“Health Meets Social Media” at #SMWLagos

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If you look hard, you will find that at the heart of the growth in the Nigerian economy is the drive, innovation and resilience of young Nigerians. From the new generation banks to the telecommunication firms, from new media to Nollywood, young people are re-defining business in Nigeria.

Sadly, the health sector has predominantly excluded itself from this re-birth, as it is not really open to young people.  All the health professions are extremely hierarchical and mostly led by eminent and venerable colleagues who no doubt do their best to lead our health institutions the best way they know how. Unfortunately, by missing out on young minds, innovation is slow and change is marginal. Things are still being done the way no one younger than 40 would imagine doing it, and this is clearly reflected in where the health sector is today.

A member of the audience asks a question in a packed room during YTech’s session at #SMWLagos. Photo Credit: Ada Ezeokoli/Nigeria Health Watch
A member of the audience asks a question in a packed room during YTech’s session at #SMWLagos. Photo Credit: Ada Ezeokoli/Nigeria Health Watch

The buzz at Social Media Week Lagos was incredible. Every room full, every session packed, no ‘protocols observed’, no formalities to be adhered to, just ideas… ideas that are changing Nigeria.  Not only were ideas being shared, but also stories were told of companies built from scratch, now serving millions of Nigerians. These stories were shared openly, fostering frank discussion, engaging comments and questions from people whose only requirement was to show up and sit down, as all the events were free to attend. We found only a handful of health professionals at the event, which made us feel like the odd ones out, except maybe if you count Dr. Bukola Saraki (Yes, he is a medical doctor…) who came personally to announce the death of the ridiculous Section 4 of the Anti-Frivolous Petitions Bill.

Panelists for the #SMWHealthyMinds Masterclass at #SMWLagos. Photo Credit: Ada Ezeokoli/Nigeria Health Watch
Panelists for the #SMWHealthyMinds Masterclass at #SMWLagos. Photo Credit: Ada Ezeokoli/Nigeria Health Watch

Together with Toks Bakare of asktoks.com, Nigeria Health Watch hosted a Masterclass at #SMWLagos, titled “A Beautiful Mind: Opening up about Mental Health in Nigeria”.  With topics like “Understanding Facebook/Twitter Analytics” “Social Media and Governance”, and “Social Media for Social Good”, the truth was that ours was an unorthodox subject to attempt to deal with in a week full of hashtags and techy young entrepreneurs looking for how to use social media to share their ideas with the world. The panel was made up of Pastor Godman Akinlabi of Elevation Church, Psychiatrist Olayinka Atilola, Child Behaviour Analyst Toks Bakare, Nigeria Health Watch Curator and Public Health Physician Chikwe Ihekweazu, and it was ably moderated by Pediatrician Toju Chike-Obi of The Health Zone.

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The first surprise was that the room was completely full. We had frank and open discussions about the challenges and opportunities for diagnosis and care of people with mental health challenges. The audience, probably at first a bit perturbed about what a bunch of doctors and a pastor would be discussing at #SMWLagos, became increasingly engaged, murmuring agreement with many of the panelists’ remarks.

The second surprise was that after all on the panel had spoken and the floor was open for questions, hands went up all over the room.  The comments were intense and it was easy to see that many emotions had been stirred raw by the discussion. Consensus was quickly reached that our society was failing people with mental health challenges and that it was time for health professionals to work together with churches and other community units where people seek care.

An audience member makes a comment during the “Opening Up about Mental Health” Masterclass hosted by asktoks.com and Nigeria Health Watch. Photo Credit: Ada Ezeokoli/Nigeria Health Watch
An audience member makes a comment during the “Opening Up about Mental Health” Masterclass hosted by asktoks.com and Nigeria Health Watch. Photo Credit: Ada Ezeokoli/Nigeria Health Watch

The third surprise, most especially for anyone over 40 in the room, was when Toks Bakare did something only a young person would dare do in our status-conscious society, which was to get audience members to form a laughing circle, a mental health exercise which requires participants to lie down on the belly of another person and start laughing hysterically – reminding us of the power of laughter, but also of the positive biologic effects of it. The exercise lightened the mood in the room considerably.

Toks Bakare demonstrates a laughing circle, a mental health exercise, at the #SMWHealthyMinds session at #SMWLagos. Photo Credit: Ada Ezeokoli/Nigeria Health Watch
Toks Bakare demonstrates a laughing circle, a mental health exercise, at the #SMWHealthyMinds session at #SMWLagos. Photo Credit: Ada Ezeokoli/Nigeria Health Watch

Prior to that session, Chikwe of Nigeria Health Watch also participated in a session “When Data Speaks”, organised by NOIPolls, that could easily have been entirely targeted at the Nigerian health sector. The frustration of members of the audience can be summarised by this one comment on why we do not like data collection in Nigeria.

Chikwe Ihekweazu surmised his frustration on publicly available data in Nigeria by saying that accountability is not possible without data. In a country where we are used to getting an alert on our mobile phones every time there is a bank transaction, we still need a special committee to count and map the number of primary health centres in Nigeria!

The panel at the NOIPolls session, “When Data Speaks”. Photo Credit: Ada Ezeokoli/Nigeria Health Watch
The panel at the NOIPolls session, “When Data Speaks”. Photo Credit: Ada Ezeokoli/Nigeria Health Watch

So lets think about it – from Jobberman, to Jumia, from Hotels.ng to Red Media, all these organisations that are disrupting the way we do business in Nigeria have one thing in common; they are driven by young Nigerians that do not see the obstacles, who will not accept the status quo.  For the Nigerian health sector to evolve, we need to think differently. The models of management in our teaching hospitals across Nigeria are so inefficient that the only reason they still exist is that Nigerians are too busy complaining about power and infrastructure. Our public health sector has escaped scrutiny because donor funds have covered up for inadequacies of state funding.  The Global Fund has spent over $1.5bn in Nigeria alone. The private sector has been slow to innovate, but is now catching on.

Chikwe Ihekweazu of Nigeria Health Watch catches up with Obi Asika during his 4th successful #SMWLagos. Photo Credit: Ada Ezeokoli/Nigeria Health Watch
Chikwe Ihekweazu of Nigeria Health Watch catches up with Obi Asika during his 4th successful #SMWLagos. Photo Credit: Ada Ezeokoli/Nigeria Health Watch

Chatting with Obi Asika, co-founder of #SMWLagos at the end of the event, he explained the story of the event which will celebrate its 5th anniversary next year. He said that every time he thinks that he has seen it all, another young Nigerian comes up with an incredible project or service that deserves the stage at Social Media Week. And just like the story of when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak took the early Apple computer to the first West Coast Computer Faire in 1977, SMW has become the venue to share new ideas, products and services that are shaping the future of our country.

Sadly, health is on the fringes of this movement, but with your help, we can change that. If you are young or young at heart, and already working to find innovative solutions for the health sector, we applaud you and look forward to sharing your story. Even as we wait for dawn to break on the Nigerian health sector, we are confident that once it does, there will be no shortage of emerging ideas… ideas that will transform the Nigerian health sector… and change the lives of Nigerians for the better.

Join us as we continue our discussion on mental health on our monthly radio segment, #OpenMoH, with @inyaode1 of @NigeriaInfoAbj and @ekemma of @nighealthwatch. The segment holds on Wednesday, March 2, 2016, on Nigeria Info Abuja 95.1 FM.

For more #SMWLagos Photos, please follow Nigeria Health Watch on Flickr.

Ada is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch. She has a B.A. in Communications - Journalism and Creative Writing, and an M.A. in Ancient Near Eastern History. She is a documentary photographer. She tweets as @adankemeze.

Discussion1 Comment

  1. Well written Ada. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it for SMW 2016. Truth is ,there is a new legion of Healthcare innovators looking for the right opportunity to launch forth, especially with regards to ICT and information disemmination solutions via Television and Social Media,here in Nigeria and indeed other parts of the African Continent. I can attest to this fact based on my interactions with other fellow “Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP 2015)” mates in the Healthcare industry. Nigeria will experience a revolutionary change in the quality of health outcomes within the present moment and a couple of years down the line; especially in the area of general wellness/ disease prevention and I am happy to be part of those driving an upcoming “Health Media” revolution via my work with the Lagos Network Centre of the Nigerian Television Authority and other health related personal productions as can be view on https://m.youtube.com/c/drkevwe
    Progress has been slow but we are sure on the relentless grind, praying for new economic policies to create the enabling environment. Kudos to Dr Chikwe and your Team for the great job thus far.

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