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‘Goalkeepers report is an opportunity to understand our progress toward global goals’

By Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze, Abuja
24 September 2022   |   2:47 am
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) on Monday, September 12, 2022, released the 6th Annual Goalkeepers Report that revealed how the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, wars

Zoungrana

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) on Monday, September 12, 2022, released the 6th Annual Goalkeepers Report that revealed how the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, wars in Ukraine and Yemen, and ongoing climate and food crises has stalled global efforts toward achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

BMGF Nigeria Country Director, Jeremie Zoungrana, in this interview NKECHI ONYEDIKA-UGOEZE in Abuja, warns that Nigeria is experiencing an unprecedented food crisis, which is fueled by the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

What is the 6th Annual Goalkeepers Report all about?

As you know, every year, the goalkeepers report sharing the latest statistics on key data indicators, ranging from poverty to maternal mortality to education.

This gives us the opportunity to understand our progress toward the global goal, where innovation and investment are creating bright spots and where we are collectively failing.

So, in summary, it is a report that reminds us that something is happening and we need to be aware of where we need to put focus in terms of tracking our global leader’s commitment to changing the trajectory of health and humanity after setting this ambitious, Sustainable Development Goals.

The report is really an opportunity for us to look back and see how the world is progressing with this commitment. This report gave an opportunity for our two Co-chairs to give their thoughts on two critical areas where Melinda French Gates talked about gender equality and Bill Gates talked about Climate Change and our way of thinking about world hunger. Of course, detail on another aspect, the other 17 SDGs data, has been explored and explained.

Talking about the SDGs, where exactly is Nigeria in this journey towards achieving the SDGs based on your report?
Before I even went to Nigeria, I have to say that the world has continued to struggle with economic growth and poverty reduction. An opportunity for reducing poverty in nations and regions that are most concentrated like Nigeria is hampered by global shock, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict, and economic crisis in food security. This also applies to the case of Nigeria and we know that COVID-19 caused the biggest step back in history.

It also puts gender equality out of reach and climate change is displacing millions of people, threatening food security we also know that the conflict in Ukraine has caused numerous crises in Europe, as well as the food crises in Africa, particularly in Nigeria.

So, if I want to go deeper into Nigeria, for example on food security, we know that Nigeria is experiencing an unprecedented food crisis and this is fueled by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and which has an impact on the prices of essential food. The escalating conflict in the country’s North Western region makes essential foods less accessible to vulnerable people in this area, so we also anticipate that according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), nearly 20 million vulnerable people in this country will be affected by the food crisis this year, should urgent intervention not made.

Maybe if I need to continue on the nutrition part, particularly in Nigeria again, we were aiming to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030, but the global estimate shows that about 23 per cent of children under five were stunted; the projection suggests that 21 per cent of children under five will be stunted. That means we are already seeing the impact of malnutrition on our children and this is correlated with the ability for further development and contribution to production.

I also have to mention maternal mortality; we know that even though we globally see the maternal mortality ratio decrease, we still have a lot of cases of maternal mortality in Nigeria, particularly in the northern side, where the maternal mortality ratio is almost among the highest in the world. Going back to gender equality, we know in Nigeria women constitute about 50 per cent of the population and the country continues to face a high degree of gender inequality according to the UN Women, the main barrier to gender equality in the country is gender-based violence, with one out of three women (aged between 15 and 49) having experienced some of the physical or sexual violence.

There is also low access to healthcare for women, with more than half of those infected with HIV being women. For example, low participation in women in political leadership, just to name a few, including difficult access to land for agriculture, access to digital, digital tool access to financial inclusion… there is a lot to mention about Nigeria.

SDGs goal number 5 talks about quality education and it appears education in Nigeria is being threatened by this increasing number of out-of-school children, kidnapping of school children is also another challenge that we are facing. Are these things not posing a serious challenge to the attainment of SDG goal number 5 in Nigeria?

Education is part of the pillars of what we call human capital development and this is even the pillar of any development because you need manpower and we need the full participation of every citizen, as well as equitable and quality primary and secondary education. So, that is relevant to effective learning outcomes.

School, as well as kidnapping, are really impacting negatively on children’s ability to have quality education. If you read the Goalkeepers Report, you will see that they’re even talking about learning poverty and measured the proportion of children who cannot read or understand the simple text by age 10, meaning that not being able to attend school properly is also contributing to learning poverty. Now you are asking me the hardest question what should the government do?

We know that out-of-school is linked to culture and behavior and many efforts are being made in that area to sensitise and involve communities for them to see the need and the importance of education. This is one area that needs to be addressed because when you compare regions in Nigeria, you will see that it is where social determinants have a high impact. The schooling level also is very low and we need to do a lot of work in that area.

We can also link insecurity to what we already mentioned. You know the conflict, food crises climate change and unemployment are all part of what is fueling insecurity and by contributing to solving the problems of the food crisis, insecurity, and unemployment, we expect that will also contribute to reducing the kidnapping and the feeling of insecurity, and people will safely be able to learn and catch up with whatever they need for the development.

The 2022 Goalkeepers Report called on world leaders to fulfil their commitments to the poor. What can the Nigerian government do in order to ensure that the SDGs are achieved?
I think we have a lot of strategies in place that call for support and we want to commend the Government of Nigeria for already fulfilling its commitment in a different area, like the vaccine contribution part, the family planning.

Also, the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund (BHCPF) is another channel where 1 per cent of the total collected revenue is assigned to support health in Nigeria. Nevertheless, we all know that Nigeria’s contribution to health is still low compared to the Abuja declaration that recommends 15 per cent of the consolidated revenue. I think we are still below the 15 per cent. This is an area that we need to see improvement in because domestic resources are key to supporting the primary healthcare revitalisation where we need more human resources, more infrastructure, ensure the availability of commodities, quality of care and mechanism to prevent and prepare for the next pandemic.

So, we are seeing a lot of leadership, but leaders need to be translated into action, novel actionable interventions to support really the health sector that is underfunded.

The report talked about deploying innovations to address the food crisis, what innovation do you think Nigeria can deploy in order to address the food crisis in the country?
I think we know that climate change has a big impact and is one of the biggest threats to food production. Currently, Gates Foundation is supporting a lot of innovations that will help to better predict the impact of climate change in Africa.

One example is the agricultural adaptation Atlas, a new tool that will enable to the prediction of the impact of climate change in Africa. For example, before deciding on what kind of seed to use and we are having the possibility to predict right, I am sure that can help.

Another tool that has been developed through research and development is to support increased productivity and innovation and seed breeding to produce new climate-smart seeds and varieties of crops that are more resistant to a hotter and drier climate.

Training farmers also is another opportunity for them to have better learning of, you know, understanding the agriculture process and be able to read also the market, as well understand the dynamics of agriculture.

What are the implications of not meeting the SDGs? 
Of course, I will say the implication depends on how we say it first. Having the SDGs is a good thing because it will help us track progress. Monitoring these progresses is very important, but not achieving them also can be a concern, because every single goal is a sign of well being of the world. So, when you are not reaching a goal, It means you are not fulfilling what you define being the well-being of the world.

So, even though we had some setbacks because of crisis, COVID-19, conflict, etc, we still believe that past progress, particularly the progress made on HIV, AIDS, and malaria is giving us hope for the future. But also it is calling us for more action to ensure that we really meet our target.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the weaknesses of the global health systems. Do you think that the Nigerian government has learnt any lesson from the outbreak and is the government doing anything serious to prepare for the next pandemic?
Based on what we saw over the past two to three years we had COVID-19 and the way it has been managed in Nigeria, including other challenges like polio, Nigeria has been able to manage this pandemic successfully. If you see how things have been, of course, it’s not fully what we are expecting, but the lessons have been learned. We used first the Wild Polio Virus eradication experience to manage COVID-19 and then we used the COVID-19 experience to respond to another pandemic that was coming in Nigeria.

We can also say that there is a COVID-19 preparedness committee in place led by a different agency. This is an ongoing work, the preparedness for the next pandemic is ongoing and we are seeing some signs of that we hope if we continue that way, probably, we will be able to absorb the next shock, that’s if the preparedness is maintained.

What are the plans of the BMGF for Nigeria in the next couple of years?
We know that primary healthcare is the backbone of a formidable health system and it is the key important area where we have more than 75 per cent of the population going there. I would say the pathway to supporting health is through the primary healthcare that needs to be supported.

We, in our strategy, want to ensure that we support both at the federal, state and LGA levels to have strong primary healthcare that can support service delivery, where we have adequate staffing, and skilled attendants, where we have enough commodity through clear monitorable supply chain system, but also a system where the client can afford because we still have a high out of pocket payment in Nigeria, more than 75-80 per cent and this is very difficult for a most vulnerable population.

We also want to ensure that we develop partnerships with states, and LGAs for ownership, because sustainable primary healthcare is what will advance primary healthcare and not depend exclusively or deeply on external support. So, building on the sustainability plan, but also taking into consideration the supply and the demand side where we need to work on community, a social, social, cultural determinant to facilitate access to these services. I think these are key priority areas to support Nigeria to advance. Of course, we will continue to support immunization, and the fight against polio and malaria, through our different platforms.