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The Influence of Scientific Evidence in Shaping Public Policies in Nigeria

Evidence-Informed Policy-Making (EIP), or Evidence-based practice, refers to the systematic approach of incorporating research evidence into policy-making. One of its key aspects involves accessing and evaluating evidence in a systematic and transparent manner to inform policy decisions. In simpler terms, scientific advice is increasingly playing a crucial role in shaping policies and guiding decision-making processes.

The global economic landscape is currently undergoing rapid changes, with globalization creating both significant opportunities and challenges. The impact of globalization on national economies is driven by notable advancements in science and technology. These advancements can be seen in various fields such as biotechnology, space research, energy development, and information and communication technologies (ICT), among others.

In Nigeria, the linkages between research and policy have generally been perceived as weak. Several factors contribute to the limited utilization of research by Nigerian policymakers. These factors range from the lack of high-quality research and unreliable research institutions to a clear disconnect between researchers and policymakers. Insufficient interaction between policymakers and researchers leads to minimal discussion of available research findings, their relevance to policy issues, and the identification of other areas in need of research attention. Additionally, there is a lack of initiatives in Nigeria that promote evidence-informed policy-making, such as meetings between researchers, policymakers, and society. While some innovative attempts have been made to connect researchers and policymakers, these efforts have primarily involved organizing one-day evidence-to-policy workshops, and their impact on policymaking and research implementation is yet to be assessed.

Unfortunately, Nigeria has not given adequate attention, particularly in terms of funding, to science and technology innovation, research, and development. This lack of appropriate investment in science and technology is due to the absence of indicators that clearly demonstrate the implications of such actions or inaction. Consequently, this has had a significant impact on the effective realization of public policy objectives.

The inability of policies to achieve their intended objectives often stems from the absence of concrete evidence as the basis for their formulation. Therefore, there is a need to adopt evidence-based policy-making by leveraging policy research outcomes and following global best practices, including research and development and Innovation Surveys.

In the healthcare sector, evidence-based policy-making has already yielded significant successes. For example, evidence played a crucial role in formulating policies such as Human Resources for Health (HRH), Oral Health (OH), and the Integrated Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (IMNCH) strategy. These policies were developed through collaboration between the Federal Ministry of Health, development partners like the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, Partnership for Transforming Health Systems (DFID), and the United Nations Population Fund, among others. The goal was to strengthen and improve the healthcare system’s equity, efficiency, and service delivery, ultimately leading to improved health outcomes. These policies were a response to the low ranking of Nigeria’s health system in the year 2000 and were informed by the Health Sector Reform Program (HSRP) initiated in 2003.

The significance of evidence in the aforementioned policies cannot be underestimated. Reports indicate that various types of evidence, including survey reports, research publications, and systematic review reports, were used to develop policies in these case studies. Expert consultations were also considered valuable during the policy drafting stage, as they enhanced the evidence obtained from surveys by incorporating the practical experiences of stakeholders. This practical aspect brought greater value to the evidence.

Moreover, involving technical experts, including researchers, who understand the importance of evidence and its application in policymaking, contributes to evidence-based policy formulation. For instance, the allocation of 1% of the consolidated revenue fund (CRF) for the basic healthcare provision fund (BHCPF) demonstrates an attempt to achieve the National Health Act (NHA) of 2014 and support universal health coverage. The NHA establishes a legal and policy framework for basic healthcare provision. It was the result of a decade-long campaign by civil society and the medical community, driven by Nigeria’s dire health outcomes. Nigeria currently faces significant challenges, including being the second-largest contributor to the under-five and maternal mortality rates in the world, with a large HIV epidemic. These outcomes highlight the urgent need for action.

However, the lack of funding for the BHCPF has perpetuated poor health outcomes in Nigeria. The BHCPF aims to deliver a basic package of health services to all Nigerians through the primary healthcare system. With the recent allocation of N55.15 billion for the BHCPF, the country can finally begin proper implementation of one of its most significant health policies in recent history, aligning with the sustainable development goals.

In conclusion, science-based evidence has proven to be crucial in formulating effective public policies. However, its practice is still relatively new in Nigeria and has not gained significant traction. Therefore, collaborative efforts are needed to increase awareness of evidence-based policy-making. Governments, individuals, and researchers should work together to ensure the implementation of science-based evidence in the initiation and development of policies in Nigeria.

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