Former DG NIMR decries lack of funds for medical research in Nigeria

Former Director General, Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) who is also a Consultant of Gynaecology and Obstetrics at the University of Jos and Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), Prof. Innocent Ujah, has condemned the national system whereby there is no fund at all allocated to research projects in Nigeria especially in the health sector.

Professor Ujah spoke as a guest speaker on the theme, “Research; A Veritable Tool in Advancing Health Care Systems in Nigeria” at a two-day conference organized on Saturday by the Medical and Dental Consultants’ Association of Nigeria (MDCAN) holding in Jos, Plateau State.

According to him, “I have always said so that the reason why the fund is not available for research in Nigeria is that, maybe our policymakers do not appreciate the value of research because research drives development.

“Look at the handset we are using today. It is due to full research. Previously, we were using analogue before. Now, we have gone digital. It is research. It doesn’t just come by prayers. We believe that we should advocate policymakers, to government and even philanthropists to set aside some funds for research.

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“We could even commission on research. For instance, the internally displaced persons (IDPs) following these insurgencies. If I am in a position I don’t know whether they have done that, I would commission research to study what is happening in the field and document. It is not enough for somebody to go out there one day and cook food and come back and say this. No. It must be systematic. It must be documented. It is a policy. So, in my opinion, we need to do more in the area of research.”

Ujah said that in spite of the fact that they write grants for international research organizations like the national institute of the health of the US Government. “And we get grants from them. But we have our own homegrown funding for research. We are talking about homegrown.”

He said the country is chaotic in the area of research because there is no direction at all.” You see, you have to have evidence for whatever you do. And because we don’t have enough information through research, many of the things we do may be okay but may not be appropriate. It will not meet the demands. It may not meet the needs of what the research will be doing. And we need to do more. It is not only the federal government, state governments, local governments but for individuals who are blessed by God. That is what we say in Nigeria. Anybody who is rich in Nigeria is blessed by God. But the truth of the matter is that we need funds for further research.”

On the federal budget allocation for health, Ujah said that there is no sufficient fund allocated for health in all the three tiers of government of Nigeria.

According to Ujah, “the Abuja declaration of 2001 said that every government should allocate at least 15 percent of their budget to health. But what do we get today? The situation here today is about 4.00 percent for the federal government. That of the state governments, I do not know. I don’t want to talk about it. But the reality is that the funding for health is not there.

“And you cannot give what you don’t have. You cannot take from what you do not have. For me as a person, this PPP (Private Public Partnership) that the federal government is trying to undertake is a beautiful one. This is because it will allow for efficiency and effectiveness and availability of services. So, if it is properly implemented, I believe that we will do better in the health sector.”

On his part, the National President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr Francis Faduyile, said if Nigeria wants to solve the issues of health challenges and the myriads of diseases in the country, Nigerians must go back to the basis.

According to Faduyile, “the basis is where we need to get it and nip it in the bud and that is at the primary healthcare level. What we have heard is that issues that affect treatment, education and also sanitation have gone as well as immunization at the primary health care level. And since that is not in existence, we have diseases that would have been abated at that level, but they get complicated. And by the time you get it at the level of the tertiary level, they are already complicated and you need much more money to take care of it.

“So, to take care of the people in this country especially in relationship with the very little finding that we have, we need to go to the primary healthcare level. And I think that is what every Nigerian, every tier of government in the country must look into and see that the primary healthcare centre is done very well.”

The NMA president also said that they are not satisfied with the budget allocation to the health sector in the country, adding that it has been abysmally very slow. Whereas it should be a minimum of 15 percent. When we talk about this, we are talking about the federal government. The state governments are not putting any fund into health. And that is where the problem is. That is where we want the state governors as well as the local government authorities to put more funding in health so that the health can be strengthened. And I think that is where the health problem is so that we can solve this myriad of problems that are affecting us.”

Faduyile regretted that many of the women who died because of poor sanitation died in the villages. “These are the people that primary health centres should take care of. Most of the people that died maybe through abortion, they are done by quacks and where are these quacks concentrated? They are found in the villages. And if we have functional primary health centres, I can tell you that they will be educated, they will know who is who and who go and consult. So, the major issue that the government should look at it at the primary health centres.”

On medical tourism, he said that “any system that is based on a very weak foundation cannot be strong. It is weak. We don’t have the basement of the health system. The system that will take care of 70 percent of Nigerians is not in existence. The one that will take five to 10 percent of Nigerians is the one everybody is looking at. And that is why it is very weak. And unfortunately, medical tourism, when we are talking about funding for health, the amount of money that is meant for health in this country is almost ‘equilibrating’ the amount they are budgeting for health. It means we have funds.

But what we have failed to use it appropriately for the benefits of Nigerians. And it is important for the government to look into it. Health is a social responsibility of the government.

“But Government has failed to see it as part of its responsibility. What we have in the constitution is that the government should take care of health and nothing beyond that.”

President of Medical and Dental Consultants’ Association of Nigeria (MDCAN), Prof. Ngim E. Ngim in his welcome address, hoped that governments at various levels will find the recommendation of the meeting useful for immediate implementation in order to improve healthcare services to all Nigerians.

Chairman, Local Organising Committee of the 11th Biennial Delegates’ Meeting of the MDCAN, Prof. Kenneth Ozoilo, thanked all and sundry for gracing the occasion and making it successful.

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