By Ndidi Chukwu
The Anglophone Africa Peer Review Workshop took place between April 19 and 21 at Sheraton Hotels Abuja. Participants were drawn from some English speaking African countries; Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. The three-day workshop provided an ample opportunity for these countries to share experiences on polices legislation and strategies of ensuring sustainable Immunization Financing in their various countries. The overall goal is for each of the countries to develop new strategy on how to self-fund immunization and be able to sustain it. Organized by Sabin Vaccine Institute and Nigeria Immunization Financing Task Team (NIFT) one of the participants, Bauchi State Commissioner of Finance Dr. Nasirudden Muhammad in an interview with our correspondent, he speaks on the workshop and Routine Immunization financing in the state. Excerpts:
From your participation in this Anglophone peer review workshop on Sustainable Immunization Financing, what is your understanding of immunization financing in Nigeria?
I think what the donor agencies and other international communities are doing is just a matter of assistance, it is not compulsory on them to come and immunize our children. It is our constitutional duty to ensure that our children are immunized, to guarantee their healthy living. This workshop makes it clear to us, that donor support will end one day and leave us with the responsibility of solely financing immunization for the children of this nation. This is a sign for us as a nation to prepare for the task ahead.
Bauchi state has shown increased commitment towards improving health financing especially immunization, funds are being allocated and released, what do you want to see in areas of accountability for expenditure?
The new government in Bauchi gives priority to health sector generally as you may have heard; the Commissioner of Health had announced that 16% of the state 2016 budget has been earmarked for health which is more than the Abuja declaration of 15%. I believe the government is poised to face the task as it is the priority of the new administration and his party.
Often late release of funds affects program implementation for health sector, the Ministry of Finance is seen as a key Actor in this, from this meeting what recommendation do you think should guide the smooth flow of funds in states?
My Governor has the final say in his government; whatever he directs me to do I will do, if he asks me to release funds I comply with directives from the governor. My attendance in this peer review workshop gives me the impetus to inform him of what I have learnt about immunization financing. I can tell the significance of releasing or financing the health sector generally with particular reference to immunization of our children.
What is the status of 2016 budget in Bauchi state?
The budget has just been signed to law two weeks ago.
Your state signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Mr. Bill Gates and AlikoDangote, to fund immunization programs, part of your commitment has been released, any plans for the remaining balance yet?
I may not be in a position to say, but I assure you that our government under the leadership of Governor Mohammed AbdullahiAbubakar will do whatever it entails to make sure that health sector generally is well funded.
Personally as a commissioner of finance, you said the peer review workshop for Sustainable Immunization Financing has given you an impetus to make good recommendations for RI financing in the state, how do you intend to track budget expenditure when released?
The issue of transparency is one of the problems, it is not a matter of releasing the funds to the relevant agencies, whether or not the money of the funds earmarked for the purposed will be used for the purposed for which it was released that is the matter, and I believe that there will be a mechanism that will be put in place to ensure that the money is judiciously utilized.
That means the trust at the ministry level is not guaranteed at this time?
Not really, because with this change mantra, people are careful with public funds. The government is committed to eliminate corruption in all facets of public offices and activities. So I believe this change mantra and fight for corruption will not only be done at federal level, even states and public office holders are accountable.
Apart government effort to do away corruption, the Civil Society Organizations and media have shown commitment toward entrenching accountability and transparent implementation of immunization programs, often they are not carried along, isn’t it time to adequately engage CSOs and Media during budget planning process and also track expenditure?
Civil Society Organizations are partners in progress they always participate in our health programs and projects. There is nothing that will stop Bauchi state government to bring on board any civil society organization or Non-Government Organization that deems it fit to lend its hands of support in partnering with the state. In our entire goal is to achieve adequate health coverage.
What will you do differently to ensure immunization funds are available in Bauchi State?
I will try to present the facts and data gathered from this workshop to the governor, the commissioner of health herself is here, so I will work closely with her. I will join efforts with her to make sure that these objectives are achieved.