The inclusion of family planning and cancer treatment into the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) was the topic of discussion when some health experts gathered in Abuja on Wednesday.
“The first rationale for family planning is in the interest of the mother and the child to reduce mortality,” the President of the Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH), Oladapo Ladipo, said at the two-day strategic advocacy retreat.
Mr Ladipo said the country’s maternal mortality ratio is shamefully high when compared to other developed countries.
He said Nigeria has not made any substantial progress in terms of health services to its citizens in the past decades.
“Inclusion of family planning into the scheme will improve acceptance and continued use of family planning to prevent unintended pregnancies through correct, consistent and social behaviour change,” President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Innocent Ujah, said.
Represented by the commissioner for health and human services, Benue State, Joseph Ngbea, Mr Ujah said the advocacy for these essential services will further strengthen advocacy to build political will for implementation.
Health Insurance Scheme
Due to the huge out-of-pocket spending for health services, which sometimes leave poor Nigerians in penury, the government established the NHIS in 2005
But despite billions pumped into the scheme since its inception, millions of Nigerians still lack access to quality healthcare.
About 70 per cent of Nigerians pay out-of-pocket for healthcare while those enrolled in the scheme complain of inadequate service delivery.
Observers say those mostly covered by the scheme are mainly civil servants and corporate workers in the private sector.
The scheme also fails to cover some key services like cancer treatment which is very expensive and has left many cancer patients and their families with no option than to sell properties to raise funds.
Some cancer patients also rely on foreign aid and raising funds through social media, a situation health experts blamed on the country’s fragmented health insurance system.
To reduce the financial burden of treating cancer, health minister Osagie Ehanire at a National Health Dialogue in 2019, announced plans to institute a cancer treatment fund.
“There will be a creation of a fund, either a cancer treatment fund or whatever we decide to call it. It is important and can be driven by investment or donation,” the minister said.
Almost 18 months after, cancer communities in Nigeria say they are yet to start benefitting from the fund.
But the chairman, healthcare services committee, House of Representatives, Tanko Sununu, while speaking at the retreat said the ministry of health is at the modality stage of disbursing the funds to selected hospitals that will cover indigent patients.
The retreat was organised by the Africa Health Budget Network (AHBN) in partnership with NHIS, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and the Nigerian Cancer Society (NCS).
Speaking at the retreat, Executive Secretary of the NHIS, Mohammed Sambo, said the advocacy is in line with the reform agenda of the current leadership of the scheme.
Represented by Yakubu Agada, General Manager of standards and quality assurance, NHIS, Mr Sambo said the scheme is expanding coverage of essential healthcare services for all Nigerians and efforts are underway to cover retirees, elderly, IDPs and corp members.
“NHIS on its part is currently reviewing its benefits package to accommodate some drugs and services for Cancer and other communicable and non-communicable diseases,” Mr Sambo said.
He said the scheme is working with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the actual valuation of its comprehensive benefits package.
“In that package, we already have some of the new generation chemotherapy, chemo drugs and others are included,” he said.
“While we are doing this, we need to look at how we are going to finance the new package’ otherwise we are going to deplete the pool we have been able to put together.”
Mr Sambo in February said Nigeria needs about N3 trillion annually to provide adequate health insurance to its total population of over 200 million.
He said with sufficient funds, the scheme will expand its benefits package to include medical conditions such as cancer.
In her remarks, the First Lady of Kebbi state, Zainab Bagudu, said access to family planning services and cancer treatment is critical to health care outcomes in the country.
She explained that the inclusion of these essential services will reduce morbidity, mortality and financial burden placed on patients and care givers.
“Well-designed and resource-sensitive health insurance benefits packages available on state and national scheme can see these services incorporated into packages in the immediate future,” she said.
She, however, calls for collaboration and commitments of all stakeholders to achieve this.