#Editorial

Rising Cost of Healthcare

ONE of the greatest challenges confronting the health sector in Nigeria is the astronomical increase in the cost of accessing healthcare, especially by the poor majority of the citizenry. The sector has been facing a number of challenges that include shortage of manpower and facilities that has been exacerbated in recent times by incessant rising cost of procuring drugs and other health kits.  This has affected the poor masses negatively, and in some cases, preventing them from accessing quality healthcare.

THE cost of providing healthcare services in Nigeria like in most societies globally has surged to unprecedented levels despite various strategic interventions by the Central Bank of Nigeria and the government to mitigate the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic and other epidemics on the economy. Available data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows the composite consumer price index for health surged by 15.8% year-on-year in May 2021, having reached a ten-year high in April 2021 at 15.9%. Urban health inflation also skyrocketed to 16.7%, while rural health inflation tallied behind at 15.1% for May 2021. With regard to the latest GDP numbers, the economic size of Human Health Care and Social Services is about N487 billion, making up about 0.7% of Nigeria’s GDP. The sector also recorded a GDP growth rate of about 4.65% in the first quarter of 2021, ahead of the broader composite growth rate of 0.51%.

INDEED, this scenario has a lot of consequences on the welfare, productivity and prosperity of the country. The World Health Organization describes access to health as universal health coverage, which means that all people have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them of sufficient quality to be effective, without financial hardship. Unfortunately, the unprecedented crash in the value of the naira has resulted in the increases in the prices of all essential commodities in the country, including drugs and health facilities beyond the reach of many Nigerians. Many Nigerians now result to patronising local traditional and herbal medicines whose potency and ultimate side effects are yet to be ascertained. This is happening at a period in which majority of Nigerians are wallowing in abject poverty as a result of inability to afford essential healthcare.

ALL the above combined have resulted in escalation in healthcare costs beyond the reach of most Nigerians, resulting in composite consumer price index for health at a record high of 17.05% in November 2022, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. And this rising cost was primarily driven by the high cost of pharmaceutical products and medical, dental, paramedical, and hospital services. The rising cost of healthcare has been attributed to heavy dependency on imported drugs whose prices are going up astronomically as a result of devaluation of the national currency. This has been exacerbated by relatively low private and public sector investments in health facilities, low density of medical personnel to population (1.95 per 1000) and weakening disposable income of Nigerians. Other factors include corruption in the drug production and supply chain and unwholesome practices by drug sellers in their efforts to maximize profits the Nigerian ways and at the expense of exploiting the situation. In other words, many of the health practitioners have been unhelpful in their attempt to maximise profit by arbitrary raising drug prices albeit in response to fluctuating value of the naira that is very unstable in recent months.

ALSO,  in spite of the huge Nigerian population of about 218 million people, there are 68 NHIS-accredited HMOs operating in Nigeria, where only about 16 million people have health insurance coverage; meaning the coverage level for Nigerians is still hovering below 10%. In summary, despite various reforms to increase the provision of health to the Nigerian people, health access is only 43.3%. The rising cost of healthcare in the face of high incidence of poverty in Nigeria implies the inability of many Nigerians to access quality health services that will affect the health and prosperity of the people. It will lead to high mortality rate and low productivity among the people. This will affect the GNP, national income and ultimately the socio-economic development of the country.

THEREFORE, the government must seek ways and means to stem the rising cost of healthcare in the country by creating the enabling environment for more local production of drugs, and invest more in healthcare facilities and services. The health insurance scheme should be improved and expanded to accommodate all Nigerians as the practice in other more prosperous climes. The regulatory agencies in the health sector should be alive to their responsibilities to better regulate and control participants in the drug production and distribution chain.

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