Will donations for combating COVID-19 deliver the Nigeria health sector?

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In the wake of the novel coronavirus, Nigerians are faced with one gigantic question; Can our healthcare system beat the deadly virus? When the virus was discovered in China, November 2019, we never took it like something to lose a sweat over, not until that fateful day, the 27th of February 2020 when the first case was reported in Nigeria.

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Prior to the time, it was a case of ‘them say them say’. Then we all became frantic but of course our “Nigerianness” kicks in at every point in time. We do a throwback and juxtapose the maddening Ebola virus we experienced in 2014 with the latest pandemic and came to a conclusion that, if we survived in 2014 then we can overcome in 2020.

According to WHO, at the end of the Ebola outbreak it declared that Nigeria has revised its national preparedness and response plan to ensure that the country is well prepared for other imported cases of the disease. But, is that really the case at this time?

Meanwhile Coronavirus is nothing like Ebola in terms of how it is transmitted, the symptoms and incubation period. These differences only make it clear that we are at war with a Goliath in form of a virus.

Unfortunately, our healthcare system which is currently experiencing brain drain, poor budgetary allocation, appalling remuneration, human resources crisis, inadequate facilities amongst others, was rated 187th in terms of health care delivery by the World Health Organisation in 2019. Religion, which is the opium of the society, could not save us, neither will our nicely built bank accounts nor private jets but our investments in the health sector which is next to nothing apparently. Suddenly the only important set of people at this time are those in that sector, how ironic.

Fast forward to 2020, the year after COVID-19 was unleashed on the world. Nigeria still struggles with providing Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for health workers in a state like Plateau. Of course, the health workers would not want to be put at risk, so they threaten to go on strike in such a dire time.

In order to combat the dreaded virus, donations by high net worth individuals, multinationals, NGO’s and local companies have continued to roll in to support the government.

So far, both the federal and state governments have received the sum of N40,771,000,000 as donation to the project. 

In a breakdown of the funds, the federal government led the campaign with a donation of N10bn grant to Lagos State and N5bn to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, the agency leading the fight against the virus.

While Tony Elumelu of United Bank for Africa donated N5bn to the government to provide beds for isolation centers, intensive care unit facilities and direct access to medical advice to up to 450,000 citizens every day. Keystone Bank, Segun Agbaje of Guaranty Trust Bank, and Jim Ovia of Zenith Bank donated N1bn each.

Noteworthy of the donation is the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation that donated N11bn to the government.

Wealthy members of the private sector including Femi Otedola, Abdulsamad Rabiu, Herbert Wigwe, Segun Agbaje and Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, all contributed 1 billion Naira (about $2.7 million) each to support the government in curtailing the pandemic in Nigeria.

According to the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, she disclosed that the government has provided N102.5 billion in resources to be available for direct interventions in the healthcare sector.
We need to be honest with ourselves at this time and ask pertinent questions such as; who will follow these donations? From the Ebola experience looks like the government did not learn a thing rather they allowed politicking becloud their thinking. The last thing we need at this time is doling out figures and contemplating on importing medical doctors to train our medical practitioners on how to handle equipment. Really?

Rather, the government could think about fresh ways of rejigging the health sector by ensuring that medical practitioners are well motivated, establishing standard facilities and infrastructure, purchasing quality equipment to enable them work efficiently and effectively, sponsoring medical practitioner on trainings and finally putting measures in place to encourage Nigerian doctors abroad come back home.

I put it to you that if the funds are not disbursed to the right people years from now, we will be asking the same question without a concrete answer and no hope! If the government is not up to the task, the private sector can take the bull by the horn, it should not stop at donating but ensuring that the health sector is up and running as seen in other advanced climes.

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