IWD: Women in PAS worry over the impact of COVID-19 on essential health services

As the world celebrates the International Women’s Day, Women In PAS, a coalition of women professional and faith-based association working as subs grantees under the PACFaH@Scale, have expressed concern over the disruption of essential health services as a result of COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.

In a press conference to mark the 2021 IWD, the coalition led by the National President of Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria, and the Project Director, MWAN-PAS, Dr Minnie Oseji, said the disruption is causing serious impact on family and child health in the country. She cited Routine Immunization, access to family planning services and other essential services as suffering due to multiple challenges, thereby making women and children to suffer

The coalition disclosed that not only was routine immunization affected during the pandemic as Primary Health Care Centres all over the country are unable to provide full immunization services, but women have been finding it harder to access to family planning services and trainings scheduled by so many state governments for CHEWS on new treatment protocols for childhood killer diseases have been put on hold due to Covid-19.

“There is no doubt that there has been a disruption of Essential Health Services throughout Nigeria as a result of Covid-19.  As women leaders, however, we must address the numerous challenges and hardships faced by the women of this country on a daily basis.’’ They spoke.

While commending the Nigerian Government for developing the National Action plan for Health Security (2018-2022) that seeks to protect Essential Health Services such as RMNCH and incorporates these routine services into emergency health responses for Covid-19, the coalition described the need for adequate funding and releases as desirable and necessary.

‘’ While we appreciate government’s foresight for developing this Plan, as CSO leaders of the PACFaH@Scale project, we have done the research and know the reality on the ground is one where adequate funding is not made available for Essential Health Services. We also know that even when funding is allocated, it seldom released in a timely manner. Moreover, while there are clear and dedicated budget lines for Covid-19 related expenditure, budget lines for Essential Health Services such as Routine Immunization are not separated. Rather funds for routine services are merged together in bundled up and opaque lines labelled in some states as “counterpart funds”. ‘’ The coalition said

The coalition then raised concern over poor reproductive health funding which they said has led to failure of the nation to record any meaningful change in family and child health due not only to poor funding but poor releases of the meagre funding allocated.

‘‘Since 2020 we have been asking, and please bear with us as we ask again today – where is the 75% cut to the 2019 family planning budget, which was reallocated in the 2021 budget and why has it not been released? Why are these funds still stuck in the Service Wide Vote?  Should the Service Wide Vote not serve the needs of the women of the nation? Since the Nigeria National Strategic plan 11 prioritizes reproductive health as a primary and strategies component of Essential Health Services, is it not essential and strategic to fund the family planning needs of the women of Nigeria?’’

They also commended the foresight in this year’s theme – Choose to Challenge- as timely and relevant for all the women of Nigeria. Over the past 4 years, they said, we have been working together as women leaders in the PACFaH@Scale project to pose challenging questions to our public officials to keep the promise of giving adequate and priority attention to Essential Health Services while also addressing the Covid-19 emergency.

‘’In this regard, we will like to conclude by quoting the very important words of the Honourable Minister of Health when he observed in the Press Statement of July 2nd 2020 that: “The healthcare sector cannot afford negative impact and must be mindful of the collateral damage that can befall us, wipe out disease control gains we have made in past decades and threaten our not so strong health system. We must therefore take steps to ensure that we sustain routine health services to our people.”