The Health Financing Policy Dialogue conference which was held in Abuja on Thursday, July 28 hosted several dignitaries and keynote speakers including the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Senator Ibrahim Yahaya Oloriegbe; the Director General of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), Prof Mohammed Nasir Sambo; the Director General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Mr. Ben Akabueze, amongst others, including over 120 participants who joined the dialogue virtually.
Also in attendance were representatives from the Consulate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, UNFPA, WHO Geneva Office, and several other international health stakeholders. The event which sought to explore strategies to utilize pro-health taxes as an additional source of health financing for Nigeria, follows the recently introduced new taxes (N10 per liter) on non-alcoholic, sweetened carbonated drinks through the Finance Act of 2021.
In her welcome address, the Country Director of PharmAccess Foundation, Dr. Njide Ndili commended the Minister of Finance on the prompt implementation of the SSB tax following intense advocacy which was supported by the Healthcare Federation of Nigeria, Nigeria Health Watch, and the World Bank Nigeria Office. She spoke on the importance of increasing health financing and ring-fencing the proceeds from the pro-health taxes. She noted PharmAccess’ commitment to support mobilizing of resources for the health sector while expressing optimism that the dialogue would yield positive results for the sector.
She said: “The COVID-19 pandemic significantly reduced the external funding from other countries as development aid, because they focused on retaining their funds to manage the effects of the pandemic on their health systems. This is therefore a turning point for Low and Middle-Income Countries in Africa, including Nigeria—to focus on innovation and local resource mobilization to fund the healthcare sector.
“With the recent passing of the NHIA law making health insurance mandatory, it is imperative that we mobilize enough resources to fund health service delivery, especially for those who cannot afford to pay for themselves. We are therefore excited to host this dialogue to elicit ideas for implementation following which a communique will be disseminated with the Federal Ministries of Health, Finance, The National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) for further action.”
While delivering her goodwill message, the Economic Policy Adviser, the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Lagos, Sonia Odije-Fajusigbe said: “We believe that Nigeria’s Health Insurance Scheme should be decentralized to meet the growing need of the nation and to see that there is more funding for the health sector of Nigeria.”-
Giving his speech, the DG of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) Prof Mohammed Nasir Sambo said: “Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to a variety of healthcare problems including diabetes and a host of other diseases. The cost of treating mild to moderate diabetes has become an additional financial burden for individuals affected, as it ranges from N300,000 to N500,000 per annum. It could even run into millions in very severe cases.
“This trend is particularly worrisome because over 82m Nigerians live on less than $1 per day. If we must achieve Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC), we must then prioritize health financing, especially through additional taxes or mandatory insurance. This is what many developed nations have done. The SSB tax and National Health Insurance Scheme provide Nigeria a revolutionary chance to attain better healthcare services that will decrease Nigerians’ suffering in accessing healthcare.”
Also speaking, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Senator Ibrahim Yahaya Oloriegbe, spoke on the difficulty of collecting these taxes. Oloriegbe said: “One of the major challenges with this taxation is the problem of collection, because the payers are always complaining that they are being taxed in multiple ways. Apart from that, we are all aware of the struggle over our federalism as to who is to collect or not collect value-added taxes (VAT). This is also a major obstacle that is stifling our efforts.”
Sen Oloriegbe went on to appeal that the discussions shouldn’t focus on health financing only, but also on effective utilization of funds. He stressed that it is one thing to have the funds, and yet another thing to effectively channel those funds in the appropriate directions to create lasting progress in the health sector. He mentioned that in the 2021 budget, the health sector returned money back to the national treasury to the tune of N6billion naira. This he said, shows that there’s a need for discussions on how to effectively use funds and not just how to get more funds.
The DG of the Budget Office of the Federation, Mr. Ben Akabueze, commended PharmAccess Foundation for putting together the event stressing that the healthcare sector is indeed a pivotal sector for all Nigerians. Stressing the importance of SSB taxation implementation, he noted that 54 counties in the world and five in Africa have introduced SSB taxes. He spoke on how Nigeria’s SSB taxation journey started in 2016 but came into reality in 2021.
The conference also had panel discussions which hosted several distinguished panelists including the First Lady of Kebbi State, Dr Zainab Bagudu; the Founder/ CEO of BudgIT, Mr Olusegun Onigbinde; the General Manager of NHIA, Dr Jonathan Eke, amongst others high profile health care stakeholders across Nigeria.