With an estimated population of about 18 million older persons in the country, experts say Nigeria’s aging population increased from 4.5% in 1991 to about 10% in 2018. It is important for older persons to access quality healthcare and social services, however they have been facing challenges till date .
According to a Geriatric Public Health expert and National Project Co-ordinator of the Healthcare Package for Improving Quality of care for the Aging Population in Nigeria (HEPIQ-C) Project, Dr Saidu Ahmed Dumbulwa , interventions in the health sector in the country have been mainly focused on women and children.
He said the need to address the health challenges of senior citizens in the country led to the launch of the Healthcare for the Aged” Project of the Federal Ministry of Health.
“It’s a kind of interventional project of the present government to alleviate the sufferings of older persons. We have neglected the aging population, and more so now that the aging population is increasing. The government is working hard to strengthen the health system, and when the health system is strengthened, we expect increase in life expectancy, and when life expectancy increases, then we will have more elderly people,” he said.
The programme is working towards establishing six geriatric centres in tertiary hospitals across the six geo-political zones of the country. The project is expected to provide quality geriatric care through the centres and also address the problem of lack of affordable health insurance for them.
Till date most older persons and their families access healthcare through out of pocket expenses. The four year project is planned under four thematic areas.
The Clinical care component includes establishment of geriatric centres at regional level that would be fully funded to train health professionals and build manpower .
Findings revealed that in the first phase, one geriatric centre each will be established in the Southern and Northern part of the country .
In the second phase one geriatric centre will be established in each geo-political zone, there will be provision of affordable health insurance to the older persons to ensure Universal health coverage as well as delivery of an integrated package of healthcare for the elderly at primary health care centres.
The second component involves training of healthcare workforce while the third focuses on Research and Development on Healthy Aging; The research will cut across all sectors of aging, ranging from neuroscience to social support with an intent to be re-appraising development and challenges of healthy aging in Nigeria.
The last component is on Health-social support: and focuses on community-based support and home-based care, provision of elderly kits to the vulnerable aged, nutrition and vaccination, and use of technology to improve health services of the aged.
Dr Saidu said the project actually came following the presidential directive that coincided with the United Nations declaration that every member state should come up with a project to address the heath care needs of the elderly in their respective countries. Before then in 2017, during the revitalisation of the health care centre in Kuchingoro, President Muhammadu Buhari made a commitment to improve quality of care for the vulnerable population, including the elderly.
He said: “The concept of HEPIQ-C is a health care package for improving the health care of Aging population in Nigeria. It is a paradigm shift from the traditional thought of care of the elderly to a specialised global trend and it is a results-based, healthcare oriented approach to improve the care of the Nigerian older persons,”
Dr Saidu said in 2017 after the lunch of the initiative, experts conducted an assessment and found that Nigeria’s healthcare workforce on aging were grossly inadequate. “There are doctors and nurses, but they don’t have that specialty of geriatrics in the country,” he said.
On the geriatric centres he said, “We have started facility assessment to know the teaching hospitals with capacity to handle geriatric care because you cannot establish a geriatrics s centre independently. It has to be within a tertiary hospital where all specialties are available.”
The project has signed Memorandum of Understanding with foreign universities for scholarships on training of Nigerian healthcare workforce on geriatrics.
He said it is also factoring a process where the elderly will access care under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) at the centres.
“The geriatric centre at the Teaching hospital in Ibadan has over 10,000 enrollees under NHIS. The package is for geriatric care for anyone over 60 years. We are trying to adopt the Ibadan model across the country,” he said.
He said that the president has also approved the establishment of a National Senior Citizens Centre, adding that the aim if the HEPIQ-C Project is to strengthen the program in the ministry and thereafter, the National Senior Citizens Centre takes it up.
The president also approved the allocation of one per cent of consolidated revenue to the health sector through the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund to provide care for the vulnerable population.
The essence is for the money to go down to state level and be used for the vulnerable population, That includes providing health insurance for people who are over 60 years.
“Experts in a communiqué after a summit organsied by the Ministry of Health and the Forum of Chairmen of the Teaching Hospitals, last year proposed that anybody who is over 60 years, should continue with NHIS, because he has contributed overtime while he was in service. Also, anyone who is over 70 years of age should benefit from the Basic Health Care Provision Fund, through the NHIS at the state level,” he said.