By Fabian Ekeruche
When it comes to matters of life and death in the temporal order, the health sector of any nation speaks volumes in terms of its service offerings and its claims to the sustenance of life. It is the lack of trust in health sectors, especially in third-world countries that explains part of the reasons for medical tourism abroad.
It is against this backdrop that the Nigerian Solidarity Support Fund (NSSF), faithful to its mission, seeks to address the tyrant of accountability and transparency in Nigeria’s health sector. For the Fund to effectively address this, it initiated the “Righting Our Story” contest, where young Nigerian youths bared it all in telling the agonizing stories patients have encountered while seeking healthcare.
Dr Fejiro Chinye-Nwoko, General Manager, NSSF, says the fund seeks to leverage the contest to build participants’ capacity on the use of digital tools and applications to advocate for a stronger healthcare system in Nigeria.
Chinye-Nwoko says it will also provide a platform for youths between the ages of 15 and 35 to engage actively in advocacy in the healthcare sector, youth empowerment, and poverty alleviation.
“This, they do, by exploring Literature as a means for advocacy in transforming health outcomes in Nigeria and galvanizing stakeholder cooperation and support across the public and private sectors,” Chinye-Nwoko says.
The GM says that NSSF will continue to support urgent aspects of the healthcare system and provide humanitarian support to those people whose lives are disrupted by COVID-19.
According to her, the fund will also be working closely with public institutions and private sector actors to intervene in the healthcare system.
She says “Righting our Story”, a 110-page collection of short stories, poems, flash fiction, and essays that envision a healthier Nigeria is now available in print.
Panelists at a recent event to unveil winners of the contest were unanimous in concluding that addressing the issues of accountability and transparency in our healthcare system is important to instill trust in the system
Dr Alero Roberts, Senior Lecturer of Public Health at LUTH, says that the challenge of leadership needs to be looked into in addressing accountability and transparency issues in the health sector.
Roberts also raises the issues of discrimination, and lack of care that many people face in most health facilities.
“What we have lost is the basic primary education that taught us empathy, 99.9 percent of the time, there is no exaggeration on these concerns.
“There is more work to do in the health space.”
She says there is an acceptable minimum standard expected of each health facility, otherwise, international standards are still the best we should attain.
She urges citizens to pay their fair share of tax to enable the government to meet its obligations in the health sector.
Dr Tomi Coker, Commissioner of Health, Ogun State, says addressing the challenge of accountability and transparency, will require the leadership, workers, and citizens to play their roles effectively.
Coker notes that some workers are working in horrible conditions.
“The structure is not there yet. You have to be passionate before you go into the profession. You need to turn the system upside down to make things right,” Coker says.
According to her, there is sustainable finance for health care abroad.
“Unfortunately in Nigeria, the government do not have sustainable fund to sustain the healthcare that we need.
“I think it is in the citizen’s right to hold us accountable.”
She advises Nigerians to embrace health insurance.
For Dr Pamela Ajayi, President, of the Healthcare Federation of Nigeria (HFN), transparency and accountability are the hallmarks of governance.
Ajayi highlights that there is a big issue with quality and standards in most healthcare systems in the country.
According to her, efforts should be directed at achieving international standards in health care practice.
“It is the duty of healthcare managers to communicate correctly to the patients.
“A centralized data management system, where patients can lay them complains, will help us ‘leapfrog a lot in the country,” she says.
In her interventions, Chinye Nwoko, says that the foundation has remained faithful to its calling in 2020 to support the Nigerian government to strengthen the health system.
She says the fund had carried out various interventions in the area of vaccine support during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and also to strengthen leadership in the sector.
Also, Dr Ajoritsedere Awosika, MNI, Chairperson, Access Bank, says addressing accountability and transparency begins with the boldness to speak out until we are transparent in our work.
Awosike appeals to leaders and followers to be accountable in all that they do
“It is good that we have a book that has begun to tell the story- telling the story so that others don’t go that way. All Nigerians are responsible for not speaking out. Transparency basically, is mutual trust. We need to work together to speak out and professionals have to be accountable for their job. I will be looking forward to NSSF fighting the battle for insurance. Let’s have a situation where we write our story. The story must be told and must be written and read,” Awosika said.
For the Nigerian healthcare system to continue to enjoy patronage from patients at home and abroad, it is important that we collectively tell our stories.
Telling our stories in a very honest way will draw the attention of political leaders to do the needful in bringing the system up to spread with international best practices.
Moreover, instilling a culture of accountability and transparency in the system will also help the country to save huge amounts of foreign exchange that go into medical tourism by Nigerians annually.