The Nigerian Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT) Ltd. has unveiled its groundbreaking virtual health platform, NIGCOMHEALTH in Abuja, with the Federal Government expressing confidence that it will bring about a transformative impact on Nigeria’s healthcare sector.
At the official launch of the platform, developed by Canadian digital healthcare company Ethnomet with support from Sawtrax, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami highlighted the alignment of the telehealth service platform with the government’s vision for digital transformation and economic growth.
Every year, the Federal Government of Nigeria spends between US$1.2 billion and US$1.6 billion on outbound medical tourism, as more affluent Nigerians seek better healthcare services abroad. The NigComHealth programme aims to drastically reduce this practice by providing easy access to top-notch medical practitioners through its digital platform, making first-class healthcare available to all Nigerians.
According to data from the Nigeria Health Facility Registry (NHFR), the country currently has a total of 39,914 operational hospitals and clinics, encompassing both private and public healthcare facilities at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Moreover, 70% of Nigerians reside in rural areas, where primary healthcare centres serve as the closest medical facilities, as highlighted by the executive director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib.
During the 2022 National Executive Council (NEC) of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) in Gombe, its president, Dr. Uche Ojinmah and secretary-general, Dr. Jide Onyekwelu revealed that the doctor-patient ratio in the country has worsened, with each physician attending to more than 5,000 patients. This is in stark contrast to the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of one doctor per 600 patients. To meet this target and adequately cater to Nigeria’s population of 218 million people, the country would require at least 363,000 additional doctors.
Represented by his chief of staff, Prof. Sahalu Junaidu, Pantami emphasised that the NigComHealth platform will empower Nigeria and its citizens to harness the benefits of technology and gain access to a wider range of doctors and medical experts, ensuring that every Nigerian can receive the care they need, precisely when they need it.
“We are bridging the gap in healthcare access and promoting health equity across the country through NigComHealth,” he added.
The Canadian High Commissioner, Mr. James Christoff praised the NigComSat virtual hospital as a digital innovation and a potential game-changer in improving health outcomes, particularly in underserved and remote areas. He commended the Federal Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy and the Federal Ministry of Health for its visionary approach and unwavering commitment to promoting technology and health innovation in Nigeria.
During her virtual address, the chief executive officer of Ethnomet, Ms. Garnette Weber emphasised that Nigeria, like other nations, faces a critical shortage of healthcare professionals. She noted that similar to her home province in Canada, Nigeria has a significant percentage of the population residing in rural areas with limited access to healthcare facilities. However, through innovative technologies, NIGCOMHEALTH aims to provide quality and accessible healthcare services to Nigerians across all regions.
“The platform, designed to host multiple healthcare centres and millions of healthcare service providers, can be accessed through the NigComHealth App. Patients can use their mobile phones to search for healthcare professionals with the appropriate expertise, schedule appointments, and attend virtual consultations, all from the comfort of their homes,” she added.
The managing director of NIGCOMSAT, Engr. Tukur Lawal alluded that the health platform, which boasts world-class professionals, will reduce medical tourism. This tourism costs the nation over US$1.6 billion, lost to capital flight annually.
According to him, it will also provide Nigerians in remote rural areas access to the best medical care, saving them the expensive journey of traveling to the city for medical attention.
In his goodwill message, the director-general of the National Health Insurance Agency, Prof. Mohammed Sambo lauded NIGCOMSAT for the virtual hospital initiative, adding that the organisation has always been at the forefront of building a robust infrastructure to develop healthcare in the country. He urged the organisation to work in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health for the seamless implementation of the project.
Speaking on behalf of all the chief executives, parastatals and agencies under the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, the director-general of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Mallam Kashifu Abdullahi opined that providing health services is one of the government’s most important services to the citizens.
“So, launching this application means democratizing healthcare services to our citizens. One of the sectors or areas where we are facing significant challenges in the country is the rural communities. Access to qualified doctors is not easy and, even in the city, it is wrong to have a wrong diagnosis. But with this kind of platform, it will be easier to have access to good healthcare and consultants who can provide accurate prescriptions.
“So, I congratulate NIGCOMSAT on behalf of all the MDs under the ministry for this remarkable milestone, and at the ministry, we are all here to support you to ensure your success in this journey,” he added.