By Yunus S Saliu
The Ministry of Health in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, Friday, 17th February 2023 validated the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) health benefits package (HBP), the validation forum was held at the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara Conference Center, Bijilo.
The validation was witnessed by different stakeholders including Dr. Desta Tiruneh, WR of WHO, technical experts, World Bank officials, senior health officials, and National Health Insurance among others.
The National Health Insurance Service health benefits package is described to be a prioritized set of interventions drawn from the national Essential Health Care Package (EHCP). Over the last three months, a series of stakeholder engagements and workshops convened to review the national EHCP, which has been the basis of the NHIS HPB.
During the two-day validation of the NHIS HPB which include consensus building and sustainable ownership different topics were touched on this including the objective, summary of the roadmap, presentation of draft NHIS HBP, Needs and capacity assessment survey, consensus building and sustainable ownership; and on the validation for consensus building and sustainable ownership there was a presentation of the draft NHIS HBP in English, Mandinka and Wollof languages.
Speaking at the validation ceremony, Dr. Lumbwe Chola, the consultant, commended The Gambia for embarking on the process though saying it is a very difficult long road, as “providing health care is not easy for a population hence there are so many difficult needs to cater.”
He noted that no country in the world has the resources to provide all the care that is needed “so we have to make very tough choices about what to provide and who to provide care for and this is commendable that the government of the Gambia has embarked on this process. It is a very good start we have made headway in developing the benefits package in the insurance.”
Dr. Melvin George, the board chair of the National Health Insurance Authority, thanked all the stakeholders involved in the development and presentation of the NHIS HPB, saying it has given him a lot of encouragement for people to come and work together for the benefit of all.
He noted that it might not be easy as it is going to be a matter of choices, “a reason you are here today to help the process to validate those choices, help the process of making it easy for the politicians, decision-makers to be able to come up with something that we want to happen.”
In making those choices he noted some important points to put into consideration which include dialogue, and transparency to get what they need for the services and not what they want while noting that there should be sensitization within the health sector.
Talking about food for thought and for the package to work, he said it calls for “efficiency, prioritization, quality, the personnel, technology, the environment facilities too is important they have to be cleaned for the quality to take place while the package should be data-driven and the Ministry of Health has to be alive and also the availability of finances to make the system work. And now the package is available there is a need for communication at the community levels and make it go wider.”
Dr. Desta Tiruneh, WR of WHO expressed delight about the progress the Gambia and Ministry of Health made on the NHIS HBP.
He said the exercise is meant to reach all people as much as possible irrespective of their background, rich or poor to have access to health services without any financial hardship, which is the cornerstone of it.
He alluded to other speakers saying “we don’t have resources and no country in the world is having enough resources to carry on all services.”
Dr. Desta as well talked about choices and prioritization by taking into account those services that are needed by the majority of the people and are the first to be prioritized.
He, therefore, encouraged the Ministry to reach more people as they are having more services to offer.
Muhammed lamin Jaiteh, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health speaking on behalf of the Minister of Health, Dr. M L Sammateh, reflected on the start of the development of the HBP as the health insurance has to go with undertaken difficult choices and decisions “to be able to make concrete and consent decision with clear cut information and direction to make those choices.”
The health benefits package is been done with the objectives of prioritizing a set-up intervention that will pave way for the attainment of those concrete decisions “and this forum is another milestone in witnessing the validation of the outcomes of a three months long exercise through the oversight committee.”
He expressed the Ministry of Health’s gratitude to the partners for their guidance and given their input to the process, “we are very much appreciative of your efforts and grateful for everything you have been doing. More so, we are very much sure and convinced that together we will reach the ultimate end of our journey which is tedious but moving consistently while coming stronger by the day.”
The package development has gone through a series of consultations with the aim and objective of providing analytical information and estimate from the point of view of clinical, economic, ethical, and financial impacts, that can help the Ministry to come up with strong priority intervention that can help the government to decide on different choices that has to be made.