Expert Advocates 'Sin Tax' to Fund Health Insurance and Achieve Universal Health Coverage
introduction of a 'sin tax' to finance health insurance and achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Nigeria.

Universal Health Coverage as a Renewed Hope for Nigerians

By Rahma Olamide Oladosu

Health, as a social service, is very important to the teeming population of any country as the sector has been recognised as the primary engine of growth and development.

However, health care in Nigeria is financed by a combination of tax revenue, out-of-pocket payments, donor funding and health insurance. Nigeria’s health expenditure is relatively low, even when compared with other African countries, hence, out-of-pocket expenditure is a very high in a country battling with poverty.

In August last year, the Special Adviser to the President on Health, Salma Anas-Ibrahim, revealed that the Federal Government has promised to provide health coverage for over 50 million Nigerians, especially the vulnerable and elderly people, by 2027.

According to Anas-Ibrahim, no one will be left behind in the Federal Government’s universal health coverage.

She said: “As I’m speaking to you today as a special adviser to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, I want to reiterate to you that this is a critical stage in our lifetime in Nigeria, as we are transitioning to a new government of renewed hope and a renewed hope for the health sector.

“I would like to say that the President is committed to ensuring that we meet and realise our universal health care coverage, which also involves the health of the elderly people.

“No one will be left behind, not an elderly person or any other person will be left behind. The renewed hope health agenda of President Bola Tinubu is committed to covering over 50 million Nigerians, and most of them are vulnerable, including the elderly, within the next four years, by the grace of God.”

Universal health coverage (UHC) means everyone has access to the full range of quality health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship. It covers essential health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care across the life course.

The National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) emerged from the old National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) on the 19th of May 2022. The Authority has an expanded function to regulate, promote, manage and integrate all health insurance schemes and practices in Nigeria. This means they stand to ensure the effective implementation of the National Health Insurance Policy that would facilitate the attainment of universal health coverage, a trajectory that would be all-inclusive for both the rich and vulnerable.

The NHIA in Nigeria is unarguably an indispensable strategy for ameliorating the poor health indices of the country and reducing out-of-pocket expenditure for quality healthcare services.

However, experts have been advocating for the inclusion of Cancer and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) into NHIA. Dr. Nneka Nwobbi, the founder of Children Living with Cancer Foundation (CLWCF) during their annual “2023 Walkathon” to mark the end of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, urged the Federal Government to subsidise treatment for Nigerian children affected by childhood cancer. She said that children with cancer and their parents have continued to suffer due to a lack of resources to fund their treatments.

Nwobbi said cancer in adults and children is not captured in the country’s National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), saying there was a need for the Federal government to subsidise treatment for children whose tenure of treatment is long-term.

Recently, the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Professor Muhammad Ali Pate, announced in a press briefing that 750,000 Nigerians had enrolled in a health insurance scheme within 7 months. This is a significant moment for Nigeria’s health sector as it shows progress in expanding healthcare access, contributes to achieving universal health coverage, reflects government commitment to improving healthcare, raises public awareness about health schemes, and provides valuable data for planning and policymaking.

It won’t be out of place to hope that by the time Professor Pate is done implementing his brilliant initiatives, Nigeria would most likely have improved health infrastructure, reduced the rate of brain drain and enticed Nigerian doctors abroad to return, increased the rate of child vaccination against preventable diseases, reduced the rate of infant and maternal mortality, increased the rate of HPV vaccination in Nigeria, increase Nigeria’s chances of attaining Universal Health Coverage with NHIA assistance, and reduced the current rate of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).

Health care is actually very expensive in Nigeria. The drugs, lab investigations, surgeries and even proper consultation sometimes cause a fortune and poor Nigerians have to make a tough choice between losing their loved ones or securing loans at ridiculous interest rates to pay exorbitant medical bills. With this administration’s UHC, the long-suffering masses of this country will have the best choice to make.