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Future of Healthcare in Nigeria

Stakeholders at the Future of Healthcare Summit in Lagos say with innovative technologies, the country can improve its health indices and become a health destination for other African countries. Martins Ifijeh

Stakeholders at the Future of Healthcare Summit in Lagos say with innovative technologies, the country can improve its health indices and become a health destination for other African countries. Martins Ifijeh writes.

Ever imagined Nigeria becoming a healthcare destination like the United States, Germany or United Kingdom, where African presidents, their children and politicians run to for treatment? Ever imagined Nigeria being at the bottom of the pyramid when disease burdens and poor life expectancy rates are discussed on a country by country basis? Ever wondered Nigerian doctors and nurses abroad repatriating themselves back home because the health system is becoming better? Well, keen watchers of the system may say it is not likely to happen, because this is Nigeria. But impossible is nothing.

These dreams and more were the major thrust at a roundtable discussion on the ‘Future of Healthcare in Nigeria’ in Lagos, where healthcare stakeholders and policy makers believed with innovative technologies and prioritisation of the health sector, the Nigerian narrative will change and be a healthcare destination in Africa. 

The high powered summit was organised for the first time in Nigeria by CNBC Africa, the continent’s biggest business television channel, in collaboration with Philips, and Forbes Africa. 

They said the country’s high maternal and child mortality, high malnutrition index, poor cancer treatments, incessant disease outbreaks, medical tourism abroad, among others, are a reflection of the present healthcare system, but that public private partnerships, innovative solutions and enabling ecosystem are the ways to go if the country’s healthcare sector must improve. 

On specifics, a Healthcare Futurist, Michael Jackson said it was time Nigeria’s healthcare professionals think more digital in their approach to delivering solutions, adding that this can bridge the yawning gap in Nigeria’s health sector and deliver solutions to the citizens.

He said: “We need to create true purpose in Nigeria healthcare, and to do that, all stakeholders must look forward, and not backward, into the future. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Nigerians should also get rid of the negativity surrounding improving healthcare in the country.”

The futurist, while stating that the recipe for change includes computing, communications, connectivity amongst others, explained that “the changing face of technology was affecting the world positively, hence Nigeria, and Africa in general, must not be left behind.”

He spoke about the evolution of business which now focuses more on skills, knowledge, decentralisation, partnerships and digital engagement and the fast pace of technological development, encouraging healthcare professionals to emulate this progression in rolling out digital healthcare solutions for Nigeria and Africa.

Giving examples of digitally connected technologies being developed in Africa by Philips Africa’s Community Life Centres using solar power in Kenya, he said, “Technology can help tackle challenges right here in Nigeria such as the inequitable ratio of one medical doctor to 25,000 patients and the language gap across the 500 dialects spoken here, encouraging healthcare professionals to adopt this tactic: simplify, smarten-up, specialise.”

The Founder/President, Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA) and Global Goodwill Ambassador for the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), Mrs. Toyin Ojora Saraki says the digitisation of Personal Health Records (PHR) will help reduce mortality rates in the country.

She said even though Nigeria records 20,000 new born babies on a daily basis, about 2,300 under-five year olds are lost, while 145 women of childbearing age die every day in the country.

“The digitisation of the PHR would place Nigeria at the forefront of improving maternal and infant health outcomes. The digitisation of the PHR to inform similar nationwide efforts by qualified midwives would place Nigeria at the forefront of improving maternal and infant health outcomes. It would be fitting to achieve that here in Nigeria, where the idea for a home-based record was developed and has since been successfully deployed in countries like the UK and Japan,” she added.

In her keynote address titled ‘The Role of Technology in Improving Mother and Child Healthcare in Nigeria – Raising Quality Standards for Health Care, Putting People First’,  Mrs. Saraki, who is the wife of the Senate President Bukola Saraki, emphasised that this approach will aid in proffering solutions to the country’s health-related challenges.

She said: “Nigeria’s growth rate of 3.2 per cent annually means that our nation will, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), reach a population of 440 million people by 2040. As a nation which is currently unable to keep its mothers and children safe and healthy, we must urgently seek solutions to the scale of the challenge we are about to face,” she advocated.

She said the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports revealed that the rate of newborn deaths has improved to 37 per 1,000 births saying that this national average hides the differences among the 36 states and the slow progress in some of the states.

She explained further that these figures are already startling and should constitute a national emergency.

She stated further that the digital technology can, at its best, ensure quality and standards of care are improved, maintained and sustained. “Without a public centralised health database for many families to rely upon and keep them informed of the necessary health processes in a child’s first thousand days of life, the WBFA’s Personal Health Record came as an innovation that placed this knowledge directly into the mother’s hands, and empowered her to provide, analyse and follow-up on her own data to be in control of her own situational analysis.

Saraki highlighted the video training deployed by the WBFA at Gwagalada School of Nursing and Midwifery in Abuja as an example of technology transforming healthcare development in Nigeria, and cited the WBFA’s training partnership with Johnson and Johnson and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine as the global standard of ‘hands-on’ teaching which is saving lives and helping mothers and infants to thrive.

On his part, the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said Nigeria loses up to $1bn every year to medical tourism due to the loss of faith in our medical system, at various levels, adding that the situation was what the present government was trying to address.

“We need to foster an enabling environment where knowledge reparation in health is promoted and Nigerian health workers in diaspora can return home.”

The Chief Executive Officer, Philips Africa, Jasper Westerink, who was part of a panel session tagged, ‘The role of technology in the transformation of healthcare in Nigeria’, said aside from the provision of important healthcare solutions through technology, Philips Africa was committed to educating and creating awareness towards the reduction of risk factors associated with unhealthy lifestyles, adding that the provision of technologies that enable a healthy lifestyle also remains a key priority for Philips Africa.

 

Touching on some specific examples of healthcare product innovations from Philips, he said, “Having a wide spectrum of healthcare attendants embedded in communities would go a long way to fixing issues with the overburdened primary healthcare systems. Access to technologies that capture early diagnosis is another way to alleviate this burden.”

 

He emphasised the need for collaborations, partnerships and the provision of fast paced healthcare technologies towards making positive impact on lives. He said, challenges exist but so do opportunities to bring together resources and partnerships in order to leapfrog sustainable healthcare in communities. He cited the private sector, government and Nigeria’s young and vibrant population as key stakeholders to bring to the table.

He reiterated the importance of education in prevention of health issues, adding that a focus on acute challenges and harnessing the resources of stakeholders were key.

 

The Commissioner for Health, Lagos State, Dr. Jide Idris, said training was important to ensuring that healthcare professionals were well equipped, and able to apply technologies when required.

“Communication and behavioural change initiatives are important in order to leapfrog from education to ensuring that technologies are well understood and applied in communities.

 

He said Lagos State has put initiatives in place to incentivise private sector participation, adding that the government was committed to creating platforms to stimulate private sector participation. “The state is also partnering healthcare equipment manufacturers for the purpose of offering better health services to the citizens.”

He mentioned that a public private partnership (PPP) law was in place in the state, aimed towards stimulating and creating enabling environment and the government’s commitment to developing key infrastructure.

 

The President, Healthcare Federation of Nigeria, Claire Omatseye said with technology, being a major driver of change, especially today when patients are digitally empowered, healthcare solutions must be incorporated into everyday innovations and meet patients where they are.

 

“Nigeria has as many skilled consultants as countries such as the USA and the UK, but due to brain-drain, a lot of them have left our country. There’s a need to close the digital divide so that consultancy services can be delivered seamlessly across borders

 

“Some challenges facing the health sector include financing and access to capital as well as the importance of collaboration with sectors outside healthcare in order to deliver viable solutions.’’

 

Focusing on the issue of brain-drain, Omatseye said that some of the top reasons for this including remuneration, access to technologies and better working environments; all of which can be fixed with the right level of commitment and investment.

 

“Nigeria has a vibrant private healthcare sector which is unfortunately fragmented due to gaps in solutions. It is important for government to partner the private sector and bring in their passion in order to achieve the ideal formula for success in healthcare delivery.”

 

On his part, a Health Correspondent with THISDAY, Martins Ifijeh, who was a panellist, called on both federal and state governments to prioritise healthcare by increasing health allocations in their various annual budgets, adding that one of the chief reasons the country was still grappling with poor health indices was because only a little amount is being budgeted to address health issues in the country.

 

He said, there’s more the Nigerian Government can do with regards to universal health coverage. “Universal Health Coverage should be constitutionally mandated in order to achieve desired results. The issue of universal healthcare should be highlighted more in Nigeria’s political discourse. There should be collaboration by all levels of government and stakeholders for UHC to work effectively.”

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