Ex-Health Minister Calls For Strengthening Of UHC To Assist Poor Nigerians

By Tony Adibe

A former Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, has appealed to government and corporate organizations in Nigeria to strengthen and expand the reach and number of diseases being treated in the Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC).

Prof. Adewole, who spoke on Thursday in an opening remark at the 2023 Amaka Chiwuike-Uba International Asthma Conference (ACUBIAC 2023) at Oakland Hotel, Enugu, said: “This move will greatly assist millions of poor people access quality and essential healthcare, which their out of pockets expenditure cannot cover.”

The Conference, with the theme, “COVID-19 and the Future in the Past: Health Financing and Universal Health Coverage,” was organized by the Amaka Chiwuike-Uba Foundation (ACUF). Represented by Dr Innocent Ugwu, Adewole said that due to increasing poverty, it was becoming difficult for most poor people and homes to take care of their health especially those within rural communities.

The former minister also appreciated the Chairman and Board of ACUF for organizing the conference and pushing the narrative of an all-inclusive healthcare agenda. Enugu State Governor Dr Peter Mbah, in a speech, lauded the Foundation for its stride in empowerment as well as healthcare awareness and education within the state.

Represented by Dr Ifeanyi Agujiobi, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Governor Mbah said that the state had passed the UHC bill into law and had commenced enrolment of residents into the UHC scheme. Mbah said: “We have already enrolled 150,000 residents in the state’s UHC scheme, and we are planning to expand the coverage more.”  

According to him, that the state government had been putting initiatives and programmes to enhance the health and wellbeing of the residents, especially those aimed at reducing the health and financial burden of families.

Earlier, Dr Uche Ojinmah, President of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), assured of the association’s continuous partnership with the foundation as it champions universal access to quality health for all Nigerians.

Ojinmah, who was represented by Dr Tony Onyia, the immediate past Chairman of NMA in Enugu State, stressed that there was a need for a holistic approach in solving the health financing needs of Nigerians especially for the less privileged.

Prof. Prince Udegbunam-Ele, President of Nigerian Thoracic Society (NTS), said that the treatment and management of asthma remained a major challenge in the medical world, adding: “there is nothing as painful as acute asthma”.

Prof Udegbunam-Ele further explained that “asthma remains a major headache of the medical world, while the pain of chronic asthma can be described as the grip of the devil himself. I must commend ACUF, its Chairman and Board members for keeping the treatment, awareness and support to asthmatic patients alive and going the extra mile on the illness,” he said.

Comrade Fidelis Ede, former Vice-President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), said that the foundation needed to push its asthma campaign down to the rural communities where there is multi-dimensional poverty and lack.

Ede said that there was a need to finance healthcare from a bottom-to-top approach; thus, putting emphasis on the grassroots people even as his organisation was willing to partner the foundation in this direction. Earlier in a welcome address, the Chairman, Board of Trustees ACUF, Dr Chiwuike Uba said that ACUBIAC 2023 was the third in the series of international advocacy and public-private dialogue for a better health sector environment.

Dr. Uba said that the conference would stimulate dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders on health financing and UHC, noting that it would help to secure financial and political commitments and prioritizing of health funding. He said: “There is a need to rethink how UHC is carried out and make it a community-based issue with transparent management and involving the people notwithstanding the little contribution they will gather.

“The present coverage of UHC is still abysmally low compared with the millions of Nigerians not covered and they are currently living in extreme poverty in the country. As a nation, we must move fast and check the rate of unnecessary and poverty-induced death all around us due to lack of money or an adequately planned healthcare provision system.”

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