The Nigerian Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) was one of the first projects created by former president Olusegun Obasanjo when he became civilian President in 1999. Written into law that year, the program was further expanded via legislative provisions in 2004 and finally launched in 2005. Since then, the program has apparently disbursed over N23 billion to registered health care providers participating in the plan. The Scheme now covers 3 million Nigerians and according to the NHIS Director, Dogo Mohammed, all Nigerians will have universal insurance coverage in 2015.
It is exciting to know that Nigerian universal health care is not merely a concept. Healthcare should be considered a fundamental human right and every Nigerian, regardless of their wealth should have access to it. In furtherance of the program, the federal government allocated N6 billion to provide free maternal care and early-child care in 6 states: Bayelsa, Gombe, Imo, Niger, Oyo and Sokoto. In a country where "191 children die out of every 100,000 births and 1,100 women die out of every 100,000 deliveries," this money is necessary and could impact an untold amount of lives.
Despite the reality that the Federal Government has a practical and already implemented plan to provide access to healthcare, many issues that must be tackled to make the rewards of future universal healthcare beneficial remain. Nigeria is ranked 174 out of 191 countries ranked according to the life expectancy rates as listed in the 2007 CIA World Factbook, falling behind Haiti and Somalia. Nigerian life expectancy is only 47 years and has not improved but dipped since independence in 1960. Much more undoubtedly needs to be done to improve the condition of health and healthcare in the nation.
In order for Nigerians to benefit from universal healthcare, Nigeria needs functioning institutions of health that can address people's complex health needs. The institutions should not just cure citizens but should also focus on preventative healthcare issues. These institutions must practice competitive health research that marches research in hospitals in many countries where Nigeria's President and other 'leaders' flock to for check ups and surgery. In addition, they must cultivate and incorporate knowledge of local remedies into a general health approach.
Consequently, money must be pumped into the Nigerian school system by the federal and state governments, to produce the skilled individuals needed in the country and limit the number of trained professionals that have to leave for better paying jobs abroad. Not to talk about the roads and power problems that still need to be tackled.
The prospect of universal health care as an option for Nigerians in 2015 is something every Nigerian should look forward to. It is definitely a step in the right direction and we must not take any more steps backward. On the eve of the country's 48th year as a nation state, one can only think that we have wasted enough time and must begin to implement and maintain the programs Nigeria, and its people, have always needed.
By Solomon Sydelle of Nigerian Curiousity