Nigeria proposes steep basic healthcare budget cuts despite coronavirus

ABUJA, June 5 (Reuters) - Nigeria is proposing slashing its basic healthcare funding by almost half as government finances in Africa’s biggest economy take a hit from the novel coronavirus pandemic and low oil prices, according to the latest budget proposal documents.

The planned healthcare cuts come as Nigeria’s coronavirus outbreak steadily worsens, and are part of a 2020 budget revision carried out because of the pandemic. The government in Africa’s top oil exporter is dependent on crude sales for much of its funding.

The government proposes cutting its basic healthcare funding by 43% from its original 2020 budget to 25.6 billion naira ($71 million), according to the budget proposal, now with parliament before final presidential approval.

Annually, basic healthcare has received at least 1% of Nigeria’s consolidated revenues fund, which makes up part of the pool for the yearly budget and has been hit by lower oil revenues.

A spokesman for the finance ministry, which handles the budget, said basic healthcare “has improved and increased with the interventions” to fight coronavirus, but did not provide details.

The health ministry and chair of the upper house of parliament’s budget committee did not respond to requests for comment. Presidency spokesmen declined to comment.

Nigeria, with more than 11,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 300 deaths, has earmarked 500 billion naira ($1.39 billion) to tackle the outbreak. But reduced funding for basic healthcare threatens to undermine an already hollowed-out medical system.

“It is only by strengthening basic routine services that countries have resilience to cope in crisis ... our primary healthcare is already weak,” said Toyin Saraki, founder of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, a health-focused organisation. ($1 = 361.0000 naira) (Reporting by Paul Carsten and Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Additional reporting by Felix Onuah; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Ed Osmond)