Experts task FG on utilisation of N126bn COVID-19 budget

Experts have called on the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) to utilise the N126 billion allocated for coronavirus (COVID-19) in the health budget judiciously, to build a resilient health system in the country.

They made the call on Monday in Abuja, at the end of a three-day strategic advocacy retreat for the media organised by Africa Health Budget Network (AHBN) and Partners for Health Journalists.

The retreat had the theme: Nigeria’s commitment to the partnership for Maternal Newborn and Child Health, (PMNCH), COVID-19 call to action.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the federal government revised the 2020 budget in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

A fiscal stimulus package in the form of COVID-19 intervention fund of N500 billion (1.4 billion dollars) was included in the revised 2020 budget. This was to channel resources to additional health related recurrent and capital spending and other non health interventions supporting critical sectors of the economy.

The former secretary general of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Henry Ewunonu, who highlighted some of the problems in the health sector noted that the strategies for accountability encompassed planning mechanisms, strong and transparent monitoring and supervision systems, as well as systematic reporting at all levels of the healthcare system in the country.

Ewunonu said the media should be empowered and engaged as instruments for ensuring external accountability at all levels of implementation.

“New accountability strategies such as result-based or performance-based financing could be very valuable,” he added.

While calling on the media to hold government accountable, he said it was important to monitor the usage of the revised budget fund at the federal, state and local levels, which should be conducted regularly by the FMOH to ensure equity in healthcare provision.

“This is essential because health equity is not very high on the Nigerian health policy agenda, thus creating a problem of affordability and accessibility among the poor and the less advantaged groups in the country,” said Ewunonu.

A former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Mohammad Usman, said it was unfortunate that the federal government failed to revive the 10,000 Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in the country in line with its promise four years ago.

He said the federal government had been able to revitalise up to 3,000 in four years after it made the promise.

Usman noted that children under the age of five died from preventable causes, adding that most of the children, especially those in rural areas were usually left out in the country’s vaccine immunisation exercise.

“Due to the dilapidated state of the health care facilities, Nigeria usually records hundreds of thousands of neo natal under five mortality, people die from cancer and even malaria.

“A lot of children under the age of five are often left out of vaccine immunisation in Nigeria and that is why so many die from diseases between the age of five and other terrible situations.

“Now that we are faced with the COVID-19, not only in Nigeria but the whole world, we need to look inward and put the necessary things in place to prevent disasters in the future pandemic outbreak.

“As it stands today, Nigeria is not prepared and has never been prepared for any health eventuality,” he noted.

While calling for increase and timely implementation of health budgets, Usman added that for Nigeria to actualise its plans of attaining the Universal Health Coverage,(UHC), prioritising health must be top on its agenda.

“Health budget has been very low for a long time. All the presidents met in 2001 and said that 15 per cent of the national budget should be allocated to health.

“However, in the past four to five years, it has been four per cent. How can the sector perform well when it is not well funded?”he querried.

Earlier, Dr Aminu Magashi, coordinator, AHBNetwork, emphasised the need to ensure that ambulance services were available across the country for emergency use.

Magashi, who also called for transparency and accountability of the COVID-19 finances in the country, added that he was looking forward to a country where health services were assured.

“I look forward to a Nigeria where health services are assured, and where ambulance services can reach people in their homes. We can not achieve this without the cooperation of media and collaborative effort of all Nigerians,” he added.

NAN also reports that there were five key recommendations for action for the media: To engage the Minister of Health and ministry officials to ascertain the level of payment of the N20 billion hazard allowance to health workers.

Another recommendation is for the media to engage the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) to ascertain the level of implementation and compliance on the N36.3 billion appropriated funds for the establishment of 52 molecular labs and 37 Intensive Care Units across the country.

It was also recommended that support should be offered to health journalists to conduct interviews with policy makers and amplify messages aimed at promoting accountability and transparency of appropriated fund.

The media is also to engage the Minister of Health and ministry officials to follow up the N10 billion appropriated for local vaccine production.

Advocacy meetings with Nigeria Institute of pharmaceutical research and development on the progress made regarding utilising the N4 billion appropriated for laboratory research and development is also to be convened. (NAN)