The fears, the distresses which followed the contagious epidemic – Coronavirus which practically collapsed the world economy cannot be hastily forgotten. The pandemic has resulted in the closure of all businesses, schools, centers of religious worship and places of recreation, except for essential services. An unimaginable and unprecedented global lockdown that apart from members of nuclear families everyone isolated themselves, restricted closeness to other people for fear of infection. Sneezing has become a taboo, not to mention coughing. Wearing face masks, mandatory hand washing and using hand sanitizer suddenly became the norm. Governments and financial institutions around the world operated skeletally with only executive staff, and mostly from home digitally. The masses living on daily incomes without huge bank deposits have been hit harder. These incidents cannot be hastily forgotten. It’s been amazing so far.
To confront the dilemma squarely, nations around the world have synergized strong policies, imposed travel bans on international circuits, closed airspace and set up vaccination centers for COVID vaccines. Although the concerted energies have been met with harsh conspiracy theories from some quarters, the fight against the pandemic has been sustained. However, in the midst of the dilemma, many people have lost their lives, even in developed countries with functioning primary health care systems, especially in the United States and Europe.
Strangely, these developed countries have recorded the highest number of COVID deaths despite their huge commitments to primary health care (PHC) compared to Africa, especially Nigeria, with little attention to the health sector . In fact, some WHO estimates believe that deaths from COVID-19 have been underestimated worldwide and that the global death toll of nearly 6.3 million may actually be twice as high. Last month, in May 2022, in the United States alone, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that America globally had passed one million deaths attributed to the disease.
One can only imagine what would have happened if the epidemic had spread at the same pace in developing countries with primary care deficits. For example, all of Nigeria’s public office holders and wealthy class depend on the western world for their health care and their nuclear families. Healthcare in Nigeria is literally left in miserable conditions for the helpless masses except for private hospitals hence the tradition of government officials always queuing for overseas medical trips unfortunately taxpayer coffers. Nevertheless, the pandemic has created some emergency interventions in primary health care in Nigeria, including the establishment of COVID vaccination centers by governments.
Now, in this post-COVID pandemic, the revitalization of Primary Health Care (PHC) in the country should be a priority for the authorities as what happened during the pandemic should be an eye opener. PHC, “essential health care” based on scientifically sound and socially acceptable methods and technology, is the first level of contact of individuals, family and community with the national health system, and treats the main community health problems, providing health promotion, preventive, curative and rehabilitative services accordingly. Among its scope are routine medical examinations, screening for common health problems, prescribing necessary medications, treating minor illnesses and injuries, managing chronic conditions, and managing acute conditions. Health, they say, is wealth. Thus, the revitalization of primary health care will drive economic recovery in the post-Covid pandemic.
The second reason is the alarming WHO records which reveal that about 3,000 children die every day from preventable diseases resulting from a lack of primary health care. To bring it home, Nigeria, from said data, accounts for 1 in 7 maternal deaths globally, expressed as 119 preventable maternal deaths per day, and the impact this has on family health and survival of the child in general cannot be underestimated. Moreover, Nigeria is the first country in the world in terms of the number of zero-dose children (children who have never received a single dose of vaccine since birth). It’s precarious. Necessarily, it is incumbent on the authorities to give maximum commitment to the “policy of one PHC center per district”, alongside awareness raising on the vaccination of children.
Recently in Lagos State, Mrs. Muyiwa Idowu-Olaleye, a ward resident of Ifelodun LCDA, told how an emergency call to a health worker at a PHC center saved her child’s life 6-year-old Sidikat from a cholera infection that started at midnight. and nearly desiccated the child through forced vomiting and bowel movements in the middle of the night. She wondered what might have happened if she had not received early attention from the health worker. The story above suggests that it is essential to revitalize primary health care in every department with effective services.
Arguably, the “one PHC center per ward policy” in Lagos is rapidly gaining momentum. For example, Lagos currently has no less than 392 PHC centers spread across its 377 wards – (245 federally created wards and 132 state created wards from its 37 LCDAs) and strategic locations, and gradually strengthened by the necessary manpower. According to the Permanent Secretary of the Lagos State Primary Health Care Board (LSPHCB), Dr. Ibrahim Mustafa, the state government has employed 925 health workers in its recent recruitment drive, including doctors, pharmacists, nurses, community health extension workers, laboratory scientists and technicians, environmental officers and health information management officers. This should be a model for other states for replication.
In addition, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and support from CHAI, a development partner, Lagos is said to have put in place an effective and efficient data tracking system. The MTN Foundation had also donated six mobile clinics to the state. Avid donors like USAID, the European Union and other partners of the national body, NPHCDA, deserve credits. More corporate organizations should register as a social responsibility. The “one PHC center per service” policy is a desideratum and should be implemented quickly across the country. Above all, there is a need to sensitize rural communities on the importance of PHC, especially the value of shots against childhood vaccine-preventable diseases. In addition, the regular hand washing for hygiene and hand disinfection adopted during the pandemic should be maintained. These chores will undoubtedly boost PHC delivery.
By: Carl Umegboro