Minister of Health – the flawed debate


My professional association the Nigerian Medical Association has recently found its voice – it wants a Minister of Health that fits the following profile;

“… the most appropriate health professional to lead the Federal Ministry of Health is a patriotic medical practitioner with integrity, sound administrative acumen, rich clinical experience and untainted record of service. It is only such a medical practitioner that is imbued with all the knowledge required to head the health team

This has led to a ferocious debate among health professionals and their professional associations in Nigeria. The President of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN), says;

“The NMA does not seem to understand that the Ministry of Health is an institution of the society, and one of the political structures of governance that provides service to the citizenry.”It is not an avenue for a professional group to hold the country to ransom in fulfillment of self crystallised ego,”

A pharmacist has since weighed in on the debate saying;

“is unfortunate, uninformed, ignorant and self serving”

Our take – It is unfortunate that in all of the press releases and newspaper articles, there is little focus on providing the health sector the leadership it needs to get it out of the doldrums it is in. There is little analysis of the work that Professor Osotimehin has done in developing a new national health sector development plan with wide buy-in from our development partners, and sign-up from 35 of the 36 states. There is little debate about the skills and expertise needed in the individual that will lead this critical section of our lives for the next 13 months. There is no mention of the people, of accountability, of the issues!

Rather these parochial organisations have been focusing on a tribal debate that the leader must be one of my “tribe”.

We seek a Minister of Health that understands the challenges of the Nigerian health sector, who has the courage to take on these organisations that have done little to protect the interest of the Nigerian people. Our health sector is in a huge mess. Nigerians will be shocked if a Sanusi-like exposure were to be carried out on the so-called teaching hospitals that take up 70% of our health budgets at the national level.

The Federal Ministry of Health is crying out for real leadership, an individual that understands the complexity of the health sector and the difficult terrain that Nigeria is. A Nigerian that will put the interests of the long-suffering Nigerian people at the centre of his/her agenda. It does not matter if that individual is a pharmacist, doctor or nurse. Indeed …it does not matter if that individual is not a health professional at all….that might be what the sector requires – a manger and leader!

This is what the NMA should be fighting for!

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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