By Hassan Zaggi
The Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, has advocated for more focus in Private –Public Partnership (PPP) in the health sector in order to bridge the gaps and meet the health needs of Nigerians.
Speaking at the 23rd National Conference and Annual General Meeting of the Guild of Private Medical Laboratories Directors in Abuja, on Wednesday, the Vice President said that the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that PPP was the way to go in improving the health sector.
Represented by Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Osinbajo revealed that the effort to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic led the country to expand its testing capacity by equipping more laboratories nationwide from three at the start of the pandemic to now over 140.
This, according to him, is with the inclusion of private laboratories which he said, have made significant contributions to preserving the health of Nigerians.
According to the Vice President: “One area which needs more focus and one which the pandemic has shown to be crucial to bridging gaps and providing for the needs of our population is public-private partnerships
“This response has involved both the public and private sectors. The expansion of COVID-19 testing capacity to over 140 laboratories, with over 50 being private ones and new ones being added every week is an indication enough of the value of private sector involvement in health care delivery.”
On the improvement and expansion of testing capacity with the support of the private laboratories, Osinbajo said: “The expansion of the laboratories for COVID-19 testing nationwide from three at the start of the pandemic to now over 140 with the inclusion of private laboratories been a significant contribution to preserving the health of Nigerians.
“The inclusion of the private sector was initially considered a risk, but thanks to the proactive leadership of NCDC and the support from the Presidential Task Force, and of course the delivery of private medical laboratories, this risk has paid off.
“Despite predictions of the worst happening in Africa, there are so many lessons being learned from our response globally.
“These lessons range from our proactivity before the confirmation of the first COVID-19 case to a digital tool developed by Nigerians with German partners known as SORMAS. This tool is the reason why we can get daily COVID-19 case updates
“Diagnostics have continued to play a vital role in our ability to detect COVID-19 cases and has enabled us to mount an effective response to the outbreak.”
In his address of welcome, the National President, Guild of Medical Laboratory Directors of Nigeria, Prince Adibo Elochukwu, called for the involvement of medical laboratories in the selection of healthcare facilities by patients in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) just as it is being done in the era of the COVID-19.
He reiterated that: “In addition, the commitment of federal government of Nigeria to Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is very welcomed, especially the key objectives to reduce out- of –pocket expenditure for citizens through the reforms in the NHIS.
“However, in the face of the critical role of laboratory services in modern health care, it is still saddening and worrisome that the involvement of the laboratory private sector in the NHIS scheme is non existent.
“Therefore, we strongly advocate that NHIS among the other interventions, should urgently address the issues of direct selection to laboratories by enrollees as currently being done in COVID-19 private laboratories network, of low capacity utilization of secondary health care providers such as stand-alone medical laboratory service, in this way, all registered and accredited health care providers laboratories and facilities will be integrated in the scheme as well helped us scale up quality coverage of more Nigerians.
While advocating for support for the private medical laboratories, Elochukwu said: “Consequent upon this, it is hope and prayer that the lessons learnt will further turn the search light of government and international/local support organisations to the private sector who hitherto have been grossly excluded in inclusive policies, infrastructure improvement, support funding allocation as well as research grants.
“This exclusion which informs our choice of this year’s conference theme, is regrettable and unfortunate as it leaves the country missing out of rich medical data domicile in this sector which ought to be used for health sector improvement.
“For us in the GMLD, we see a huge opportunity if resources from private and government sector are harnessed to improve Nigeria’s healthcare services, especially, in the area of human vaccines production and manufacture in-vitro diagnostics.”