Walking the walk….


Over the years, I have become sceptical about the roles of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOS) in assisting the delivery of health care in Nigeria. Very often colleagues have proudly told me that they “own an NGO” …apparently totally oblivious to the contradiction in terms. Several NGOs in the Nigerian context have become single-individual enterprises with expertise in printing pamphlets for “advocacy” and writing long reports on their virtual activities. A friend working with a major funding body in London tells me how they are inundated by requests from “NGOs” in Nigeria with applications constructed in such terrible language, that it was embarrassing… The desperation to “make money” out of funds dedicated to improving the health of Nigerians is obviously not limited to the public sector!

I admit! I make a blanket assertion that will cause considerable dissent…rightly so.

It is a similar blanket assumption that categorises all Nigerians as incorrigibly corrupt…and we must resist this...not just by words….but by deeds. What better way to do so than by highlighting cases where my assumption is totally wrong.

A short while ago…I was introduced to an NGO called Education as a Vaccine against AIDS.

I initially dismissed this as yet another bright but far-fetched idea at conning a few good men out of their hard earned cash.

I admit…I was wrong.

Education as a Vaccine was founded by by two young, Nigerian-born women. Fadekemi Akinfaderin and Damilola Adebiyi.

In December 1999, they took a trip together to Nigeria from the US and with the help of a healthcare consulting firm they were able to conduct formative research and the results revealed that a majority of young people lacked basic life skills necessary to prevent infection. In order to make their vision a reality Adebiyi and Akinfaderin decided to apply to the Echoing Green Foundation and were awarded one of their prestigious grants. They were able, with this generous gift and their own confidence and convictions, to turn their program ideas into an established organization. With the dedication of its staff( of 20!), assistance of volunteers and support from the community, EVA has been continuously growing and has become one of the most prominent and respected organization in the nation’s capital.

The primary remit of EVA is to prevent the spread of HIV by educating youth about the disease and empowering them to avoid it.….and they seem to be doing a good job at it….for a peep into their work…watch this

I have interacted with Fadekemi extensively on how this NGO is run probingly seeking justification for my cynicism. I must confess, I was so positively amazed by not just her passion (which we all claim to have) but her competence. She gave as much as she got …outlining her objectives, her means of achieving this…and progress made against each of these in measurable quantities. Small but very significant successes. She invited me to go on a field trip with her when I visited next (which) I will take up. I asked her if she was attending any of the major AIDS conferences in Mexico or Senegal later this year…and she said curtly but politely…”I don’t do conferences”. That was my final surprise…a Nigerian that does not want to blow her own trumpet.

Well…if she will not…we will! Her concept (although focused on priority areas like HIV/AIDS) is on of the basic foundations of all public health action; preventing illness by empowering our children through education.

Hopefully our children will learn….not only how to look after themselves and their health but how our generation has failed to provide the most basic opportunities to live a healthy life in a time a $100 barrel of oil. One day these children will hold us to account.


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 (www.epiafric.com), 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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