It was an auspicious era for the primary healthcare (PHC) system and specifically for immunization as WAVA through its Vaccine Champions, paid an advocacy visit to the Honourable Minister for Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole on May 11, 2017, in partnership with the Primary Health Care Revitalization Support Group (PHC-RSG).
Held at the Ministry of Health office at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, the meeting brought together prominent actors from WHO, National Assembly, NPHCDA, ONE Campaign, Wellbeing Foundation and Evidence for Action to discuss progress activities to strengthen the PHC system and sustain improved financing for the routine immunization programme.
In his opening remarks, the Chair, House Committee on Healthcare Services, Hon. Chike Okafor, welcomed all and expressed his commitment to supporting the Health Minister in achieving the mandate for an equitable health system. Co-chair of the PHC-RSG, Dr. Ben Anyene gave a brief remark on the Group’s planned activities for 2017. He also expressed his concerns regarding the non-existent expansion of the health budget and the lack of significant progress in PHC revitalization, with immunization constituting a huge component. He stated that as Gavi starts to relinquish immunization funding, we must step up our advocacy efforts to reach the presidency, vice presidency, governors, and social influencers.
WAVA convener and Nigeria Country Director of the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC), Dr. Chizoba Wonodi spoke decisively on the need for increased immunization funding, given that immunization services – especially in young children – constitute a huge part of primary healthcare in Nigeria. She offered her full support to the Minister and expressed that much can be achieved with the commitment of all teams to reach this common goal.
WAVA Vaccine Champions also used the opportunity to pitch their ‘asks’ and activities to sustain the healthcare system. Hon. Muhammed Usman gave a passionate speech as he called for the full implementation of the 1% of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) to the health budget, and the establishment of a ministerial oversight to its implementation. He also emphasized the need for States to commence co-financing for vaccines and the routine immunization programme. Mrs. Martha Yough, Head of Stations at CoolWazobiaInfo stated that the Health Ministry would help media organizations – in ensuring their obligation to inform the public, protect public interest, promote transparency and access to information – by providing data on what the financing gaps were, and the best method to bridge this gap. Chair of the PHC-RSG, Her Excellency Mrs. Toyin Saraki reiterated the need for a quick resolve to the Gavi audit, and made fervent calls for accountability and transparency in the process.
In his remarks, the Health Minister showed his delight with the general commitment from all participants and welcomed all the propositions that were made. He assured everyone that he understood the implications of Nigeria’s dependence on foreign donors for the immunization programme and need to strengthen domestic immunization funding and rejuvenate the health system. The Minister committed to ensure States co-funding for vaccines, organize a PHC Summit within the coming months which would bring the issue of immunization funding to the front burner, and host a global colloquium on sustainable immunization financing in 2018. On what advocates can do differently, the Minister asked for increased dialogue with key influencers in the Ministry of Budget, Ministry of Finance, and the Presidency. In addition, his key message for the media was that they should inform States to take responsibility for the allocation and release of the health budget, and make health a priority in their constituencies. He said this to invalidate the assertion that health is the sole responsibility of the Federal Government. In re-echoing the words of Hon. Usman, the time is now for Nigeria to get it right.