Thought Leadership

Bitter sweet weekend….

Yesterday evening I celebrated with most other Africans as Ghana won the U21 FIFA world cup. After several attempts this was the first time an African country was winning the cup. It just takes walking around any African country to understand what football means to us. But despite the joy, I went to bed reminiscing at my disappointment that Nigeria was eliminated early in the tournament and had previously been embroiled in the usual controversy around their ages. What an evening it would have been if it was “us”….I celebrate and envy Ghanaians. They have a functioning democracy, their economy is booming, they are respected in international politics..and now they are winning world cups. Bitter / sweet.

This morning I finally get to the piles of the journals I subscribe to for some speed reading. Then staring at me on top of the pile is this cover page….. The whole edition was dedicated to the progress being made in South Africa.

We are told the President Zuma has 5 priorities (unlike our 7-Point agenda). Health is not hidden in a tertiary category but firmly as one of the major 5. One of his campaign promises is not to build more health centres or CT scanners but to close South Africa’s health gaps.

His South African Minister of Health acknowledged to Lancet that the new government will have a transparent, confident and science based approach, breaking cleanly from Thabo Mbeki’s legacy. South Africa spends more on health both in absolute and relative terms than any other African country – 8.7% of its GDP. In its editorial The Lancet concludes that South Africa is a yound democracy with pride and hope, and above all with high expectations for a fair, equitable and peaceful society. Many of the articles in this special edition of the Lancet on Health in South Africa are available for free on the website of The Lancet. (will require registration).

What do these two stories have in common? Well  to find out – visit the major hotels from Johannesburg through Capetown to Accra over the Christmas period in the next few months. You will find them full of Nigerians that can afford to travel. Seeking new solace in a pan African vision, with the demise of a Nigerian vision. Last weekend I was speaking to a colleague, a surgeon whose group has been collaborating with 2 major Hospitals in Ghana for years….he had tried for years to get something started in Nigeria, but finally gave up.

Yet if we want others to take us seriously, we have to take ourselves and our reality seriously. We all need to re-engage with the political process in the 2011 elections, and ask specifically what this government (at national, state and LGA levels has done with its mandate) in the health sector. If we want to take pride in events in our country and attention paid to it by preeminent journals in the world, and attract attention to a functioning country – we will all have to re-engage.



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

By Chikwe Ihekweazu

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.

1 reply on “Bitter sweet weekend….”

I really get scared at times. I think the problem is not just with the leadership but the followers. I made a presentation the other day on what i termed ‘the economics of physician dual practice in Nigeria’ and made a recommendation that would help improve regulatory practices in a way that is performance oriented. Rather that having appropriate discussions, not a few DOCTORS listening, including a former commissioner of health who works in a teaching hospital and runs a major private one rose up with so much venom. Na wah oh. It just does not look like anyone is willing to change. It will take an earthquaking miracle to have the kind of changes we should have. This health system here is stinking and nobody cares. The UNTH for instance is dead and awaiting its funeral service. Most people working their don’t even bother. The current minister has started again – talking about working on 4-6 teaching hospitals – the usual ones- and as far as I know, that is what they start saying when they don’t know what to do and time is against them.

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