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What has Nigeria’s health sector learned from the coronavirus pandemic?

LAGOS, NIGERIA – While the country has made efforts to improve health systems for handling COVID-19 cases, medical professionals around the country have noted that Nigeria has a long way to go in providing adequate facilities and equipment for the future of the health sector.

After a year of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and facing the realities of a crippled health care system, Nigerian health officials reflect on the last 14 months with COVID-19.

“One of the things which we have learned with respect to the coronavirus pandemic [is] the fact [that] our health system is not perfect,” said Maj. Gen. Dr. Shina Ogunbiyi, the medical director of the Lagos COVID-19 treatment center.

For years, the country's healthcare system has been plagued with the lack of adequate equipment and infrastructure, which can be largely attributed to the mismanagement of funds allocated to the health sector. “The health budget is not adequate at all,” Ogunbiyi said.

“Doctors are not being respected, they are not appreciated … and it is as a result of a corrupt system,” said Dr. Omo Obaseki, a medical doctor based in Abuja.

However, during the pandemic, there have been “monumental improvements” throughout the health sector which include the federal government’s approval of the building of oxygen plants in all the states of the federation and the construction of 10 bedded intensive care units in every state in the country, according to Ogunbiyi.

“This won’t have come up if not for the lessons learned in this pandemic,” Ogunbiyi said.

“I think there’s a lot that we could have learned, but I don’t think that we have learned … much from what has happened,” said Dr. Amarachi Onuoha, a medical doctor in Lagos. “I think we’re still ... trying to learn ... that healthcare workers need to be given the tools that they need to work adequately.”

Health care practitioners have expressed the need for improved welfare of health care professionals and an increase in compensation throughout the health sector.

Doctors have a hazard allowance of 5,000 naira (about $13) per month from the federal government, which “doesn't even get you COVID-19 testing,” Onuoha said. “We have to do what we can to protect ourselves because the government [is] not showing that they care.”

In the future, the country also needs to focus attention on providing equipment and facilities that will enable doctors to work in conducive environments and provide higher quality medical services.

“It's important to equip the hospitals with medical equipment,” Ogunbiyi said. “Lagos state [has] done a lot to improve ... welfare of their doctors.”

Besides the impact of corruption on the healthcare industry, the country has suffered from higher rates of disinformation and misinformation over the past 14 months, and this has significantly impacted the health sector.

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, inadequate mass communication channels in rural communities posed a huge challenge for enlightening the public on the health crisis. Several states across the country were forced to devise various strategies to reach remote communities that have limited access to reliable information.

In Lagos state, there is a “social mobilization pillar” in the emergency operation committee for COVID-19 response that reaches out to various grassroots and collaborates with the National Union of Road Transport Workers to regularly educate them on COVID-19, according to Ogunbiyi.

Going forward, “there has to be … continued advocacy at all levels,” Ogunbiyi said.

Health care officials are of the opinion that the country is not ready for the next pandemic given the amount of improvement the health sector still needs.

“We are not ready for anything,” Obaseki said. “We need to fix the root of our problems which lies [in] the structure of this country. Until we do that, we’ll never have … advancement.”

In Lagos state, “the state is not lowering its guard with respect to improvements in the

health sector. They have absorbed some of the volunteers and they have recruited more health care personnel,” Ogunbiyi said.

“All these are geared towards preparing for the next pandemic,” he said. “Lagos state is being proactive in this case.”



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