The World Health Organisation (WHO) has rightly enjoined world leaders to build a fairer, healthier world through equitable and quality health care for every citizen. The global health agency made the call during the marking of this year’s World Health Day (WHD), which is celebrated annually on April 7. The theme for this year’s WHD, “Together for a fairer, healthier world,” draws attention to global health inequities and how to ensure equitable access to health services.
The WHO used the occasion to urge leaders to monitor health inequalities and address their causes and ensure that everyone has access to the living and working conditions that are conducive to good health. In marking this year’s WHD, the agency clearly observed that “health is a fundamental human right. Every person deserves to live a healthy life regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, disability, economic situation or employment.”
However, it noted that progress in tackling health disparities has been slow worldwide. Other factors that contribute to inequities, the agency pointed out, include poverty, unemployment, environmental challenges, gender inequities and the COVID-19 pandemic. It explained that the pandemic has undercut recent health gains and pushed more people into poverty and food insecurity as well as increased gender, social and health inequities.
According to WHO, “the places where we live, work and play may make it harder for some to reach their full health potential, while others thrive. Health inequities are not only unjust and unfair, but they also threaten the advances made to date, and have the potential to widen rather than narrow equity gaps.”
To ensure that there is quality health service for everyone and achieve health for all by 2023, the agency advised world leaders to invest in primary health care system. Universal health coverage (UHC) as defined by WHO is about ensuring that all people and communities have access to quality health services where and when they need them, without suffering financial hardship. It also includes the full spectrum of services needed throughout life.
It explained that these services, which include health promotion, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care, are better based on a strong primary health care system. Unfortunately, many citizens in developing countries including Nigeria do not have access to most of these medical services.
Available WHO statistics show that about 3.6 billion people worldwide still lack full coverage of essential primary health services; 930 million people globally are at risk of falling into poverty, while 71 per cent of deaths worldwide is due to non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
This year’s WHD came at a time many people globally are grappling with one socio-economic problem or another. In Nigeria, many people in the North East region are dislocated from their homes due to the insurgency, while others in some geo-political zones suffer deprivation on account of banditry, herders/farmers clashes, kidnapping and the pervasive insecurity across the country. Sadly, Nigeria’s health sector is buffeted with many problems.
Apart from the frequent doctors’ strike, poor funding of the sector, our primary health care system, which ought to carry over 70 per cent of the nation’s disease burden is in a pathetic situation. Besides, Nigeria is among countries where issues about medical tourism and brain drain are yet to be tackled. A recent news report revealed that Nigeria loses over N576 billion or $1.2 billion yearly to medical tourism.
It is no longer news that many of our political office holders and their aides go abroad for medical checks and sundry treatments. On brain drain, reports have it that about 8,178 Nigerian medical doctors are working in the United Kingdom (UK). It is good that doctors and pharmacists have used the occasion of this year’s WHD to jointly call on the government to ensure that every Nigerian has access to equitable health care service.
Therefore, we call on all tiers of government to concertedly tackle the nation’s health challenges. Let there be emphasis on effective primary health care (PHC) services throughout the country. It is only through an efficient PHC system that Nigeria can aspire to the global vision of health for all by 2023.
Without functional PHC, access to potable water and safe environment, the nation’s disease burden will continue to increase. Since most diseases are worsened by poverty, the government should stop paying lip service to its poverty eradication programmes. This is, indeed, the time to lift millions of Nigerians out of pervasive poverty.