As the National Council on Health meets in Umuahia, the Abia State capital, it is anticipated that major issues confronting Nigerians and particularly the health sector will dominate discussions.
It is anticipated that the Council will discuss the implementation of the National Health Policy, which is expected to strengthen Nigeria’s health system to deliver qualitative, efficient and comprehensive healthcare services.
The Council will also be pressing hard for the implementation of guidelines for administration, disbursement and management of the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund, which it developed in September 2016.
The success of the Council in pushing through these initiatives, particularly in the last one year, has been complemented with the stepping up of campaign for states to develop their own strategic health plans including the recommendation that they allocate 15 percent of their annual budget to the health sector in line with Abuja declaration.
While these strides can be described as commendable, Nigerians still yearn for action on the disease front, particularly cancer – a silent killer which has suddenly become an epidemic in Nigeria.
Tobacco – a product that the World Health Organisation, WHO, says currently kills about 6 million people annually is the leading cause of cancer, necessitating the first global public health treaty – Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, FCTC, by the WHO.
According to the WHO, unless parties (Nigeria is one) take drastic policy measures to regulate tobacco transnationals through policies, by the year 2030 about eight million deaths will be recorded annually from exposure to tobacco smoke. About 80% of these deaths are expected to occur in low- and middle-income countries, LMICs.
Of Nigeria’s 36 states, only the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Ekiti, Lagos and Osun have smoke-free laws in place. These laws are to safeguard the health of non-smokers from the harms of exposure to tobacco smoke.
The Lagos law, for instance, prohibits residents from smoking in all public places such as libraries, museum, public toilets, schools, hospital, day care centres, public transportation and restaurants among others.
As far – reaching as measures by these few states are, they pale in significance when viewed in the light of no form of regulation in about 30 states of the federation and the free hand that multinational tobacco companies are given to operate.
Tobacco companies in Nigeria target particularly the youths who are bombarded with all forms of marketing gimmicks that portray smoking as hype and socially acceptable.
Indeed, the growing number of underage smokers in Nigeria portends an unwelcome burden of smoking-related illnesses including cancer.
A report released last week by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, NCI, and the WHO notes that tobacco use remains one of the world’s leading causes of preventable premature death.
The report, titled Economics of Tobacco and Tobacco Control, was authored by an international consortium of more than 60 experts on tobacco control and policy including physicians, public health experts, and scientists, among others. It was also peer-reviewed by more than 70 reviewers.
Such conclusions makes it imperative that if the goal of the National Council on Health that Nigerians attain the highest health standards, it must be in the fore in ensuring all states of the federation take tobacco control seriously.
Efforts have been on-going to institute appropriate tobacco control laws at the Federal Government level and that include the passage of a National Tobacco Control Act and the inauguration of a National Tobacco Control Committee. The time is rife for states to take a cue from what is happening at federal level and begin implementation of effective tobacco measures.
It is also expected that the council comes up with an action plan to keep Nigeria smoke free. A stitch in time save lives.
- Segun Adigun is an analyst based in Ibadan