Agenda for health minister Pate

The appointment of Professor Muhammad Ali Pate as Nigeria’s Minister of Health and Social Welfare can be likened to putting a square peg in a square hole.

This is so on account of his trailblazing record in tackling and achieving results while handling public health issues. Prof. Pate is an adept physician, with certifications in internal medicine and infectious diseases. He is also celebrated for his extensive leadership and management prowess in the global health sector.

As a world-class public health specialist, Prof. Pate foregoed a personal growth opportunity to answer a clarion call by his nation, while turning down an offer to serve as the Chief Executive Office (CEO), Global Vaccine Alliance (Gavi). According to him during his questioning at the Senate, “Next to Service to God, is Service to Country”.

Such singular action shows patriotism and is an indicator he is fully aware of the daunting task needed to rejuvenate and reshape the health sector which perhaps only physicians of his calibre and expertise can undertake.

Dear Minister, it is germane that I highlight some issues affecting quality healthcare delivery in Nigeria, and which the citizens will like you to tackle headlong as your stair the affairs of the Federal Ministry of Health.

Doctors under different umbrella such, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), Association of Medical Laboratory Scientist of Nigeria (AMLSN) and National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) have reportedly and almost consistently withdrawn service at some point in 2000, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2020, 2022 and the recently suspended one by the NARD just over a week ago.

Sir, this recurring strike actions by health workers result in avoidable fatalities. Hence, policies for better welfare of medical professionals, recruitment of more personnel to suit the country’s population, standard and fully equipped medical facilities will tackle the issue.

Hon. Minister sir, on May 7, 2023 at the maiden International Maternal and Newborn Health Conference (IMNHC2023) held in Cape Town, South Africa, Nigeria was listed as part of the countries which contribute to 97 per cent preventable maternal and newborn mortality globally. Such statistics does not befit the giant of Africa. Investing in maternal healthcare and collaboration with local and international non-governmental organisation which will engage in sensitisation on the subject at the grassroot will work miracles.

Sir, many Primary Healthcare Centers (PHCs) across the Federation have issues too. They are not a sight to behold and are additionally plagued by poor staffing, inadequate equipment and insufficient drug supply and other medical consumables. Sir, the PHCs are closest to the people, availing them adequate human and material resources would be a step in the right direction.

Furthermore, the numbers are not good for children who have not received any form of immunisation, zero dose immunisation as it is more appropriately referred to. With over 2 million children Nigerian in this category, it would be timely to follow up on the construction of ‘standard vaccine hubs’ in Abuja, Lagos, and Kano states inaugurated by your predecessor.

This will help fast track the process and when resources becomes available, more of such should be spread across the country. Devising strategy to reach, and educate underserved communities in this regard and keeping in mind that revamping PHCs would contribute in achieving this feat.

Interestingly sir, foreign healthcare-related services spent by Nigeria in the first quarter of 2023, amounted to a whooping $1.04m. In this case, putting up state-of-the-art medical infrastructure and equipment, public and private sector partnership, foreign training of medics to equip them with working knowledge and trends in the profession are strategies that can work wonders in curtailing medical tourism.

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are generally underestimated in country, as a result, 100 million Nigerians are at risk of at least one of 20 NTDs in the country. A public health guru of your pedigree surely understands the intricacies associated with NTDs. Almost absent from the global health agenda, enjoying little funding, and associated with stigma and social exclusion, sir channeling funds for treatment alongside sensitisation since ignorance of the diseases is a major contributory factor for the figures mention will cut the Gordian knot.

Mental health though have been around for a long time, discussion round prevention and treatment is only recently gaining traction globally. Potentially six in ten Nigerians suffer from from mental illness compelling former President Muhammadu Buhari to assent the Mental Health Act in January this year. Sir, transition of government have distorted some activities all over thus, it becomes critical to revisit the act and make certain it’s adequate implementation.

The health sector lacks accurate data on even the most common diseases which should come handy in formulating policies for disease prevention and control. Utilising technology to create a database is essential for disease tracking, monitoring and surveillance shall produce good outcome.

Issues surrounding family planning, overall family health, out-of-pocket spending, and investment in local production of pharmaceuticals require your expert attention.

The inclusion of social welfare in your portfolio would allow for a more integrated and holistic approach to improving Nigerian lives as it gives you the chance to develop policies that bridge the gap between health and social services. For example, addressing issues such as poverty, malnutrition, portable drinking water and education could lead to improved health outcomes.

On a final note, a blueprint should be drawn and timeline pegged on every feat you hope to achieve. This will keep actors on their heels to produce results on time whilst simultaneously keeping you abreast of whether or policies and implementation are getting to intended targets.

Sir, with your deep understanding of public health delivery, healthcare financing, the need for domestic production, promise to harness economic value chain in health sector and the imperative to prioritise investments in health, Nigerians look forward to a transformed health sector under your stewardship. Best wishes.

Mamman writes from Abuja via [email protected]