On the 6th November 2010, over 150 colleagues working in different capacities within the Nigerian health sector assembled at the beautiful facilities of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology for the second of the Nigeria: Partnership for Healthconferences. These conferences are a collaboration between Nigerian health professionals in the Diaspora, and health professionals and institutions in Nigeria, highlighting how we are engaging with the major health issues facing us both in preventive and curative medicine. The overarching aim is to garner enthusiasm and confidence in opportunities in the Nigerian health sector, nurturing new relationships and inspiring action. This year’s conference was organised and hosted by the Public Health Foundation of Nigeria.
But why bother with this conference in the first place? Nigeria is at a crucial point in its corporate existence, enjoying its longest period of sustained democratic governance, yet the lives of millions of ordinary Nigerians has remained largely unchanged. Several sectors of the economy have undergone astronomical growth. Over 70 million Nigerians now own mobile telephones, the financial sector has seen continuous growth despite some revelations of entrenched corruption, and the oil and gas sector remains the cash cow for the government. Despite this, progress has been very slow in the Nigerian health sector, and Nigerians are impatient for change.
Why should this be the fate of a country with a skilled health workforce inside and outside the country? How can we get Nigerians and friends of Nigeria to re-engage sustainably in the development of its health sector? How can our partners, donors and research institutions interested in health in Nigeria contribute to the improvement of the vast population’s health? How can we motivate the thousands of Nigerian health professionals in the Diaspora to re-engage and contribute to improving the health and health care of Nigerians? How can partnerships, research collaborations and links be initiated and sustained? These are some of the challenges we as Nigerians working in the health sector of countries in the West are confronted with. These are the issues focused on during the conference, following up on the highly successful inaugural conference in 2008.
The 2010 conference was aptly themed “Moving towards sustainable collaboration“.
Specific objectives included:
I.Identifying and exploring opportunities for collaboration between Nigerians and friends of Nigeria in its health sector, and mobilising Nigerians in the Diaspora to avail themselves of these opportunities for collaboration.
II.Mobilising and engaging Nigerians in the Diaspora working in the health sectors to contribute to the Nigerian Government’s vision for health and health care
III.To feedback on progress since the last successful Partnership for Health conference in 2008.
The conference was sold out and had a large turn out of motivated Nigerians from all over the UK, Europe and Nigeria. Nigerians working in different aspects of the health sector: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical students and policy makers. Quietly sat in the audience were senior colleagues like Professor Adenike Grange (Former Minister of Health of our Federal Republic). People came with their ideas and experience ready to share, and to learn. The energy in the room was amazing, a real credit to the sheer determination of Nigerians not to let their country slip into the abyss.
Dr Ego Nnadozie, representing the Minister of Health
Attendees at the conference were welcomed by Dr Aliko Ahmed – President of the Nigerian Public Health Foundation who reported on progress since the previous conference. Then the representative of the Nigerian High Commissioner, welcomed delegates and apologised that the Nigerian High Commissioner, Dr Dalhatu Tafida was in Nigeria at the moment engaging in the political arena in the run-up to the elections. Dr Ego Nnadozie, who represented the Honourable Minister of Health informed delegates that the Minister was eager to engage with Nigerian health professionals in the Diaspora, and was in touch with different representative organisations on how to facilitate a process for doing so. The opening session ended with a fascinating presentation from Dr Liz Tayler, representing DFID in which she challenged delegates not to only focus on skills, but on the politics of health, and to hold both our governments and donors accountable for their promises using new tools such as Gapminder.
The first session was titled “Protecting and Preserving the Health of the Population“, and included Dr Muhammad Ali Pate – Executive Director, Nigeria Primary Health care Development Agency, Lord Nigel Crisp – Former Chief Executive, National Health Service who spoke about “Turning the World Upside Down – health worker development and migration”. Dr Ugo Okoli – Project Adviser/National Programme Consultant to the Midwives Services Scheme of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency. She had left the UK in the past year, and spoke of her experience in settling back in Nigeria, and the demands and joys of her new role. Dr Agomuo, the Chief Medical Director Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital Enugu Nigeria told delegates about a successful collaboration in an unlikely area: “The Amaudo Project”. The session was ended by the ebullient Dr Ebun Sonaiya speaking to health maintenance organisations (HMO) as drivers of quality in the health sector. It is difficult to capture the proceedings of this session into one paragraph, but suffice to say that Dr Pate’s presentation really brought some hope and confidence to the conference that finally the right people were being placed in critical positions in the management of our health sector. In his eloquence and competence, the audience could relate to the dreams they had for their country and began to look forward to a new dawn.
Dr Muhammad Pate, Professor Adenike Grange and Dr Ugo Okoli
The second session was titled “Moving Healthcare in Nigeria into the 21st Century“. Another high calibre panel was available to address this from different points of view. We started with the return of Dr. Seyi Oyesola who had spoken at the 2008 Partnership for Health conference, and fed back on his experience as Chief Medical Director of the Delta State University Teaching Hospital Oghara, Delta State. Mr Gbenga Olatunji; the Market Development Manager for Johnson & Johnson West Africa spoke about how they were supporting various tertiary care facilities in Nigeria, as an example of how partnering with industry can deliver advanced surgical care in Nigeria. Dr Dilly Anumba, the President of the Medical Association of Nigerians across Great Britain (MANSAG) spoke about the benefits and challenges of health care missions, while Dr Folabi Ogunlesi – Chief Executive Vesta Healthcare Partners Management spoke about how he was working with the university college hospital of the University of Ibadan to institute quality management systems for the hospital. The session ended with a passionate presentation by Gloria Urhoma, giving the nursing and midwifery perspective for moving healthcare in Nigeria into the 21st century – using her personal story.
Dr Dilly Anumba, President of MANSAG
The quality of the presentations throughout the conference was exceptional. The speakers appreciated their dual roles of informing, and inspiring. The disengagement of Nigerians from the health sector in Nigeria had caused too many deaths already, and it was felt that it could not be allowed to continue.
All the presentations at the conference Partnership for Health II are now online and you can view them all on our website: http://www.nigeriahealth.org/
With these presentations online, and available to you and any other interested party, we will always be able to remind ourselves of the promises made by ourselves, our speakers and our government at these conferences.
Further reports on other sessions of the conference will follow shortly, including reports from the keynote speaker and the workshops.
Meanwhile….be the change you seek!
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.