A major milestone passed in October this year, when Nigerians marked 50 years of independence. While our government celebrated, most Nigerians reflected on why the country had not fulfilled the great hopes engendered by the handover ceremonies in Lagos fifty years ago.
From a turbulent past marked by a sudden end to colonialism, a civil war, a series of coups and periods of military rule, Nigeria today is experiencing a sustained period of relative stability, peace, and civilian government. Some of these changes are reflected in the steady economic growth, large reduction in external debt, and structural reforms of the financial and telecommunications sectors that are hallmarks of the last decade.
These changes have resulted in massive increased access to mobile phones and improved banking services, but the impact on the lives of ordinary Nigerians has been minimal.
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 are remote.
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 two 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. Out of this network has emerged the Public Health Foundation of Nigeria, a new foundation with 3 main goals:
- to improve the health of the Nigerian people. With this mission, it aims
- to influence public policy formulation for health, and
- to increase capacity in the Nigerian public health system and advocate for the health of the Nigerian people.
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?
It is obvious that there are many groups and individuals in Nigeria and abroad (the so-called diaspora) doing their bit to support the health sector in Nigeria. Several missions, projects and programmes are initiated every year. Yet, often the initiatives appear disjointed, uncoordinated and unsustainable.
Lessons learned are often not shared, leading to duplication and an inefficient use of resources. Many professionals abroad are keen to learn how best to contribute towards improving health in Nigeria.
To address this, we felt that this was an auspicious time to bring together different groups and individuals to learn from each other, build partnerships, and pull together from the same end of the rope.
Towards this end, the foundation has convened a conference, the second in the series: Nigeria: Partnership for Health which will hold at the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology on 6 November 2010.
Maybe, we can spark the drive to awaken the sleeping giant. Perhaps we can learn from the recent progress in working in collaboration to radically reduce the number of polio cases diagnosed in Nigeria. Perhaps we can learn how multi-disciplinary teams are necessary to improve on our health sector ranking as the 187th out of 191 by WHO. Perhaps this conference can encourage us to seek resources from within us and beyond, to work together not in opposition, foster collaboration, 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 inside and outside Nigeria ready to re-engage with the country.
Join us on this journey by taking one of the few places left on the conference.
Ike Anya is a Nigerian public health doctor working in London and co-founder of the Nigerian Public Health Network.