A new report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reveal that nearly 30 million babies around the world that are born too soon and too small or fall sick every year require specialised care to survive. The report, “Survive and Thrive: Transforming care for every small and sick newborn,” revealed that among the newborn babies most at risk of death and disability were those with complications from prematurity, brain injury during birth, bacterial infection and others. The report also showed that in 2017, some 2.5 million newborns died, mostly from preventable causes as almost two-thirds of babies who died were born premature. It also revealed that by 2030, in 81 countries, the lives of 2.9 million women, stillborns and newborns can be saved with smarter strategies. According to UNICEF Deputy Director, Omar Abdi, “millions of small and sick babies and women are dying every year because they do not receive the quality care that is their right and our collective responsibility.” The damning report has also drawn attention to the need for specialised care for premature babies in the country. It is also a timely warning to Nigeria and other affected developing countries to address the healthcare needs of infants and newborn babies. Therefore, the health of newborn babies should be prioritised by the government.
Sadly, the government has not made adequate provision for the healthcare needs of infants and newborn babies. It is yet to prioritise the healthcare of children between 0-5 years of age. It is regrettable that this has become the lot of children in many developing countries, including Nigeria. It is unfortunate that Nigeria has not implemented the African leaders Abuja Declaration which enjoined member nations of African Union (AU) to commit at least 15 per cent of their annual budgets to health sector. The nation’s health budget since that declaration has hovered around 5 per cent. This attitude towards health budgeting must change if government wants adequate healthcare for its citizens.
With a health budget of 5 per cent or below, no country can adequately take care of its premature babies and children under the age of five. Any country that neglects the healthcare of its babies is surely toying with its future. Therefore, any nation that wants to develop must put high premium on the health of its citizens, including the young ones. Since health is wealth, a healthy nation is therefore a wealthy nation. Government must prioritise primary healthcare as a way of prioritising the health of newborn babies. A well-coordinated primary health care system can effectively enhance the healthcare delivery system of the country. With adequate primary healthcare, special attention would be paid to healthcare needs of infants and their mothers. It will address the problem of premature babies.
We recall that primary health care was given priority attention during the 80s when the late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti was the Minister of Health. We can still do the same today if the present administration can muster the political will to do so. If the Federal Government can lead the way, we believe that the states and local governments will definitely follow. For Nigeria’s primary healthcare programme to be effective, the three tiers of government must work together to fund it. For adequate care of babies, there must be commensurate provision of resources in terms of well-trained personnel and well-equipped health facilities. Government should ensure universal health coverage for all citizens, including babies. Newborn babies and children under the age of five as well as their mothers should be given free healthcare services in government health facilities. We believe that this is the best ways to attend to the needs of premature babies in the country. For healthy newborn babies, countries should heed the advice of Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO Deputy Director General for Programmes, “for every mother and baby, a healthy start from pregnancy through childbirth and the first months after birth is essential.”