COVID-19: President Buhari, other African leaders now give attention to health systems they once-neglected

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Africa’s ailing presidents and powerful elites have been known to jet out to seek treatment abroad, instead of investing in healthcare in their own countries, so says CNN in one of its latest reports.

The report showed how African leaders both past and present patronised health facilities abroad with the flimsiest excuse while neglecting their health systems at home.

“Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe died in a hospital in Singapore, and Cameroon’s Paul Biya regularly seeks treatment abroad.

“Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was out of the country for several months in 2017 for treatment in London for an undisclosed illness and has frequent checks abroad. Since he took office in 2015, he has embarked on at least four medical trips to the UK” but said, “with flights grounded and countries across the world on lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, these leaders are getting a wake-up call that they must fix their healthcare systems”.

Infection numbers across the continent, while significantly lower than other parts of the world, are rising exponentially. The World Health Organization recently reported that the number of cases in Africa was now more than 11,000, with 600 deaths, CNN reports.

It also added that “the pandemic has overwhelmed advanced health facilities, and experts predict it could devastate the continent’s fragile health systems, already plagued by inadequate funding and labour disputes”.

The report also revealed how “African leaders have consistently neglected their country’s health sector despite several pledges to do improve it”.

“In 2001, the heads of state of 52 African countries met in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja and committed to spending 15 per cent of their yearly domestic budget on health.

“Just a handful of countries have met this target on the continent. They include Tanzania, Rwanda, Botswana and Zambia, according to the WHO.

“Rwanda doubled its health care spending over 10 years, the WHO said in the 2017 report. The Central African nation has also received praise for its national health insurance coverage which is the highest on the continent

“But a majority have fallen through the cracks in fulfilling this commitment”, CNN reveals.

With Nigeria grappling with the threat of Coronavirus, it was revealed that the country invested only less than 6 per cent of its budget on health and that Africa stood a far higher risk should the continent be overwhelmed by the pandemic.

“Since it signed the declaration, Nigeria has allocated less than six per cent of its budget to health, and most of the funds are spent on salaries, according to Nigeria-based budget monitoring organization Budgit.

“In a paper published by the Brookings Institute, researchers said although Africa bore 23 per cent of the world’s disease burden in 2015, it accounted for only one per cent of the global health spending for the same year.

“In per capita terms, the rest of the world spends 10 times more on health care than Africa, the researchers said”.

The researchers predict it may be difficult for the countries on the continent to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals with a 2030 deadline with the “current spending environment.”

Nigerian-British historian Ed Keazor agrees that the fallout from the outbreak is a “wake-up call” for governments to prioritize affordable health care.

Keazor, a cancer survivor said he made the difficult decision to move back to London where he has access to affordable care under the National Health Service even though he works in Nigeria.

The filmmaker said he came to Lagos for a research and film festival in March but got caught in the city after the Nigerian government banned all international flights to contain the spread of the outbreak.

Keazor says he’s missed an appointment with his doctor in the UK due to the travel restriction, and that would not have been a problem if he could get the same quality of care locally.

“If I could get the same quality of care here (Nigeria) as in the UK where I’m a taxpayer and getting good medical services, I would rather stay back here because this is where my work and my larger family is but unfortunately, it’s not there,” Keazor told CNN.

For now, he hopes the health crisis will change the Nigerian government’s focus to where he says it should be.

“I hope the enormity of this problem has brought home the urgency of investment in health care infrastructure to the government and whatever the country looks like after this crisis is over, our priorities will be focused on health care and education,” he said.

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