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World Health Day stresses Nigeria’s need to fix health sector

As 2021 World Health Day was marked, the World Health Organisation asked governments to fix just two things: address the root causes of health inequities and implement solutions, within and beyond the health sector to address them.

The goal is to attain health equity, which is the absence of unfair, avoidable and remediable differences in health status among groups of people. When everyone can attain their full potential for health and well-being, health equity can be said to have been achieved.

But Nigeria remains far from achieving that goal.

A child born in Nigeria can expect to live to the age of 61 while a child born in Japan can live to 84, a 23-year difference.

Under-5 mortality is more than eight times higher in Nigeria than in Spain, Finland, Norway and Singapore.

Over 800 mothers die per 100 000 deliveries, with approximately 58, 000 maternal deaths occurring in 2015.

Read Also: Post-COVID-19: WHO urges countries to invest in health facilities

Other faces of health inequity, further reflected in WHO’s data indicate children from the poorest households are twice as likely to die before the age of 5 years than children from the richest households. Whereas children in the poorest 20 percent of households are over four times more likely to experience severe mental health problems that those in the highest 20 percent.

However, Nigerians can live better if the government prioritises equitable services and infrastructure in all communities both urban and rural, as suggested by WHO to all governments in a five-action recommendation on World Health Day.

The government is urged to build stronger primary health care for everyone, everywhere; better data collection and reporting so countries know where the health inequalities occur; equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments; and post-COVID-19 recovery budgets and plans that protect and prioritize health and social sectors.

Apart from the health sector, investment in other sectors is also seen as a catalyst for enhancing health and reducing disease burden.

For instance, investments in improved levels of education, women’s political and socioeconomic participation and environmental management, and reduced levels of fertility and poverty can serve as boost for social determinants of health.

“Improved housing conditions can save lives, prevent disease, and increase quality of life. They can be ensured through construction of social housing; loans and subsidies; and laws and regulations that ensure homes are safe, healthy, and accessible,” WHO urges.

Sound public sector decision‐making processes and governance that prevent conflicts of interest and ensure investments in health and health equity are essential.

“Economic recovery plans must move away from business as usual. Societies need to protect themselves, and acknowledge that saving money by neglecting environmental protection, emergency preparedness, health systems, and social safety nets is false economy,” the global body noted

Also, different forms of support are encouraged for ensuring access to healthy diets and good nutrition. Cash transfers can decrease under nutrition of infants by seven percent in low-income households and work best when given to female heads of households

Other measures include promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding, including for working mothers; child allowances and healthy school meals; shelter and food assistance initiatives; and support for employment retention and recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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