Thought Leadership

Our Honourable Minister – Welcome to Nigeria

When we read the below quote in our Honourable Minister of Health’s speech to the recent World Health Assembly, we were worried, uncertain whether this was naivety or ignorance of the complexity of the health problems on hand in Nigeria. But, we were also worried that he might have simply read a script given to him by colleagues at the Federal Ministry of Health, without being aware of all the facts.

This is the direct quote from the Minister of Health’s speech which you can read in detail here.

…on the issue of the outbreak of epidemics in Nigeria in the recent past. We have effectively contained these outbreaks and put measures in place to ensure prevention of future outbreaks. 

Then, just in the last week immediately after his speech at the WHA.

Daily Trust reports an outbreak of cholera in Abuja – Yes cholera! Yes Abuja!. But wait, read on for the Local Government Chairman’s response – he immediately sent additional drugs to the affected community in order to control the epidemic. Drugs? for Cholera?

Leadership reports an outbreak of Meningitis in Kaduna. The response? – The commissioner said that 130,000 doses of vaccines donated by the Federal Government and other donor agencies were being used to contain the situation.

Thisday reports that three people died from food poisoning in Ekiti. The Oluyin of Iyin-Ekiti, Oba Ademola Ajakaiye is quoted to have advised his people as follows: “I want to advise our people to be mindful of what they eat”!

Then by the end of the week, several media bodies including the BBC carried the story that more than 100 children had died of lead poisoning in Nigeria in recent weeks. The number had been rising since March, when residents started digging illegally for gold in areas with high concentrations of lead. The deaths were discovered during the country’s annual immunisation programme when officials realised that there were virtually no children in several remote villages!

Dear Professor Chukwu. This is our reality! It might not have been obvious to you while working at the Ebonyi State University Teaching Hospital in Abakiliki – but in our Nigeria, outbreaks caused by all sorts of infectious and non-infectious agents are an on-going challenge. They have not been “contained” (despite what your colleagues in our Federal Ministry of Health might tell you). Sir, we propose you consider the idea of a National Centre for Disease Control that will concentrate the expertise scattered around the country to prevent, manage and control outbreaks. There are models around the world but we recommend you look at the website of the National Institute of Communicable Disease of South Africa – or maybe arrange a visit.

We look forward to a better week and your next speech Sir…. Welcome to Nigeria!

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.

2 replies on “Our Honourable Minister – Welcome to Nigeria”

Dear Chikwe,

Thanks for this (and many other wonderful pieces by you). I don’t see many comments in response to your consistently objective and frank blogs on health care in our dear country, and have been wondering why. Don’t we care or are we giving up?

This speech on epidemics by the Hon. Minister at the last WHA is, as you have rightly stated, quite disturbing. Apart from being untrue, one very important – though probably unintended – negative effect of the comment is that nothing will be done to address the recurrent epidemics of easily preventable infections, maintaining, or perhaps even exacerbating the status quo. Very embarrassing, if you ask me.

I simply cannot understand why, or how, we acquired this nonchalance. However, let’s remain optimistic that we shall, one day, revert to normal.

Idris Mohammed.

The current minister for health(from the way he is going about this job) obviously wasn’t prepared for it and it doesn’t seem he has ever aspired to make redemptive contribution to our health system at this level.When you add to this to the high level of scheming and venality that the ministry of health has become,what you get is the picture Chikwe painted in this posting.The guy was missing at the just concluded National AIDS Conference.The man he sent to read his speech at the closing ceremony messed up big time and the speech contained 2005 data which has no relevance in today’s programming.

Im trying hard not to imagine that we are going to witness a horrific 12 months of gambling in our health sector.

Not much can happen without a sound idea put on a blue print for all to read and run with.And a blue print is useless without the right vim needed to bring it to reality.Right now perhaps what our Prof from Ebonyi seems to be saying is I have no idea what to do.

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