By Ndidi Chukwu
The Federal Government has presented 2017 estimated budget to the National Assembly, the health sector was just 4.17 per cent which was against 15 per cent minimum expectation for Nigeria as agreed during the Abuja declaration. Also, the budget of most of the state governments show grossly inadequate allocation to the health sector. In this Interview, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Senator Lanre Tejuosho, said the Federal Government must lead by example and encourage states on adequate budget allocation to health.
Sir, you have been an advocate for adequate budget allocation to Health from the national budget, this is also a challenge at state level, as it stands, only Bauchi state has been able to reach 15 per cent of Abuja Declaration, as the chairman of the senate committee on health, do you have plans to bring all stakeholders together to improve the country’s health budget generally?
The truth is that we at the Federal level are not leading by example, if I approach states with this they will tell me to go and solve the problem from the federal before I will come and tell them about adequate health allocation. The feedback will be you at the federal level you have not achieved what you are asking us to do. So what is happening is a reflection of the economic situation of the country. I want to use this medium to appeal to Partnership for Advocacy in Child and Family Health (PACFaH), to organize a retreat for all the chairmen of health committees in all the states Houses of Asssembly with the National Assembly, so that we can all sit down and address this very important issue.
We need to encourage ourselves in the real sense everything starts with the appropriation in the state assembly. When the executive gives the health budget to the state assembly, the health committee should be able to advocate, just as I am doing for the federal. It is important that they at all times speak up on what should be allocated to health. That is what we can do at our level as legislatures.
In reference to GAVI, the vaccine alliance graduation which has commenced this 2017 through 2021, the expectation that Nigeria will self-fund immunization and purchase of vaccines after the transition, has the National Assembly think this through and make any recommendations yet?
I believe that we need to encourage local vaccine production of these products we are getting from abroad in Nigeria. We are expecting that we do not patronize any company that doesn’t have any plan to produce in Nigeria. Even if international organizations are going to donate, we will recommend that the products bought abroad are also produced here, the companies must show us plan for local production in the country. If company X in Japan says it wants to donate to us N10 Billion worth of products, it’s ok they are going to buy it from somewhere, because they cannot give us the money we have to make sure that the person they are going to buy it from has a local plan for Nigeria.
The National Assembly has shown great commitment to health financing, what kind of support do you need from the Nigerian masses to make you voice stronger and catalyze the required response from the executive who really are yet to understand some of these health issues?
For example today we are spending billions on school feeding, it is good to feed the children in primary schools but the most important time in the life of a child is the first 1,000 days, that is from when the child is conceived in the womb of the mother, through birth, breast feeding and the rest. This is the time that all the organs in the body are developed including the brain. Once this important 1,000 days are missed the child will be stunted, malnutrition and other health challenges set in. this simply means that no matter how many lunch and breakfast you give to the child after 1,000 days, the impact to the development of that child will not be good enough as expected. We have to understand this as a nation and try to concentrate on helping Nigerians improve on the lives of their children, this can be achieved with access to health care at every community in the country.
So let the 50 per cent of the funds we are using to feed children in school be given to the Ministries of Health to take care for the nutrition of the first 1,000 days of not just the baby but also that of the mother to have the basic nutrients to develop that baby in the womb. In Nigeria today we have about 11 million children that are stunted. This affects their brain as well that is why you will see a 40 year old man who will be behaving like a 20 year old man. That is the level of development the person has been reduced to, this also has economic disadvantage to the country. Our GDP in the future will be affected, when people like this become civil servants they cannot function properly because they have been affected by poor mental development as a result of poor nutritional care during their first 1,000 days. There is need for us to rearrange our interventions and know that we allocate health funds wisely.
We gathered from the Federal Ministry of Health that only the first phase of the 2016 budget funds, have been released, issues of poor budget performance against the allocation keeps coming up at the end of every fiscal year, what kind of support do the senate committee on health provide the ministry to ensure funds signed and approved are spent in line with allocation?
Getting their money timely is the key, but we have to first of all find out why the Ministry of Health don’t get their funds early, is it peculiar to ministry of health? The answer is no, it is a general problem all over the country which means that the country has a problem with its finances and of course they approach us for a loan which is still being considered, we carefully have to decide on the importance of that loan and know the real state of our finances. If it is really that they are not releasing money because they don’t have because you cannot release what you don’t have. If the money is not there we don’t have a choice that to take the loan, so these are the issues that the relevant committees are still trying to confirm.