Good news to start 2014: Prof Chukwu says he will accept a call to serve!

It has been circulating through the rumour mill for quite some time, but now it is confirmed. The Minister of Health  has declared that he is ready to serve the good people of Ebonyi State as their Governor, if he is invited!

Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, Nigerian Minister of Health (culled from Punch Newspapers)

He apparently told journalists in Abuja that;

“…I have a passion for things to be done properly; I have a passion for individuals ….. I am someone who is usually committed to an assignment that is given to me and which I have accepted to do. I am also someone who wants things to be done properly”

Well, the people of Ebonyi State must be ecstatic. If there is one Minister that most closely resembles our President, it is the Honourable Minister of Health. By promising little in the health sector in his four years as the Minister of Health, there is little to hold him accountable for. His landmark achievements may be the Federal Government taking over the Ebonyi State University Teaching Hospital in his home state, for which the good people of Ebonyi will be most grateful, and the Federal Government taking over a clinic built in the President’s village of Otuoke, for which his boss will be most grateful. These are indeed dividends of democracy for the affected areas. If there are any others, please do share with us, dear readers. Read his achievements as describes them himself in a recent newspaper article here. It includes the eradication of guinea worm and the development of a curriculum to train paramedics!

We have waited for years to form an opinion of Professor Chukwu. He joined the President very early in his tenure as part of the very first set of Ministers that were appointed. At the time, we wrote this hopeful blog and stated that;

Our capital city, Abuja has no functional emergency medical response service. Eighty percent of all the funds allocated to the health sector in our country goes to a handful of tertiary care facilities, while we pay lip service to primary health care. Health care professionals are constantly on strike as they jostle for more pay and status. Our National Health Insurance Scheme has not managed to cover up to 3% of Nigerians in its 20 years of existence and our National Agency for the Control of AIDS only funds treatment for 5% of patients on antiretrovirals in Nigeria, as we leave the rest to the benevolence of the US President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS (PEPFAR). After 8 years (now 12 years) of crawling through our tortuous legislative process,  the  “new” National Health Bill has eluded presidential accent. Things are so bad that Professor Chukwu said in his own screening process by our Senate that our pride and joy – the National Hospital in Abuja is a “National Hospital” in name only. 

Please Nigerians; you be the judge if any of these have changed in the four years of Professor Chukwu’s stewardship. We traveled to several public forums where he spoke; in order to listen and convince ourselves that the sector was in good hands, read every interview and every time we left disappointed. Just recently, we invited you to watch as Professor Chukwu delivered his mid-term review. The video is still up on Youtube for you to watch. As of today, there have been less than 400 views. You can watch it here;
While you are at it, compare this with the same Mid-term report offered by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina. I show this to negate any arguments that may come our way about the obscurity of the Ministry of Health. Despite the lack of a framework for agriculture in Nigeria, Dr Adeshina has taken the sector to new heights with his bold and innovative programs winning wide recognition from Nigerians and the world at large. A generally conservative and private sector focused magazine Forbes Africa recently named him as their African of the Year. Now…if he were to declare to run for political leadership in Nigeria, we would be excited.

When Professor Chukwu started his tenure, he stated that his vision was to;

“ensure that Nigerians begin to enjoy good health indices as well as entrenchment of the tenets of team work and unity amongst staff of the Ministry of Health”

Well, that the indices have not changed much will not come as a surprise to any one reading this blog. The one area most worrying is the second part of his promise: “entrenchment of the tenets of team work and unity amongst staff of the Ministry of Health”. Never in the history of the health sector in Nigeria has there been more disharmony among its professional groups. One threat of strike leads to concessions and leads to further strikes. The interest of the Nigerian patient rarely features in these discussions. A cursory search of the term “Onyebuchi Chukwu” in Google, will lead to 90% of the hits relating to industrial disharmony in the health sector. The last we heard about his active engagement with this issue was in the appointment (exactly like his boss would), of a 42 member committee to harmonize working relationships among health workers, headed by Justice Bello Abdullahi. It was tasked to “identify the root causes of disharmony among health workers, and professional groups in the sector, and to examine the negative impact of such problems on the healthcare delivery system”. This was the last we heard of it…..

So, as we enter 2014 we look forward to new leadership in the health sector that can deliver to the Nigerian people the promise of a healthy and dignified life. We will get a few responses stating how “Chukwu is trying”. Our next blog will focus on the culture of
low expectations that Nigerians have of their health sector and its leadership and what we can do about this.

Meanwhile, follow us on twitter @nighealthwatch

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 (, 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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