Is real reform underway in the health sector?


Professor Babatunde Osotimehin has a tough job.

He was appointed Minister of Health half way through this administration’s tenure. An administration that has been criticised as not keeping pace with the yearnings of the Nigerian people for true reform. Snubbed internationally, unable to carry out the simplest of elections and one that has unashamedly declared its inability to meet the millennium development goals as they relate to health.

He was appointed to a Ministry marred by corruption. The previous Minister, Professor Grange openly declared… “As a professional and technocrat, I must admit that the level of decay and corruption within the Ministry is in glaring need to be decisively tackled and purged”….

Now the Minister minister himself is reported by Thisday as saying

“the sector is still in a comatose state”

BUT THE GOOD NEWS is that he also said that…

“we restructuring the sector in such a way that there are not just enough resources but BETTER COORDINATION to ensure that those who work in secondary and tertiary health sectors do interact with those at the primary level for effective healthcare delivery”

Recently….we have been privy to the framework for a new plan for the health sector. A plan that will bring together the Federal, State and Local governments to work together within a single framework for the development of the health sector. Finally, our Government seems to be in the driving seat in defining the agenda and asking our development partners to come and join hands with us in our plan. While still in consultation…we see the beginnings of real reform. The challenge lies not just in getting agreement on the plan by all those engaged in the health sector….but to give Nigerians an opportunity to know and own the plan, engage with its operationalisation and hold accountable those entrusted to deliver on it.

Nigerians are hopeful…as hope is all we can have…

These are the plans of the past as elucidated by Professor Umaru Shehu at a recent conference in London:

  • The 2nd Post Independence Economic Development Plan that included the restoration of health services destroyed during the civil war, control of communicable diseases and training of healthcare workers.
  • The 3rd Post-Independence Economic Development Plan: 1975 – 1980
  • The first national health summit organised by the then Minister of Health; Dr Ihechukwu Madubuike.
  • The Vision 2010 under General Sani Abacha.
  • …and finally Professor Elitayo Lambo’s Health Sector Reform Programme 2004 – 2007

No Nigerian needs be told the outcomes of these plans….we feel then in our febrile children, our dead mothers and our “mere consulting clinics” as aptly described by one of our great leaders…

Now is the time to move from strategic planning to strategic action. As tough a job he has, Professor Babatunde Osotimehin has an opportunity to be a hero….a true hero to the ordinary Nigerians that bear the burden when basic health services fail….

As the saying goes….an acre of performance is worth a whole world of promise…

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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