By Oluwabukola Akanni
Ibadan – As Nigeria celebrates its 60th independent anniversary, medical professionals have described the country’s current healthcare system as a shadow of what it used to be in the pre-independence era.
The medical professionals, in separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Wednesday in Ibadan, were unanimous in their assessment that the standard of healthcare was better under the colonial rule than it is today.
According to them, poor funding, obsolete equipment, brain drain, unhealthy inter-professional rivalry and incessant healthcare workers’ strike are some of the factors responsible for the decline in the nation’s health sector.
Dr Ayotunde Fasunla, Chairman, Oyo State branch of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), said that Nigeria’s healthcare system had retrogressed since the country’s independence from the British colonial overlords.
“The healthcare system in Nigeria since independence, 60 years ago, has steadily undergone a decline in productivity and output.
“Reasons for this malady are multi-factorial and border on poor funding and maladministration, leading to infrastructural decay and brain drain.
“The multiple industrial actions and progressive inter-professional disharmony experienced in the last decade have further worsened healthcare service delivery,” he said.
Fasunla further stated that the low funding of the country’s health sector had also resulted in the inability of the three tiers of the healthcare structure to carry out their individual mandates.
According to him, the by-pass of the primary health care has hindered effective healthcare delivery.
“With the gross underfunding of the health sector by both the federal and state governments, many institutions are currently functioning below optimum, and the primary health care, which should have provided immediate care for the citizens, has almost collapsed.
“The burden of care has shifted to the secondary and tertiary institutions, thus causing congestion and inefficiency in such centres,” he said.
The NMA chairman said that the country was also very far from achieving universal health coverage.
“The relatively poor uptake and distribution of health insurance has also had a negative health implication, as many patients have to pay out-of-pocket in a country where poverty is endemic.
“The situation is quite gloomy and requires urgent intervention by government and all relevant stakeholders in bringing about the desired change towards achieving the global sustainable development goals,” he said.
Also, Dr Olusegun Olaopa, a former President, National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), said that the quality of healthcare delivery in the country had diminished since independence.
Olaopa said that although access to healthcare had expanded, there had been a drop in standard compared with the pre-independence era.
“There is a lot of difference between the pre-independence healthcare system and the current one.
“When the British military sponsored Nigerians to train as doctors through missionary intervention and medical adventures by individuals, our healthcare system was a lot standardized. Even though the coverage was very small, they maintained some high level of standard.
“Professional ethics were learnt and exhibited; facilities were few but they were comparable with what was available in England and other developed world.
“What we have today is a shadow of what it used to be and the standard has continued to fall.
“Independence came; the colonial masters left but our nepotism-induced inefficiencies and political maneuvering have taken the best of us.
“Today, only a few hospitals or healthcare centres can boast of anything that has some semblance of international standard,” he said.
The medical experts called on government to urgently address the numerous challenges that had hitherto plagued the health sector in order to save it from total collapse.
NAN reports that in April 2001, African Union countries made a pledge to allocate, at least, 15 percent of their annual budgets to the health sector in order to strengthen the healthcare system.
NAN also reports that 19 years after, Nigeria has yet to reach the target, with less than five percent of its annual budget still going to the health sector.