The interim Chairman of the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 And Beyond, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), says poverty kills faster than COVID-19.
He, therefore, stated that while the government goes ahead to purchase vaccines to tackle the disease, it must invest in initiatives that will alleviate poverty and curb the spread of other diseases.
The senior advocate said this at a webinar on Wednesday titled, ‘Citizens’ Response to COVID-19 Second Wave and the State of the Health Sector in Nigeria’.
“There is a medical emergency, but for the majority it is not COVID-19. For many years now, the poor majority have been suffering a major health disaster. In 2018 the World Health Organisation estimated that there were perhaps 20,000 deaths each week in Nigeria which could have been avoided if the necessary medical care had been provided.
“This compares to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic which has reached less that 50 deaths a week,” Falana said.
The ASCAB chairman explained that the reason for the huge investments in the COVID-19 response was that the disease was also affecting the rich.
He noted that the diseases that mainly affected the poor hardly ever received enough funding.
“The rich and powerful are not able to buy their way out of the dangers of COVID-19, so they inflict lockdowns on the majority to protect themselves, but they will not adequately fund public health.
“As a result, health workers and doctors see the pain and suffering resulting from inadequate funding and suffer particular risks from COVID-19 – 20 doctors died in one week – as they are not provided with adequate personal protective equipment,” said Falana.
The ASCAB chairman noted that the 2021 federal budget for health was just N547bn which was only 4.2 per cent of the entire budget.
He said this was a far cry from the 15 per cent which Nigeria had pledged to during the signing of the 2001 Abuja Accord.
Falana noted that diseases like tuberculosis, diarrhea, malaria and other diseases affected mainly the poor hence the lack of investment in prevention and treatment.
“Poor people in Nigeria account for about a quarter of all deaths from malaria globally. These deaths would be greatly reduced if more people slept under mosquito nets, took malaria tests when they thought they had malaria and were then treated promptly. Poor people cannot afford to do this, but the rich can, so they are hardly affected by malaria.
“It is estimated that deaths from tuberculosis could be reduced by 90 per cent by 2030 by increasing detection rates, strengthening primary health care provision and treating many more patients. This would cost the government around N80bn year or perhaps five per cent of its annual budget. So again tuberculosis is a disease of the poor that the rich are not bothered about,” he said.