Remembering Mr President's words


Its been a difficult 3 years for the health sector in Nigeria – but I guess its been a difficult 3 years for all sectors. After so much promise we are left feeling empty. Health was never really on Umaru Yar’Adua’s agenda for Nigeria despite his own health challenges. Not on his 7 point agenda, not a priority, not an issue!

As we wait for some policy direction from the Acting President, and at the very least a Minister who understands what is at stake, let us remind ourselves on what Mr Prseident said in what was probably his only detailed interview with a Nigerian Newspaper – The Guardian.

On the health sector
We are concentrating on primary health-care.  We said all contracts awards from building the clinics, purchase of drugs, we should get out. We should help with the policy, help build capacity, supervise and make sure that those policies are implemented by the state governments. And we concentrate on the tertiary sector. Right now, we have said that the special project fund should concentrate on three teaching hospitals: the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus Teaching Hospital. To bring these teaching hospitals up to the minimum acceptable international standard so that any research hospital, any university hospital you see abroad, you can compare these three teaching hospitals with those teaching hospitals. We believe by doing this, it may take us say, three or four years to accomplish, we may not use this year to complete this. It may take two years, it may take three years. But won’t move out until we finish this because if we finish these ones, these hospitals themselves will carry along other hospitals and then we can move to other teaching hospitals. So, these are the strategies we are working on.

On his own health
 This issue of health, life and death does not fall within the realm of what people can speak about with certainty. For instance, I just lost my immediate older sister. She was just with my mother and other family members. She was hale and hearty. A few days before, she was here with me. Also when I went to commission a University in Katsina, she had nothing wrong with her. They boarded an aircraft to Egypt there in Kano and they ate on the flight. After they finished eating, there were sisters and brothers, after they finished eating, suddenly, she started gasping for breath according to report and within ten to fifteen minutes, she was dead. Before they left Kaduna for Kano, if you had asked her what would be her health condition, let’s say by the end of this year, what would have been her response? You can see the difficult thing about life and death. Really, there is no point talking about this issue.


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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