If you look hard, you will find that at the heart of the growth in the Nigerian economy is the drive, innovation and resilience of young Nigerians. From the new generation banks to the telecommunication firms, from new media to Nollywood, young people are re-defining business in Nigeria.
Sadly, the health sector has predominantly excluded itself from this re-birth, as it is not really open to young people. All the health professions are extremely hierarchical and mostly led by eminent and venerable colleagues who no doubt do their best to lead our health institutions the best way they know how. Unfortunately, by missing out on young minds, innovation is slow and change is marginal. Things are still being done the way no one younger than 40 would imagine doing it, and this is clearly reflected in where the health sector is today.
The buzz at Social Media Week Lagos was incredible. Every room full, every session packed, no ‘protocols observed’, no formalities to be adhered to, just ideas… ideas that are changing Nigeria. Not only were ideas being shared, but also stories were told of companies built from scratch, now serving millions of Nigerians. These stories were shared openly, fostering frank discussion, engaging comments and questions from people whose only requirement was to show up and sit down, as all the events were free to attend. We found only a handful of health professionals at the event, which made us feel like the odd ones out, except maybe if you count Dr. Bukola Saraki (Yes, he is a medical doctor…) who came personally to announce the death of the ridiculous Section 4 of the Anti-Frivolous Petitions Bill.
Together with Toks Bakare of asktoks.com, Nigeria Health Watch hosted a Masterclass at #SMWLagos, titled “A Beautiful Mind: Opening up about Mental Health in Nigeria”. With topics like “Understanding Facebook/Twitter Analytics” “Social Media and Governance”, and “Social Media for Social Good”, the truth was that ours was an unorthodox subject to attempt to deal with in a week full of hashtags and techy young entrepreneurs looking for how to use social media to share their ideas with the world. The panel was made up of Pastor Godman Akinlabi of Elevation Church, Psychiatrist Olayinka Atilola, Child Behaviour Analyst Toks Bakare, Nigeria Health Watch Curator and Public Health Physician Chikwe Ihekweazu, and it was ably moderated by Pediatrician Toju Chike-Obi of The Health Zone.[wpdevart_youtube]kZzC79AqEhI[/wpdevart_youtube]
The first surprise was that the room was completely full. We had frank and open discussions about the challenges and opportunities for diagnosis and care of people with mental health challenges. The audience, probably at first a bit perturbed about what a bunch of doctors and a pastor would be discussing at #SMWLagos, became increasingly engaged, murmuring agreement with many of the panelists’ remarks.
The second surprise was that after all on the panel had spoken and the floor was open for questions, hands went up all over the room. The comments were intense and it was easy to see that many emotions had been stirred raw by the discussion. Consensus was quickly reached that our society was failing people with mental health challenges and that it was time for health professionals to work together with churches and other community units where people seek care.
The third surprise, most especially for anyone over 40 in the room, was when Toks Bakare did something only a young person would dare do in our status-conscious society, which was to get audience members to form a laughing circle, a mental health exercise which requires participants to lie down on the belly of another person and start laughing hysterically – reminding us of the power of laughter, but also of the positive biologic effects of it. The exercise lightened the mood in the room considerably.
Prior to that session, Chikwe of Nigeria Health Watch also participated in a session “When Data Speaks”, organised by NOIPolls, that could easily have been entirely targeted at the Nigerian health sector. The frustration of members of the audience can be summarised by this one comment on why we do not like data collection in Nigeria.
— Nigeria Health Watch (@nighealthwatch) February 26, 2016
Chikwe Ihekweazu surmised his frustration on publicly available data in Nigeria by saying that accountability is not possible without data. In a country where we are used to getting an alert on our mobile phones every time there is a bank transaction, we still need a special committee to count and map the number of primary health centres in Nigeria!
So lets think about it – from Jobberman, to Jumia, from Hotels.ng to Red Media, all these organisations that are disrupting the way we do business in Nigeria have one thing in common; they are driven by young Nigerians that do not see the obstacles, who will not accept the status quo. For the Nigerian health sector to evolve, we need to think differently. The models of management in our teaching hospitals across Nigeria are so inefficient that the only reason they still exist is that Nigerians are too busy complaining about power and infrastructure. Our public health sector has escaped scrutiny because donor funds have covered up for inadequacies of state funding. The Global Fund has spent over $1.5bn in Nigeria alone. The private sector has been slow to innovate, but is now catching on.
Chatting with Obi Asika, co-founder of #SMWLagos at the end of the event, he explained the story of the event which will celebrate its 5th anniversary next year. He said that every time he thinks that he has seen it all, another young Nigerian comes up with an incredible project or service that deserves the stage at Social Media Week. And just like the story of when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak took the early Apple computer to the first West Coast Computer Faire in 1977, SMW has become the venue to share new ideas, products and services that are shaping the future of our country.
Sadly, health is on the fringes of this movement, but with your help, we can change that. If you are young or young at heart, and already working to find innovative solutions for the health sector, we applaud you and look forward to sharing your story. Even as we wait for dawn to break on the Nigerian health sector, we are confident that once it does, there will be no shortage of emerging ideas… ideas that will transform the Nigerian health sector… and change the lives of Nigerians for the better.
Join us as we continue our discussion on mental health on our monthly radio segment, #OpenMoH, with @inyaode1 of @NigeriaInfoAbj and @ekemma of @nighealthwatch. The segment holds on Wednesday, March 2, 2016, on Nigeria Info Abuja 95.1 FM.
For more #SMWLagos Photos, please follow Nigeria Health Watch on Flickr.