National Health Policy in Nigeria: What Does It Entail?

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In this post, we take a look at the national health policy in Nigeria.

But first, what really is a national health policy.

Often times, people mistake “health policy” for “medical care policy” but they are not the same. The medical care is just a component of the national health.

Basically, a health policy comprises decisions, plans, and actions that are undertaken to achieve specific healthcare goals within a society.

The WHO states that an explicit health policy should achieve these three things: defines a vision for the future; outline priorities and the expected roles of different groups; and builds consensus and informs people.

National Health Policy in Nigeria: What Does It Entail?

national health policy in nigeria

On the 22nd of June 2016, Nigeria developed a new National Health Policy in order to accommodate the emerging trends.

This health policy was finalized in Abuja with the objective of attaining the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and other health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Prior to the development of the current National Health Policy document, Nigeria had developed and implemented two others in 1988 and 2004. Both were developed at critical stages in the evolution of the Nigeria Health System and had far-reaching impact on improving the performance of the system over the course of their lifetime.

Over the last two and half decades, Nigeria has recorded some progress in the performance of its health system. For instance, there have been improvements in key indices for ‘major’ communicable diseases (HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria), as well as maternal and child health. Also, the country was able to stop the transmission of wild poliovirus, eradicate the Guinea-worm disease and successfully contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus disease.

The lesson from these successes is the need to build a resilient health system that assures access to basic health care services in a sustainable manner.

The objective of this policy is to ensure that the institution of core health system elements that include comprehensive and coherent health sector policies, establish and sustain integrated ward/local health services with active community engagement, strengthened mechanisms which remove geographic, social and financial barriers that impede access to care and improved information for decision making, at the national, sub-regional, and regional levels.

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Overall, the attainment of the UHC requires optimal investment in the health sector by governments and health partners across the six geopolitical regions. And the latest policy document has been developed to achieve this by promoting the health of Nigerians in order to accelerate socio-economic development. Also, this policy provides the necessary plan for improving the performance of the national health system and lays emphasis on primary healthcare as the bedrock of our national health system.

Finally, the policy provides financial risk protection to all Nigerians, particularly the poor and vulnerable population.

The policy was launched by the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole and he revealed that Nigerians will be proud of the nation’s health system when the policy is fully implemented.

The emphasis on primary health care in this new policy is a reminder of the similarity between this health policy and that of 1988.

Prior to the launch of the 1988 policy, there was no strong focus on health systems development. Consequently, policy makers and political actors made efforts to establish and expand health-care infrastructures with more emphasis placed on curative medicine rather than preventive medicine.

However, between 1975 and 1980, health system development was initiated with PHC as the cornerstone. The National Basic Health Services Scheme (NBHSS) was developed based on this PHC approach but it could not achieve its goals due to implementation challenges; hence, PHC services were not delivered across Nigeria.

The story changed in 1985 when Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti was appointed the Minister of Health. He was able to adopt PHC in 52 local government areas as models based on Alma Ata Declaration of 1978. Furthermore, Nigeria’s first comprehensive national health policy based on PHC was launched in 1988  and from 1986 to 1990, Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti expanded PHC to all local governments, achieved universal child immunization of over 80%, and devolved responsibility for PHC to local government areas.

The Minister worked meticulously between 1985 and 1992 to implement PHC policy based on the Alma Ata Declaration for the benefit of the Nigerian population. Also, he introduced a comprehensive national health policy with a focus on PHC which placed emphasis on preventive medicine and health-care services at the grass root, ensured exclusive breast feeding practice, introduced free immunization to children, encouraged the use of oral rehydration therapy by nursing mothers, made compulsory the recording of maternal deaths, and encouraged continuous nationwide vaccination and pioneered effective HIV/AIDS campaign.

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In 1992, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) was established to ensure that the PHC agenda is continued and sustained but the military takeover of the government that occurred in 1993 brought to an end the giant strides recorded under the leadership of Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti from 1985 to 1992.

The health policy was revised in 2004 with the new policy been formulated within the context of the Health Strategy of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), a pledge by African leaders based on a common vision and a firm conviction that they have a pressing duty to eradicate poverty and place their countries individually and collectively on a path of sustainable growth and development;

Also, the policy aligned with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to which Nigeria, like other countries, has committed to achieve.

Finally, the policy of 2004 was replaced the 2016 National Health Policy and the main points of this policy are highlighted below:

  1. The new health policy is titled promoting the health of Nigerians to accelerate socio-economic development.
  2. This policy is the third in the history of Nigeria. The first was enacted in 1988 and the second was done in 2004.
  3. It emphasizes primary healthcare as the bedrock of the national health system.
  4. The policy provides financial risk protection to all Nigerians particularly the poor and vulnerable population.
  5. It captures the essentials of ensuring the reduction of maternal and child mortality, wider immunization coverage and better control and prevention of public health emergencies.
  6. This new policy provides the necessary directions for progressive improvement in the performance of the national health system.

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