Can Professor Isaac Adewole transform Nigeria’s healthcare sector?

There is a new health minister in town and he is Professor Isaac Adewole. Before being appointed as minister, he served as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, has had a storied career in academia and has been lauded as a competent administrator. However, the main question is: Can he transform the Nigerian Healthcare sector that has lain comatose for the better part of the past two decades? Not to put it lightly, he has his work cut for him.

The Nigerian healthcare sector faces huge challenges and some of these include: A severely under-funded healthcare system (healthcare spending is a meager 3.7 percent of GDP), frequent strikes by healthcare professionals, the constant battle for supremacy between doctors and other healthcare workers, a National Health Insurance Scheme that has not fulfilled its promises and a runaway medical tourism industry. In the same vein as all the challenges plaguing the sector there is the problem of tough macroeconomic conditions in Nigeria, which is mostly due to the sustained drop in oil prices.

Despite these problems, there exist good opportunities within the sector. A progressive national health law was passed in the twilight of the last government, which if implemented the right way, could form the basis of the renaissance of the sector. There has been a renewed focus on the national healthcare insurance scheme with the change in government. Also in the past couple of years, there has been an increase in private equity investment within the sector.

Ultimately, the key to Professor Adewole’s success will be down to a few factors:

  •    How he can attract more private sector investment and involvement to the healthcare sector since the Nigerian government is currently strapped for cash.
  •    How he can transition the health-care sector from ”out of pocket” money based system to a “health insurance” based system. This means increasing the coverage of the National Health Insurance Scheme whose penetration has stagnated at about 10% of the population for the past few years.
  •    How he applies a systems-thinking approach (that includes all stakeholders) to the various healthcare policies. The conventional piecemeal approach has led to a highly fragmented system where doctors and other healthcare workers battle each other constantly for a “bigger portion” of the pie.

Given his experience and record, Professor Adewole seems to be the right man for the job. He revamped one of the largest health institutions in Nigeria and his administrative record leading multiple multi-disciplinary health organizations was unparalleled. Many stakeholders in the sector are cautiously optimistic about the possibilities, but only time will tell.

This piece was produced by Ventures Africa in partnership with The Africa Expert Network (AXN) to provide unique insider commentary from practitioners and subject matter specialists.

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