PreventEpidemicsNaija: Advocacy for Domestic Resource Mobilization to Strengthen Nigeria’s Health Security

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When the #PreventEpidemicsNaija campaign launched in 2018, it was compared to the story of the boy who cried wolf. Why should the country devote resources to preparing for an outbreak that may never happen? Today, the project has helped increase awareness and funding – among policy makers and the public – for epidemic preparedness at national and subnational levels.

In October 2018, four years after the first case of Ebola virus disease (EVD) was reported in Nigeria, Health Surveillance in Nigeria, supported by the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI), launched the #PreventEpidemicsNaija project. The overall objective of the project was to increase public awareness and support for epidemic preparedness and response (EPR), as well as to advocate for increased funding to boost the efforts of the national institute Public Health, Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) .

At the time, the Ebola outbreak was no longer the primary concern of many Nigerians, which is why the initial campaign efforts were likened to the story of the boy who cried wolf. There was also the argument that Nigeria had many pressing health needs that needed urgent attention, so why should the country devote resources to preparing for an outbreak that might never happen? Well, the Ebola outbreak has left a clear message that the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced, which is the vital need to build a strong health system that bolsters surveillance efforts and the country’s ability to detect. , respond to and control future outbreaks. This is essential to prevent and minimize the health and socio-economic consequences of an infectious disease outbreak. For these systems to be put in place, strong political will is required, and it is essential that government at all levels make the necessary financial investments to develop national and sub-national capacity for disaster preparedness and response efforts. health emergencies.

First campaign activities

The project aimed to engage with policy makers on the need to prioritize epidemic preparedness; build the capacity of government, civil society and the media to advocate for funding for epidemic preparedness, advocating for investments in epidemic preparedness and tracking budget allocation and expenditure, to inform advocacy.

The campaign was signaled through vox pops, media engagement, forums and policy dialogues. Notably, during the Policy Dialogue on the “Cost of Epidemics” in May 2019, participants shared strategies on how Nigeria could prepare for infectious disease outbreaks, budget for outbreak prevention, and pool local resources. for the prevention of epidemics. It was agreed that achieving sustainable funding for epidemic prevention would require the inclusion of an epidemic prevention line item in national and state budgets.

Additionally, in February 2020, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases, and Senator Ibrahim Oloreigbe, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, discussed the role of the legislature in the funding for epidemic preparedness during a breakfast on the theme, ‘Legislating on epidemics’.

The #PreventEpidemicsNaija Consortium

These activities contributed to achieving the project objectives of increasing awareness and funding for epidemic preparedness and implementation of the National Action Plan on Health Security (NAPHS) in Nigeria, but it is quickly became imperative to take #PreventEpidemicsNaija advocacy to the sub-national level. Therefore, in 2020, the campaign expanded as Nigeria Health Watch, Legislative Institute for Sustainable Development (LISDEL) and BudgIT were part of a GHAI-led consortium to scale up budget advocacy for preparedness. to epidemics at the federal and state level. It was particularly important to expand the campaign to the states, as despite Nigeria’s history of infectious disease outbreaks, there were gaps in outbreak preparedness and response capacities at the sub-national level.

Speaking on the need for a consortium, Dr Gafar Alawode, Project Manager, LISDEL, said: “The main problem this project was trying to address was the sub-optimal public investments in health security and the limited responsiveness government in terms of putting in place the necessary legal, institutional and policy framework to address health security issues at national and sub-national levels”.

Also Read: What Nigeria Needs to Achieve Health Security; experts

LISDEL and Nigeria Health Watch have also worked with the Health Sector Reform Coalition (HSRC), the Legislative Network for Universal Health Coverage and other organizations to create public demand for epidemic preparedness.

Media advocacy

The consortium garnered media attention and leveraged the voices of highly valued faith and community leaders at media events, as well as multimedia platforms to raise awareness and support the campaign.

The media is an important stakeholder in the Prevent Epidemics program and so it was important to equip journalists who report on health and those interested in reporting on health with the professional and technical knowledge to accurately report on preparing for epidemics. To achieve this, Nigeria Health Watch organized a series of journalism workshops with journalists from across the country. As a result, reporting on epidemic preparedness in Nigeria has become quite widespread. Since 2020, the #PreventEpidemicsNaija Journalism Awards (PEJA) have recognized and rewarded outstanding reporting on epidemic preparedness in Nigeria.

Between 2018 and 2020, online engagement has increased significantly, with the campaign hashtag #PreventEpidemicsNaija a prominent hashtag in social media conversations regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.

Responsibility and sustainability

LISDEL worked with BudgIT and other civil society organizations, including the Health Sector Reform Coalition (HSRC), to develop a health security financing accountability framework. This approach can be used to track federal, state, and local government budget allocations, expenditures, and results, as well as to identify spending constraints and to inform advocacy. Campaign partners are working with policymakers to disaggregate spending data, as needed to track publications at the federal level and in Kano and Lagos states.

According to Iniobong Usen, Head of Research and Policy Advice, BudgIT, “One thing the project has allowed us to do is look at what is the allocation of resources to epidemic preparedness and response through of the budget, and to try to ensure accountability through monitoring of the budget and the projects implemented to which these allocated amounts in the budget were trying to respond.

Subnational advocacy: the example of Kano State

In Kano State, LISDEL collaborated with BudgIT to create the Kano State Health Security Advocacy Team (KSHSAT). LISDEL and GHAI have built relationships with epidemic preparedness champions in politics and the media to demonstrate the value of investing in health security. This engagement built trust, which led to inviting LISDEL and KSHSAT members to participate in government-led budget review and planning sessions, as well as meetings to assess readiness. of State.

In addition, LISDEL, GHAI and KSHSAT worked with the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs of Kano State on budget advocacy efforts that aimed to get each of the 44 Local Government Areas (LGAs) to allocate funds for epidemic preparedness and response in their budgets. . The project has registered successes, as a line item of 300 million naira has been created in the budget for epidemic preparedness, as well as an additional allocation of 2 million naira per LGA.

Prioritize epidemic preparedness

“The COVID-19 pandemic has given us added momentum that the work we do in advocacy for epidemic preparedness is extremely important, more so, prioritizing Nigeria’s health security must be at the center of the concerns of the decision makers, especially as we are in an election year,” said Vivianne Ihekweazu, Chief Executive, Nigeria Health Watch.

Clearly, adequate funding, political will, partnerships and increased collaboration will improve Nigeria’s ability to prepare for and respond to infectious disease outbreaks and strengthen the country’s health security. The #PreventEpidemicsNaija coalition will continue to advocate for increased funding for Nigeria’s health security at federal and state levels; transparency; responsibility; and sustained government investments in epidemic preparedness must be a priority. As Senator Utazi said at the Breakfast Meeting on Epidemic Legislation, “It is in peacetime that you prepare for war… We all have to do epidemic preparedness a culture in Nigeria”.

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