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Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is here

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Dear Nigerian elite/leader/politician,

Nigerians had waited with bated anticipation for the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines in order to combat the spread of this insidious virus. Therefore, it came as a great relief when the National Primary Health Care Development Agency announced this joyous news on Tuesday, March 4.

In the process, Nigeria received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines, becoming the third country in Africa to get the shots through COVAX, a global scheme formed to ensure fair access to inoculations for low- and middle-income states.

Need I remind you on the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation’s health sector?

The impact of COVID-19 in Nigeria is both good and bad. Good in the sense that everybody, from the government to the people on the streets, realised the importance of health. A lot of private-sector people also recognised that we need our health system to work.

But with the number of strikes, for instance, that we have seen in the health sector and the kind of response we have seen from the government, one wonders whether we understand the gravity of the situation.
Secondly, the whole world now realises the importance of health. And that means many countries are beginning to rejig their health systems, which begins with the workforce. Countries will have special visas and visa exceptions to attract health workers and other professionals.

Those countries are repositioning to avoid another situation, like this. But this has not been the case in Nigeria. That is saddening because it means our health workers now have more opportunities to leave this country and work elsewhere.

Nigeria does not give health workers a comfortable environment to work in. The pressure of not getting good remuneration, not having equipment to work with, of insecurity in their country, is pushing them out.

If we have ever worried about the migration of health workers, we need to worry much more now.

And thirdly, COVID-19 is not just a health pandemic, it is also a “socio-economic pandemic”. We have fewer funds to work with, so we can’t finance the health sector. We’re talking about good remuneration, fixing hospitals, ensuring they have electricity, running water, the right equipment for diagnosis and treatment, and all of that and yet there is an economic downturn.

The coronavirus pandemic exposed the underbelly of Nigeria’s healthcare system. The rot has been visible over the years, yet no remedial steps had been taken to address them.

From lack of basic equipment in hospitals to lack of essential drugs on the shelves and epileptic power supply and poor remuneration of medical personnel, the deterioration had persisted.

The deceased Head of State, General Sani Abacha in his famous coup d’etat broadcast of 1994 summed Nigeria’s hospitals as mere consulting clinics.

Yet, government after government have refused to address the pathetic situation. Many Nigerian doctors have agonized losing patients due to lack of appropriate equipment, fake drugs, and electric power going off in the midst of major operations in the theatre. This has forced many health workers in Nigeria to migrate to Europe, United States, and Saudi Arabia under better conditions of service than is obtainable in Nigeria.

The saying that health is wealth and a healthy nation is a wealthy nation makes little or no meaning to government officials in Nigeria.
Virtually all top government officials and their family members are routinely sponsored abroad for medical check-ups at government expense. That accounts for the reason they pay scant attention to the public healthcare system in Nigeria.

The Covid-19 pandemic should have marked the critical juncture in Nigeria’s healthcare scheme. This is the moment the country ought to turn the corner for good.

But like every other issue afflicting Nigeria, once the emergency abates, the health challenges confronting the country will be swept under the carpet. The coronavirus should awaken in the government the need for health security.

READ ASLO: Governors, deputies to receive COVID-19 vaccine March 10

There is an urgent need to produce locally most of the drugs required in Nigeria in partnership with big pharmaceutical companies.

If there is a global lockdown, closure of borders around the world for one year, the drug supply chain will run dry.

The political leadership lacks every sense of patriotism otherwise Nigeria with its huge population and resources should have at least ten state-of-the-art referral hospitals manned by qualified Nigerians.

It is scandalous that President Musa Yar’adua died in a Saudi Arabia hospital in 2010 while in 2017, President Buhari spent over three months in a London hospital receiving treatment.

Despite all these, there is no single referral hospital that can handle whatever health challenge of a Nigeria president without rushing abroad.

Nigerians and indeed the political leaders spend over 1 USD billion dollars annually on medical bills abroad. Even the inconveniences of rushing a sick person abroad for medical check should no longer be a status symbol.
Nigeria’s healthcare policies are germane. From primary healthcare to secondary and tertiary healthcare schemes are all in place. But they are malfunctioning.

There are areas of life that should not be politicized. The healthcare sector should not be associated with a quota system, favouritism, and corruption. Every personnel from cleaners to consultants must be on merit.
Any compromise in healthcare could lead to loss of life. But a hospital administrator sees the position as an opportunity to employ his relations in positions they are least qualified. This is the bane of Nigeria.

Again, most public officials are lawbreakers in Nigeria. A situation whereby senators and other government officials returning to the country, refused to be tested for Covid-19 at the airports and quarantined, to say the least, is embarrassing.

It took more than a month after the first index case was detected in Lagos for the federal government to close the borders and implement lockdown in parts of the country. What is worst being that some government officials charged with the distribution of palliatives to the indigent, saw it as an opportunity to enrich themselves. Nigerians want to profit from fellow compatriots’ distress.

This missive is an attempt to remind you that a better Nigeria would be a cynosure of all eyes amongst the comity of countries.

It is also a timely reminder on the reason you were trusted with the responsibilities of being a leader within your jurisdiction.

The coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity to revitalize our healthcare system. We may not be so lucky next time.

Yours sincerely,
A Concerned Patriot

PS: The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines should not be subjected to politicisation as Nigerian politicians are wont to do – it should be administered based on the pre-approved priority list.

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