2009…things can only get better


Dear Readers,

Its been a tough year …2008.

We lost our Minister of Health in difficult circumstances….and after 8 long months, we finally have a new one. This left the health sector rudderless and clueless. Our public health indicators got worse with a resurgence of polio, immunisation rates of around 20%, and one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world. Nigerians lost confidence totally in their health services, led by the President himself. Our representatives in parliament continued bickering over the National Health Bill. All this in a period of oil selling at $150 per barrel…a wasted era.

In the chaos there were a few bright lights. Slowly, state governments are waking up to their responsibilities towards health care. The private sector too is starting to fill the spaces left by the state, with HMOs like Hygeia branching out into the communities. Nigerian health professionals living abroad increased the frequency of so-called “health missions” and converged in London with unprecedented energy to brainstorm on a way forward.

But beyond health….the one event that we have all engaged with to some extent was Barack Obama’s historic win in the US elections. This has made us think about 2 broad issues that affect health just as much; leadership and the engagement.

Lets explore “engagement”. The image below is one of Barack Obama’s campaign stops that has stayed on my mind. Never in the history of the US have as many people engaged with politics as in 2008. Students, young people, people that have never voted …ever. Until we take ownership of the problems of the health sector in Nigeria …we will all fall victim. And it really does not matter how much money or influence you have….if you have a heart attack, a car accident or any other of several medical emergencies even in the middle of Nigeria’s capital…the chances are that YOU WILL DIE. Think about that. Unfortunately…it is not a problem we can get Julius Berger to fix…It will need some careful planning, resourcefulness, time, energy and patience. It will need leadership; the leaders in all of us.

This brings me to the second lesson from Barack Obama’s victory; Leadership. The 6th US president, John Adams is quoted as saying

“If your actions inspire
others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a

In that respect…Obama has already moved the world.

But how does this translate to health in Nigeria. Where are the Obamas’ for health? Can Professor Osotimehin inspire Nigerians to take on their roles as leaders in primary health care centres, in our immunisation programmes, in our teaching hospitals?

Can we be inspired to believe again? To insist on quality? To do the bit we can?

Can 2009 turn out to be the year we celebrate a re-birth, a restoration of some pride and confidence in our health care system?

Can we be inspired to remember those we are actually committed to serve ?

This is our prayer and hope for 2009…..we are sure that by reading this blog…it is yours too.

YOU are the reason we bother.

Thank you!


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (www.epiafric.com), which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

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