A public health physician at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, United States, Dr. Terrance Baker, has insisted that Nigeria’s health issues will not be resolved by building hospitals alone.
According to him, poverty must be addressed if Nigeria is ready to tackle its health challenges, as it is closely linked to poor health outcomes.
Speaking exclusively with PUNCH Healthwise, Baker insisted that poverty is a major factor that determines the future of Nigeria.
While maintaining that poverty affects health, the U.S.-based physician urged the Nigerian government to deal with poverty and the inequality between those who have and those who do not.
He said, “Poverty affects health. More than anything else, you can build all the hospitals you want, and the President could come up with money and build 300 new hospitals at a time but will that solve your problem? No, because poor people can’t afford to come to the hospital.
“So, social determinants are often linked together. For example, education, and lack of employment all lead to increased chances of poverty. Social determinants have been shown to have a greater influence than any other factor.
“As a social determinant, poverty is highly connected with poor health outcomes and a greater risk of premature death. There are areas in Nigeria that literally have little or no education and the transportation system is such that education is limited.”
On the role of education in making the right health decisions, Baker added, “Education is a key to moving out of poverty. The lack of education causes poverty. Education relieves and reduces the chances of poverty. And so, education can lead to better health decisions and better health knowledge.
“Education leads to better lifestyle choices. Education improves literacy and results in the development of what is called ‘active health habits’ which help to improve cognitive ability. It also improves your ability to deal with stress.
“A person living in poverty and experiencing stress is more likely to commit suicide, is depressed, anxious, and can act irrationally. Whereas, an educated person can think through the stress.
“Education trains the brain to handle adversity and challenges. It improves mental health. Patients who are educated have less depression, think less of committing suicide and are less stressed. Generally, they are more successful.”
While lamenting that there is a disparity in the level of access to healthcare in Nigeria, the public health physician said the Nigerian government must tackle inequities and inequality in healthcare access, and provide universal health coverage for all.
He further said, “Nigeria has to do better in terms of water and sanitation. You know how much disease is being caused in Nigeria right now, just because you don’t have a glass of clean water. It shouldn’t be that way.
“If you are going to lead the world; if Nigeria is going to lead the world, water has to be provided for people. People die needlessly due to avoidable sanitation problems.
“Housing is another major problem. How many people in Nigeria are homeless tonight? Even here in Lagos, drive around the streets, you will see homeless people everywhere. How long is Nigeria as a nation going to allow its people not to have the minimum, which is shelter? Can you ever move out of poverty without shelter.