THE National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), formerly known as the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), ran its offices in northern Nigeria with only one nurse for several years, the agency’s Director General, Mohammed Sambo, a professor, has revealed.
Sambo said the agency employed non-health workers in its northern offices, which slowed down its operations.
He disclosed this while addressing the Association of Nigeria Health Journalists (ANHeJ) at its sixth annual conference in Akwanga, Nasarawa State, on Friday, December 9.
Represented by Emmanuel Ononokpono, Public Affairs Manager at the NHIA, Sambo said he had employed 190 health professionals to boost the NHIA’s operations since his appointment in 2019.
He said, “In NHIS offices, we had just one nurse. That meant that the man who read History or Mass Communication would be the one to access the hospital to tell whether this is a stethoscope or not. That worsened the situation at that time.
“So, Prof. had to find a way and engage in a very transparent manner 190 medical persons, five in each state across Nigeria, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and (medical) laboratory scientists.
“Now, we don’t have to send people from the head office to go to the states to conduct quality assurance again; the state offices can handle it.”
Sambo recollected how politicking and wranglings almost consumed the agency under his predecessors, resulting in the public losing confidence in the organization.
He also said the former NHIS could not build offices in any part of the country, making it pay rent for its 38 offices nationwide.
“We were deploying ICT equipment. Whenever the house owners said we should go, we must dismantle those things and move with them.”
Sambo also said the government did not audit the NHIA account for five years before he took over in 2019 because of a crisis.
Besides, he explained that every chief executive of the agency tried to change the NHIS Act to make health insurance compulsory in the country, but they didn’t succeed.
He said his efforts to change the NHIS Act succeeded after three attempts.
“You can’t have universal health coverage without making it compulsory. The Act gives hope to 83 million vulnerable Nigerians that cannot afford to pay for healthcare.”
He questioned why the government could not allocate at least an oil block to the 83 million vulnerable to fund health insurance in the country.
“If the government could give oil blocks to individuals, why can’t it give to 83 million vulnerable Nigerians? A retired General told us some time ago how he sold his oil block for $500 million.”
While decrying how the NHIA covers only 15 million Nigerians out of nearly 220 million, Sambo pledged that “the agency would continue to work until the NHIA becomes the envy of all Nigerians. If you go to the UK, the NHS is the emblem of health care delivery”.