnel.
“Nursing is also a place where we have issues in the country and we are refusing to admit it. Training of nurses is as serious as training a doctor because after treatment is one of the places we have been having issues.
“In the US, nurses go through at least four years of training and are trained as rigorously as doctors because they are meant to work hand in hand.
“We have been investing in cancer treatment in Nigeria and we are interested in pharmaceuticals too. We got involved with cancer because that is one of the areas where we have challenges and people travel abroad for treatment.
“We are also interested in drugs because that is a major challenge as most people do not have access to most of the pharmaceutical products they need for pre and post-treatment,” he said.
Mr Orji also made a case for ease of diagnosis. He noted that one of the problems with treatment in Nigeria is that most cases are often presented late to the hospital.
He said Nigeria needs to provide the diagnostic options for early diagnosis and this can as well be provided at the primary health level.
Advocating free screening
In an earlier discussion, a breast cancer survivor, Gloria Orji, said cancer patients often present themselves late for treatment because cancer screening services are not readily available in Nigeria.
Ms Orji, President of Network of People Impacted by Cancer, urged the government to provide services for the screening of the three common cancers in Nigeria – breast cancer, cervical cancer and prostate cancer – at the primary healthcare level.
Ms Orji said governments across all strata should make cancer screening and prevention services free and available to Nigerians at the primary healthcare centres.
She also urged the country to emulate African countries like Kenya and Rwanda and introduce free HPV vaccines for women, especially in rural areas.
Ms Orji said though the National Health Insurance Scheme now covers some aspects of cancer treatment, “it is still very expensive and not affordable by many patients.”
“NHIS covers only the basics and the third-degree drugs are not covered.
“Those drugs are 80 per cent of the time not available, and if they are not available you will see people cutting corners to make sure that the drugs are available,” she said.