The World Bank has again called on the federal government to impose special taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and sugar-sweetened beverages to improve the country’s primary healthcare system.
The call was made by the World Bank’s country director for Nigeria, Shubham Chaudhuri on Friday in Abuja at a special national council on health meeting organised by the federal ministry of health.
“If we want to improve healthcare in Nigeria, we need to tax the things that are killing us,” he said.
“The economic rationale for taxing these products is strong if we want to save lives and make a better and healthier Nigeria.”
Chaudhuri stated that taxes on tobacco, alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages would reduce the health risks associated with their consumption and expand fiscal space for universal health coverage post-COVID 19.
The country director said that investing in health systems for all would tackle rising poverty and inequality.
Chaudhuri added that health tax increases would have the additional advantage of reducing future healthcare costs by curbing the growth of the non-communicable diseases that tobacco, alcohol, and sugar-sweetened beverages cause.
In his goodwill message to the meeting, Walter Mulombo, World Health Organisation (WHO) representative in Nigeria, said he could attest to the enormous health needs of Nigerians and efforts made so far in meeting the needs.
He said his attestation was based on the fact that he had visited half of Nigeria’s 36 states in less than two years in the country.
Mulombo noted that while COVID-19 exposed weaknesses in the global economy, he considered it a unique opportunity for a thorough evaluation of existing resources and mechanisms to prepare better for a more resilient future.
He pledged that the WHO would continue to lead technical support for Nigeria in the development and implementation of its home-grown policies and plans.
This, he explained, would be in the context of the global health agenda as reflected in the country’s cooperation strategy.
“This we have taken into consideration, even as we currently review our operational plan and budget for the next two years,’’ he said.
Mulombo said the duty of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through building resilient health systems, was a collective responsibility requiring incremental steps in the right direction and continuous improvement.
“Tracking implementation of the resolutions of this Council in line with Nigeria’s and global health agenda will strengthen on-going journey towards promoting health, keeping the world safe, and serving the vulnerable,’’ he said.
In his contribution, Eduardo Celades, chief of health at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed optimism that the meeting would arrive at recommendations to drive tangible, equitable and sustainable results for Nigeria.
This, he emphasised, was particularly for women and children in line with the SDGs vision of “leaving no one behind’’.
Celades said that achieving the desired outcomes would require the match of deliberations with the needed actions.
“Accordingly, I urge Council members and delegates to reflect on how best to address the chronic obstacles between Nigeria’s great potential and her aspirations in the health sector,” he said.
“Notable among these challenges is a persistent decline in health expenditure as a proportion of GDP from 1.2 percent in 2004 to only 0.58 percent in 2018.
“Inadequate financing of primary healthcare services at service delivery points and the current suboptimal allocation of N1.5 million per ward under the Basic Health Care Provision Fund.
“Inadequate human resources for health – there are fewer health workers for Nigeria’s population, skewed distribution towards urban centres, skills gaps, poor motivation, weak regulation and poor visibility.
“Suboptimal primary healthcare infrastructure and equipment, erratic availability of essential commodities and supplies and poor maintenance culture.
“Weak coordination and accountability mechanisms resulting in duplication, inefficiencies and lack of value for money, are the others.
“Working together, we can tackle the problems using tried and true strategies and available best practices.’’
He added that UNICEF was determined to apply its comparative advantage as an agency to support Nigeria’s development efforts within the health sector and beyond.