Challenges and ways to improve quality of healthcare in Nigeria discussed at the Future of Health Summit

Philips Africa, in partnership with Forbes Africa, held its annual Future of Health Summit (FOH2018) on Tuesday 15 May in  Lagos state, Nigeria. Discussions in the event were focused on the state of healthcare in Nigeria and the steps needed to transform the country’s healthcare sector.

Present at the event were Lagos State Commissioner for Health Jide Idris, CEO Philips Africa Jasper Westerink, President Healthcare Federation of Nigeria Clare Omatseye, Nigeria’s Minister of State for health Osagie Ehanire, H.E  Toyin Saraki, and Martins Ifijeh a columnist at Thisday Nigeria, who all spoke on the role of technology in the transformation of healthcare in West Africa.

While discussing health in the West African country and the feasibility of equipping quality healthcare in Nigeria, Chairman of KPMG Africa Kunle Elebute noted that 90 percent of the Nigerian population have no health insurance, GDP of public health expenditure is only 4 percent in 2018 budget, and infant mortality rate stands a high percentage of 69.8. In most countries the gap between private expenditure and public expenditure is 50-50, meanwhile in Nigeria it is 70 to 30 percent, signifying a challenge in the public health sector and among health providers.

“Inadequate funding is a major challenge especially on the public side as the government does not allocate enough funds. when it comes to brain drain, the healthcare sector is the most decimated sector. We don’t have the medical resource to train people to manage 400 beds and medical tourism booms, unless we put in place a structure that works for the sector then we are just playing games,” Elebute stated. He added that “UHC holds the key to unlocking the door for equitable qualitative and universal accessible healthcare for all Nigerians.”

Speaking on change and how technology can be harnessed in business, business strategist Michael Jackson confirmed the evolving health sector and how complex the industry has become. According to him, “healthcare needs new ideas. Public -private health care partnership is the new ingenuity and technology is the way forward” adding that the partnership can be key to unlocking many of the challenges in delivering healthcare in Nigeria.

During the panel section, stakeholders in the industry discussed extensively, the role technology can play in transforming the health sector. Regarding technological solutions applied, Westerink stated that “if you want to create access to healthcare, fix technology and create a functional system.”

Westerink continues: “We are engaging with all relevant stakeholders to drive the debate and ultimately improve the quality and cost effectiveness of healthcare services for future generations. We believe that sustainable healthcare development requires a system-wide approach, combining technology, capacity-building including training, service and maintenance, as well as long-term financing. To that end, we aim to expand access to quality and affordable healthcare across the country and compliment significant efforts to strengthen Nigeria’s growing health sector.”

While addressing the question, if technology helps solve the challenge of brain drain in Nigeria, Omatseye explained that the Nigerian healthcare system still operates as analogue while the patients are digital and there is need to take healthcare off that space. To proffer solution on the merger of technology to the industry, Omatseye said “strategic partnership, innovative thinking and out-of-box thinking is the way forward.”

One hundred and fifty million Nigerians are empowered with mobile phones and there is a challenge as well as an opportunity ahead for the healthcare industry, and there is need to close the divide between analogue and digital with technology. Expanding on the gap in the healthcare sector, founder of Wellbeing Africa and wife of the Senate President, H.E Toyin Saraki, said, in the oil dependent nation, about 20,000 children are born daily, 23,000 of whom will die. In addition, 150 mothers will also pass away daily and to ensure a working system, “the country needs a centralised referral system that does not depend on who is on duty or who you know.”

If given a magic wand that could fix the challenges in the industry, Sakari said she “will lift the shroud of secrecy in the medical line. We need to repair a referral system that does not exist.”

After health experts and business professional’s extensive discussion on the challenges and proffered solutions to boost the industry, Nigeria’s minister of state for health, Osagie Ehanire, gave a government perspective on healthcare in Nigeria.

According to him, “Nigeria loses billions to medical tourism, it is up to $1 billion lost to medical tourism and it is largely due to loss of fate in the medical sector.” Adding that “there is need to need to improve renumeration, repatriation of knowledge back to the country and better working environment.”

Also released at the summit was a heath survey that included the following key information about the health sector in Nigeria:

  • Only 36% of Nigerians’ believe their health needs are met by current healthcare system
  • 49 percent of Nigerians feel the national government should be deploying an equal proportion of its healthcare budget toward sick care and while 48 percent feel it should be directed towards preventive measures
  • A majority (65 percent) of Nigerians believe improved access to health facilities would make them more effective in managing their health, followed by keeping track of health indicators (52 percent), and access to more information about health, nutrition and fitness (48 percent)
  • 82 percent believe that the National Health Insurance will have a positive impact on patient outcomes over time
  • Among those who have ever seen a healthcare professional, 64 percent are confident in their healthcare professionals’ understanding of connected care technology.