Universal health coverage is alien to the ears of the average Nigerian, worse still it is far from reality for more than 80% of us. Nigerian mortuaries are filled with cadavers who would have been alive if they had access to quality healthcare, lots of Nigerians beseech the social media and media houses to crowd source for funds needed to access healthcare. Yet we have had plethora of promises from the political office holders from the 2001 Abuja agreement to the 22nd November 2019 pledge of President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that all Nigerians have access to affordable, efficient and equitable healthcare services without the risk of impoverishment, yet the citizens are left in limbo.
Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as defined by WHO essentially means “ensuring that people and communities can use the promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services they need, of sufficient quality to be effective, while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship”. December 12 is a date set aside to celebrate this novel concept globally, it is a date in which adequate political commitment is made towards the implementation of UHC. The theme for this year’s celebration is: “Keeping the promise”, which is meant to be a reminder to heads of government to keep to the numerous commitments they have made to Universal Health Coverage.
In Nigeria, this celebration cannot come at a better time than this. With the recent conclusion of an election cycle and the commencement of another one, most of the campaign promises have been forgotten and things have gone back to as they used to be. As citizens, this is the right time to hold governments at all levels accountable by reminding them to keep the promises they have made to ensure health for all Nigerians. We need to remind them to keep the promise of Abuja promise of 15% allocation to health, the need to ensure that the policies on health are not just paper works but are translated into results. We need to remind them to keep the promise of the numerous treaties they have signed but are not yet implemented and finally remind them that political commitment is the most important driver of universal health coverage.
However keeping the promise of Universal health coverage is not all about holding government accountable, it also involves our responsibility as citizens. Universal health coverage will not be achieved without citizen’s participation which will involve participating in contributory health schemes (health insurance), developing the right attitude to health and community ownership of government intervention in health. The private sector should also arise to the occasion by making health a foremost agenda in their corporate social responsibilities, health should become a national agenda in the nation.
Keeping the promise of universal health coverage is a wise thing at this stage of our national development, as investment in health precedes economic transformation. It is also important in light of the words of Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, “Without health, we have nothing”. The time is now to keep the promise of universal health coverage and leave no Nigerian behind.