Implications of absenteeism of health workers on achieving universal health coverage in Nigeria: exploring lived experiences in primary healthcare

Prince Agwu (Lead / Corresponding author), Aloysius Odii, Tochukwu Charles Orjiakor, Pamela Ogbozor, Chinyere O. Mbachu, Obinna Onwujekwe

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Primary healthcare facilities are the bedrock for achieving universal health coverage (UHC) because of their closeness to the grassroots and provision of healthcare at low cost. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, the access and quality of health services in public primary healthcare centres (PHCs) are suboptimal, linked with persistent occurrence of absenteeism of health workers. We used a UHC framework developed by the World Health Organization-African Region to examine the link between absenteeism and the possible achievement of UHC in Nigeria. We undertook a qualitative study to elicit lived experiences of healthcare providers, service users, chairpersons of committees of the health facilities, and policymakers across six PHCs from six local government areas in Enugu, southeast Nigeria. One hundred and fifty participants sourced from the four groups were either interviewed or participated in group discussions. The World Health Organization-African Region UHC framework and phenomenological approach were used to frame data analysis. Absenteeism was very prevalent in the PHCs, where it constrained the possible contribution of PHCs to the achievement of UHC. The four indicators toward achievement of UHC, which are demand, access, quality, and resilience of health services, were all grossly affected by absenteeism. Absenteeism also weakened public trust in PHCs, resulting in an increase in patronage of both informal and private health providers, with negative effects on quality and cost of care. It is important that great attention is paid to both availability and productivity of human resources for health at the PHC level. These factors would help in reversing the dangers of absenteeism in primary healthcare and strengthening Nigeria’s aspirations of achieving UHC.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbermzae015
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal for Quality in Health Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2024


  • absenteeism
  • corruption
  • health systems strengthening
  • universal health coverage
  • UHC


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