The current COVID-19 pandemic that the world is still dealing with has shown that a lot is still left to be desired when it comes to having enough funding streams to improve health systems and prevent infectious disease outbreaks.
The pandemic is revealing a lot about health systems across the world including in Nigeria. It is providing insights that hopefully will inform the health sector going forward but importantly, it has continued to show the very crucial role that funds play in promoting functional and efficient public health systems.
These deliberations formed the core of a webinar organised by Nigeria Health Watch on 3rd June 2020 as part of its #PreventEpidemicsNaija project.
Ifeanyi Nsofor, director of Policy and Advocacy at the organisation, buttressed the fact that what the project has been consistently pushing for in the past 18 months were the realities that Nigeria and other parts of the world are currently living through.
“These were to significantly increase the funding for infectious disease outbreaks in Nigeria and for the public to be more knowledgeable about issues bothering on infectious diseases and outbreaks,” he said.
With the current pandemic, these two objectives are playing out because amidst all the information flying around, many Nigerians constantly follow the communication channels of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) which is the Federal Ministry of Health’s agency at the centre of the response to get up to date information.
In addition, a lot of funds have also been mobilised by both the federal government and its partners. A significant part of these funds have been mobilised by the private sector coalition against COVID-19 (CACOVID). Elaborating further on this, one of the panelists, Zouera Youssoufou who is the managing Director/ CEO of Aliko Dangote Foundation said supporting the work of the coalition financially is one of the ways they can help the response. She said the foundation has contributed 2 billion Naira through the coalition and is still supporting in other ways such as setting up infrastructure to test and manage confirmed cases. The foundation also has a palliative intervention targeting over 10 million people.
Sustaining funding for epidemic preparedness
But beyond the quick fix intervention to cushion the effect of the virus, she highlighted the importance of collaborations to sustain these efforts beyond COVID-19. Working with private sector leaders in a coordinated manner is also very important, she said.
“Within the CACOVID we have a supervisory committee, funding committee and more. We need to know how to come together and get things done; everybody feels the same stress about economic slowdown. Joint public private partnerships work and we’re in the middle of the proof that they work,” Youssoufou added.
Zainab Shinkafi- Bagudu, the First Lady of Kebbi State who is also a physician further strengthened these points while making her contributions. She said that while already having an emergency operation centre (EOC) in place was integral in her state’s response, a lot of gaps still existed in Nigeria’s readiness before the pandemic hit home. One of the gaps she said effected preparedness was funding and these provide opportunities for improvement in terms of allocating and releasing more especially in states and local governments in addition to the federal.
“COVID-19 pandemic hit the world very unexpectedly. Generally, we tend to not be adequately prepared for epidemics at the federal level. It is even worse at state and local government area levels. We need to speak about funding for epidemic preparedness more. We were somehow prepared for COVID19, but not as prepared as a country the size of Nigeria should be. We need to also strengthen inter-regional collaborations,” she concluded.
Sharing a potential solution to this while responding to questions, Shinkafi- Bagudu, said health insurance is a way forward in so many aspects for protection and preparedness against infectious disease outbreaks such as COVID-19.
“The reasons for this may not be far-fetched as having this pool of funds means enough money is available to strengthen various aspects of the health system and protect against potential outbreaks with their attendant negative impacts.
“Sustainable health financing models to increase funding for epidemics while not easy to come by are possible with the people and structures in place and is a worthwhile investment any country should have,” she added.