Role of the media in accelerating UHC in Nigeria

December 6th, 2018

By Somto Mbelu

December 12 of every year is marked as the world Universal Health Coverage (UHC) celebration day. This resolution was made on the 12th of December 2012, as the United Nations unanimously endorsed a historic declaration urging all countries to accelerate progress toward UHC as an essential priority for international development.

Building on this resolution, global partners spearheaded the first-ever UHC Day on 12 December 2014 to unite health and development advocates behind a shared goal; ensuring that all people and communities access quality health services without suffering financial hardship.

On that day, a new Coalition of 587 organizations in 109 countries rallied together behind the goal of health for all, everywhere.

The theme of this year’s commémoration- Unite For UHC: Now Is The Time For Collective Action, is a reminder to stakeholders to rev up efforts towards attaining the singular unifying goal of UHC.

According to the World Health Organization, (WHO) UHC means that all people and communities can use preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services they need, of sufficient quality to be effective, while also ensuring that the use of these services do not expose the user to financial hardship.

The United Nations (UN) and its member states as part of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), have agreed to work toward worldwide UHC by 2030. This includes financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.

Nigeria like every other country is working towards attaining the UHC component of the sustainable development goals, though the country still has a long way to go as evidenced by the various health indicators and government’s commitment to health policy prioritization.

During the 2014 Presidential summit declaration for UHC, the summit reaffirmed the Federal Government’s commitment towards providing equitable, qualitative and universally acceptable healthcare for all Nigerians without suffering financial hardship.

The declaration also affirmed that health is a fundamental human right and that it is the responsibility of government to ensure the health of all Nigerians.

The declaration made during the summit recommended that the Government of Nigeria should work towards instituting mandatory health insurance in Nigeria, with contributions from all income earners (i.e. formal and informal) and make available special funds (UHC Fund) to cover the poor.

These declarations paved the way for the decentralization of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) through the introduction of State Social Health Insurance Scheme (SSHIS), which is aimed at the expansion of health insurance coverage to all Nigerians.

In 2015, the National Council on Health (NCH) approved the memo for the introduction of SSHIS as a mechanism to expand coverage for all Nigerians.
The age-old saying: “The Pen is mightier than Sword” – holds true even in today’s context, as the media seems to gain strength in the contemporary society, especially through the new media.

The media plays a very important facilitating role in the easing through of policy action by repetition and reinforcement of media messages, and the absence of proposed alternatives and also a possible role in shaping behavior, especially where these are linked to other types of structural support.

In promoting UHC, the media can help inform and educate the general population on the importance of health care reforms. They can advocate for increased awareness of reforms through continuous and constant sensitization for policymakers, stakeholders and civil society groups at the grassroots level.

The media’s role in setting political agenda and shaping public issues and opinions cannot be overemphasized as they play a very important and curial role toward holding the government accountable.

As most states are at different stages of commencing and setting-up their various state health insurance schemes, it is very important that the media work with these state governments to ensure that the basic necessary legal frameworks that are needed are put in place to ensure the successful take-off of these insurance schemes. Additionally, as the 2019 elections in Nigeria draws nearer, it is very important that all stakeholders work with the media to ensure that health is clearly put on the political agenda.

It is equally important to put mechanisms in place to ensure that political parties and their candidates clearly state their policy plans and direction for the health sector.

The issues around the Basic Health Care Provisions Fund (BHCPF) should also be put on the front burner, as the Federal Government needs to commence the rollout and implementation of the fund.

As we commemorate the 2018 International UHC Day, it is very pertinent that the Federal Ministry of Health, Development and Implementing partners collectively, work closely with the media to ensure that all Nigerians, fully understand and appreciate the need for UHC.

It is also very important that health advocates continue to raise awareness through the development of strategic messages that will communicate the benefits of UHC to different stakeholders at both the Federal and state levels.

Advocacy and sensitization campaigns should be context specific and must be applicable to the target audience. It should also be given a human face in order to encourage buy-in at all levels.

Government should also provide interactive platforms to keep the media constantly informed and updated on their activities and efforts towards achieving UHC.

Recently the Media Network for Universal Health Coverage, a media advocacy network for UHC led by Chief Mrs. Moji Makanjuola (MFR) has been on the forefront of advocating for increased funding for health. Media platforms like this, should be encouraged to further give UHC the needed advocacy thereby setting Nigeria on the right part towards actualizing UHC.

Mbelu is a UHC Advocate and Health Communications Specialist.

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