Ike Anya: Why organise a conference on Nigerian health….in London?

Ike Anya A quiet milestone passed in May this year, when Nigerians marked nine years of unbroken civilian government, the longest period in the 48 years since independence. A year earlier, the peaceful handover of power from one civilian president to another was another significant milestone. This period has coincided with an era of unprecedented high oil prices, Nigeria’s major source of income.

The past nine years of relative peace and democratic governance have seen changes in the economy with steady growth, large reduction in external debt, and structural reforms of the financial and telecommunications sectors. Apart from increased access to mobile phones, these changes have had little impact on the lives of ordinary Nigerians.

From a health perspective, there are still many challenges. The health systems are weak, immunisation coverage is poor, and prospects of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) are remote.

With a population of an estimated 140 million, improving health in Nigeria is a key step towards achieving global health goals like eradicating polio, achieving the Millennium Developmental Goals (MDGs), preparing for pandemic flu and achieving universal access to antiretrovirals for HIV/AIDS.

Perhaps because of our large population, Nigerians can be found all over the world. Meeting Nigerians working in public health at international conferences and meetings was the stimulus for founding the Nigerian Public Health Network a few years ago. The network now consists of over a hundred members working all over the world, including in Nigeria; and in our electronic conversations, it emerged that there were a large number of initiatives aiming to improve health in Nigeria, a broad range of expertise and skills, and a keen interest in engaging in the onerous task of improving health in Nigeria.

The large number of Nigerian health professionals working abroad and the reasons for this are well known. Our study of three graduating classes from a Nigerian medical school indicated that nearly half were living abroad ten years after graduation, with the majority based in the UK, the US and Ireland. While a handful of colleagues keep seeking opportunities to work in Nigeria, many have become disillusioned with Nigeria, frustrated by bureaucracy of engagement.

On our frequent visits back to Nigeria, we also sought to engage with policy makers who often spoke of their hopes of engaging the vast health diaspora. Their attempts to do this yielded little fruit as colleagues often returned to Nigeria in small teams for medical missions all over the country with little cohesion in planning or implementation.

A number of UK institutions and donor organizations are also active in Nigeria. Money, energy and air miles are spent in efforts to support Nigeria in providing health for her people.

With all these in mind, we felt that it would be important to bring together these groups to understand policy initiatives and the priorities of the Nigerian government and where each group can help. We felt it was time to start working together, as Nigerian health professionals in the UK and elsewhere and with our friends and partners. It was time to pull together from the same end of the rope. 

Why has health slipped down the order of priorities in Nigeria? Is this a sustainable state of affairs for the country with the largest population on the African continent, the 8th largest crude oil producer in the world? Most importantly; what can we do about it?

To answer these important questions we have called a conference Nigeria: Partnership for Health which will hold at UCL on 22 November.

This is being convened by the Nigerian Public Health Network, in association with the Medical Association of Nigerian Specialists and General Practitioners, the Tropical Health and Education Trust, University College London and AfricaRecruit.

chikwe ihekweazu

Together, perhaps we can spark the drive to awaken the sleeping giant. Perhaps Nigeria can avoid being the last country to eradicate polio. Perhaps we can improve on our health sector ranking as the 187th out of 191 by WHO. Perhaps we can ask why our politicians have to be flown abroad for the slightest ailments and why our healthcare workers continue to leave. Perhaps this conference can help put these difficult questions on the table, and suggest a credible, pragmatic way forward. Perhaps we can achieve a re-energised Nigerian health workforce in the diaspora together with our friends and partners ready to re-engage with Nigeria.

Ike Anya and Chikwe Ihekweazu,  (pictured above) who co-wrote this blog, are Nigerian public health doctors working in London. They are co-founders of the Nigerian Public Health Network and co-editors of the Nigeria Health Watch blog.

  • Seye Abimbola

    Thanks Ike and Chikwe for this blog entry. I have often wondered why so little is said about Nigerian healthcare in international circles in spite of all of this. Thanks for putting the country on the global agenda. Hope it is sustained enough for wide attention. I have followed your blog, rather quietly for about a year now, and I am indeed impressed by your range. Keep up the good work!

  • Dr Samuel Olatigbe

    It’s been a long time ambition of mine to help in any way possible to improve the lots of my fellow Nigerians.I have witnessed first hand and personally the crude health facilities still being practised in this country.Most of the practices are not just below standard but does not conform with science.In a country where superstition,cultural and personal belief compounded by poverty and ignorance still exist, it is a cocktail for a health disaster.The government does not fair well either.Most of my fellow Nigerians travel to UK to seek help and paying huge sums of money in private clinics on Harley street when the money could have been better saved or spent on other things.I have witnessed pateints and relatives spending their retirement income on a sick relative a few years ago in private clinics in Essex and only to lose the daughter to what I knew even before she got to the country. We need to address this anomalies and form an Advisary group to help th egovernment starting from the scratch on how to set up a functioonal health system.Only two weeks ago , a friend’s mum aged 50 died from a simple treatable bacterial infection and countless numbers of people dying daily from treatable illnesse not to mention preventable diseases.The question of fake drugs , quack medical personal , poro post graduate training , negligence, bureacracy, corruption,illittracy , and simple disregard for human health and life are all to blame.The government has a huge role to play and must take the lion’s share of the blame if not all.The successive regimes over the decades had neglected the health system and even the leader prefers to seek help from abroad shamelessly.The few Governemnt Officials I have met are completely oblivion to any of these and my recent visit to Abuja state hospital and Lagos was so disappointing that I could not even allow my precious dog to be treated in any of them.It is a shame and we should be sad about this.We need a dynamic organisation devoid of corruption and fraud and completely independent to advise the govenment and an independent agent to carry itforward . The country is rich but the wealth is precariously restricted to very , very few hands representing less than 2% of the population of this vast African nation.I would be happy to attend this if only to show my support and keeness in helping to shape up this huge problem

  • Okechukwu

    Awesome! awesome!! The impact may not be felt immediately, but with sincere efforts like this; we would be contributing to lift the healthcare delivery system in Nigeria.I commend your efforts.

  • Nwaogwugwu

    Dear all,

    Ditto to the above….it is good to talk about these things but even better to formulate and put into action real solutions. I went to Nigeria in my elective year and was was promptly put off going back to work there….the doctors had to strick in order to get paid, the wards and operating rooms were in a state of needy repair better still total rejuvination BUT this a country full of abundance, knowledge & ability. I’m not sure why the government has chosen to let us live as lower class citizens. Please don’t be what we have been good at back home…don’t start a good thing and leave it to crumble into nothing but a distant memory. Looking forward to further updates. (p.s. could not reply via your website)