Privatisation, Not Government, Could Revolutionise Nigeria’s Health Sector


Government’s legislations need to look at prioritising private investment in the health sector.

By Yusuf Balogun

To make healthcare affordable to all Nigerians, the Federal Government enacted the National Health Insurance Authority Act. Though the Act mandated registration into the health insurance scheme for all the citizens, it appeared the initiative is just a step in the long journey to achieve its purpose — universal health coverage.

Experts argued that the government has had enough intervention in the health sector, which has refused to solve the inequality in healthcare accessibility, and that it is high time the private sector took the central stage.

INADEQUATE GOVERNMENT EFFORT

Before the recent amendment, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) was launched in 2005 to achieve the United Nations’ Universal Health Coverage and make healthcare accessible and affordable to all Nigerians.

Unfortunately, fifteen years later, NHIS has only covered less than 10% of the Nigerian population, who are mostly civil servants, leaving out the most vulnerable citizens. While this could justify the Government’s health insurance compulsion, the insurance authority could turn into an engine house of corruption and create inconsistencies in giving healthcare to its subscribers.

The Governing Council of NHIS predicted in 2018 that the scheme was doomed to collapse in three years, due to fraud within the agency and among its network.

Even Isaac Adewole, a former Minister of Health called for the total scrapping of the scheme after over five hundred billion naira disappeared from its coffers. 

‘WE NEED NOT WAIT FOR GOVERNMENT’

Aderemi Abiodun, the founder of HelpMum, a health tech startup in Nigeria, noted that attention needs to be driven away from the government’s dawdling healthcare system, and put more effort into making the private health sector thrive.

Speaking at the last Global Citizen’s Campaign, he said healthcare could be affordable through privatisation.

“Health care should be affordable and the best way to achieve this is not just saying we will wait for the government. We need to have more local private sector working in hand with grassroots leaders to fund projects that will make health care affordable and accessible.”

With the new amendment, the NHIS, now National Health Insurance Authority, operates as the regulator, implementer and insurer at the same time. It also exists to harness private sector participation in the provision of health care services.

But consolidating regulatory and provider roles might not give the Authority the space it needs to regulate the health insurance industry — and encourage investment in the private health sector.

The compulsory enrolment which distinguished the former National Health Insurance Scheme Act from the new National Health Insurance Authority Act might not be what the health sector needs to achieve universal coverage; the former has yielded no significant success, and the latter could not be guaranteed.

Rather than creating a pool of registered citizens into the health insurance that would not truly ensure their health, government’s legislations need to look at prioritising private investment in the health sector.

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