In north-west Nigeria, free health insurance scheme boosts access to health services for a community

In Sokoto State, north-west Nigeria, a free health insurance scheme for vulnerable groups funded by the UN Sustainable Development Programme (SDG) Joint Fund, is making health services available to families.

Samuel Kaalu, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Nigeria
A woman and her baby
09 November 2021

Sokoto, 9 November 2021 - When 35-year-old Rubabatu Lauwali, mother of four, lost her teaching job, her loss of income meant she couldn’t afford basic things in life, including paying for healthcare services for herself and her children.

But all that has now changed. Lauwali recently became a beneficiary of an insurance scheme for vulnerable families funded by the UN Sustainable Development Programme (SDG) Joint Fund. The programme is being implemented in Sokoto State, north-west Nigeria, as a pilot.

A total of 5,500 people will eventually benefit from the health insurance scheme. Out of this number, 5,344 have so far been enrolled in the programme.

A group of people
“I will advocate to the Sokoto State Government for the replication of the free health insurance scheme to all the LGAs in Sokoto State,” said Hammatu Yusuf, Special Adviser to Sokoto State Governor on the State’s Health Contributory Insurance Agency

“When I first learned about the scheme, I wasn’t enthusiastic about coming forward to enroll because I didn’t believe it was going to be real. But now that I have my enrolment slip in my hands, I’m convinced and feel happy to be taking part,” said Lauwali.

“I’ve been told that I can visit the clinic anytime I’m sick and present this card and I’ll be treated without having to pay anything,” said Lauwali, waving her health insurance card.

Amina Hassan, 30, a mother of six children, also expressed relief and joy that she and her children have been enrolled in the free health insurance scheme and can now benefit from health services without paying for them.

“Before, it was difficult for me and my children to access medical services because of our family’s lean finances. My father had to come in at one time to help off-set a medical expense of 15,000 Naira. Being enrolled in this scheme is a big a relief for all of us,” said Hassan.

Mallam Abubakar Mualledi, the Village Head of Gumbi, was present when 270 women, children, elderly, and people with disabilities from four local communities received their health insurance cards at the Gumbi Primary Healthcare Centre. He said the people of the village are now happy they can have unhindered access to health services.

“In this village, some people can’t afford to go to the hospital when sick because they have no money. When we had a cholera outbreak, we needed medical help and got some, but it wasn’t enough because many of our people didn’t have money to pay their health bills. We are relieved that help has now come,” said Farouk A. Gumbi, 31, a spokesperson for the Village Head of Gumbi.

A young man
We are happy our community members now have access to health services they couldn’t afford before, said Farouk Abubakar Gumbi, 31, spokesperson of the Village Head of Gumbi.

“My advice to families is that they should keep their insurance cards very well and turn up at the clinic with them anytime they are sick. With free health services guaranteed under this scheme, they have no excuse anymore not to go to the hospital when sick,” said Farouk.

Hammatu Yusuf, Special Adviser to the Sokoto State Governor on the State’s Health Contributory Insurance Agency, expressed appreciation for the free health insurance scheme now available to local families,  saying she would advocate to the Sokoto State Government to replicate the scheme in all LGAs of the State.

“We will also work with community and traditional leaders, and the media, to raise awareness with communities about the importance of taking advantage of all the services provided under this scheme,” said Yusuf.

A group of woman
Women in Gumbi among 270 people enrolled in the free health insurance scheme receive their insurance cards at a ceremony at the Gumbi PHC in Wamakko LGA of Sokoto State.

Isah Ibrahim, Social Policy Specialist at the UNICEF Sokoto Field Office, who represented the UN at the distribution of the health insurance cards in Gumbi, also stressed the importance of community members taking advantage of the benefits of being enrolled in the scheme and going to the hospital with evidence of their enrollment to access services.

Funds for the scheme are provided by the Joint SDG Fund, which is helping support four UN agencies - United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Food Programme (WFP), International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF – to carry out the project.

The two-year UN joint programme, which started in January 2020,  aims to strengthen social protection at the federal level in Nigeria, and to contribute to expanding cash transfer and universal health insurance schemes to improve social protection in Sokoto State, especially among vulnerable groups.