NHW's response to the Ministerial Press Briefing of our Minister of Health


Dr Hassan Lawal oon,
Minister for Labour
Supervising Minister, Ministry for Health
Federal Republic of Nigeria

Dear Sir,

Thank you!

One of the features of the YarAdua administration is that Ministers give regular briefings. This is a good thing. We are grateful that despite your busy schedule with 2 ministries to lead, you found the time to carry out this important national assigment.

Sir, Nigerians expect from their Minister for Health a strong vision, a plan, milestones and a regular update on where we are in achieveing these.

Sir, we dare say that we recieved a long speech, full of rhetoric and little specifics.

Sir, but we know that this responsibility was thrown on you suddenly and you are making the ultimate sacricfice for your country, carrying the burden of two important sectors of the Nigerian state on your shoulders.

We however humbly draw your attention to the following issues.

This seems to be the biggest “success” of the health sector in Nigeria. But Sir, the latest figures you quote are from 2005. The DG of NACA must have told you that there has been a recent national seroprevalence survey for which data is being released piece-meal by state. No national figure has been released …months after the survey. Read reports of states surveys here. You deserve an update Sir, we…Nigerians…deserve one too!

Sir, Nigeria had a large delegation at the recent International Conference on AIDS in Mexico. You approved all thier travel expenses. They must have fed back on how Nigeria is responding in integrating its HIV and TB programmes….

????…integrated, holistic, accelerated, comprehensive, bold, new, etc etc… Sir, there are just toooo many adjectives in this section oh. Grammer deh hard for us oh….

All we really want to know is: presently 1100 of our mothers per 100,000 die during child birth every year in Nigeria (reference here).

What is the FMoH doing about this? What is our target? When do we plan to achieve this. How do we plan to achieve this. Its that simple Sir….the grammer of “integrated, holistic, accelerated, comprehensive, bold, new” no go save mama life…

Thank you Sir for this one…finally we plan to do an “audit” to identify weaknesses in “quality of care”. But Sir,….how soon is “soon”. By the time the audit is done…na election time again be that. General Babangida told us already…several dark years ago that our hospitals are now mere “consulting clinics“. Sir, I promise you …the audit will find that even that one is gone…

Sir, “Improved” routine immunisation???? where? when? is that what the Madam in NPI/NPHCDA told you Sir? What has been causing the outbreaks of vaccine preventable disease in the press every week (as here and here). If children are immunised…there will not be outbreaks. Its that simple.

An immunsation coverage survey GAVI carried out in 2006 showed these shocking results…Fully Immunized child -18.1%BCG – 40.5%DPT3 – 36.3%Measles – 32.7%. this report was submitted to your Ministry Sir. But you can read it here. The file might not have reached your desk …

Sir…”sharp downward turn”???. These speechwriters….this must be a “typo”. Sir you know that WHO releases data on the Polio situation in Nigeria monthly. Find below the data for 2008 as at September 2008.

  • Nigeria has 675 cases of wild poliovirus in 2008, compared to 207 for the same period in 2007.
  • Nigeria accounts for 85% of the global wild poliovirus type 1 cases (the type-1 polio – the most dangerous strain of the virus) and 10% of wild poliovirus type 3 casesSeptember 2008:
  • Nigeria accounts for 91% of the cases in Africa.

Find details here.

This is no possible positive spin to this. Nigeria could well go down as the country that sabotaged the one of the largest public health initiatives of our time. Sir, do not let it happen in your time oh…

Sir, in health terms…what is really important is NOT how many health care centres have been built (dat one na conrtractor problem), but how many are funtional and providing health services. Sir, who is running these centres? Local Government??? Chei…Where are they…we would like to visit.

Sir, you said that the Ministry “made provision for” 684 health centres and built 570. Sir, what then is the basis for the N37 billion contract awarded by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo for the construction of healthcare centres in 774 local governments now in court? Are these seperate, parallel initiatives? Sir…abeg tell us. This demands a special enquiry by the House of Representatives oh…. We need some more early morning drammer on AIT.

Sir….”Above average”??? Sir we will love to visit the FMoH and ask for a download of data from the NHMIS…that will be the day. We will sing and dance right in front of your office Sir.

Sir, please, Sir….at least….at the very least the FMoH deserves a website. When you have a minute…visit that of our friend’s sites in other African countries…

Check out Ghana … OK yes, but they say Ghana is “small” and easily manageable.

OK…what of South Africa? They are not at our level in development terms…

OK..but what of Kenya, Botswana, even Malawi …we could go on and on?

You could even have put a copy of this address on your website. But since that is not possible…We will continue to make it available for all Nigerians on your behalf, so that they can hear the details of what you promised them.

Thank you very much Sir for addressing us at all. We appreciate!

At least by the time of the next address we will have the old one to hand….who knows who will be Minister of Health by then.

It might well still be you…!

Thank you Sir.


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.

Discussion3 Comments

  1. As news of a recently introduced polio jab that is four times more effective at protecting children than previous vaccines makes the rounds. Would you be kind enough to ask how the top table aim to help qualify the statement below?

    “To overcome the remaining operational challenges, full political oversight and engagement at all levels is necessary, as demonstrated by states such as Kebbi, where case numbers have declined following such engagement.”

  2. Note this comment in the article “In the north west zone of the country, where the majority of new cases are found, 21% of children report never having received a single dose of the vaccine”

    New vaccines will not solve this problem.

    My argument has always been…the failure of the polio eradication programme in Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership and responsibility.

    Until we assume ownership of the problem…it will not be solved.

    Have you ever heard Alhaji Shekaru, 2 term governor of Kano State speak out….I haven’t!

  3. the failure of the polio eradication programme in Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership and responsibility. How will you pass on this message at the conference?

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