Having been recommended by a friend, I ended up with 99 other young Africans that received a fellowship to attend a conference called TEDGlobal in Arusha, Tanzania. Not being quite sure of what to expect, I spent quite a while on their website listening to powerful inspirational speeches from past TEDs, but these only became real to me when I listened to Ngozi Okonjo Iweala. At that point I knew then how lucky I was to be going to Arusha!
Much has been written about the conference, and you can look up the TEDBlog …but I will focus on 2 Nigerians that brought their innovations in healthcare to TED. In the sessions themed “Health and Heroism”, and Tales of Innovation.
Ernest Madu …I first met this guy during one of the coffee breaks, taking pictures and bursting with enthusiasm, we did the normal introductions.
But nothing prepared me for his story! Ernest, himself a cardiologist working in the USA has set up a massive, modern and apparently very efficiently run heart centre in The Caribbeans. The obvious question…why there? The obvious answer, Nigeria was not ready at the time. But things are changing and Ernest is working on setting up a similar centre in Port Harcourt Nigeria. Then maybe, just maybe we could stop some of those deaths from heart disease, and help all those "poor" Nigerians forced to go abroad for small ailments. Heart disease is never easy or cheap to manage. Dr Madu has shown that in an interconnected world, technology, expertise and the human (I’d say Nigerian spirit) spirit can support make the seemingly impossible, possible. Ernest reminded us all that while it is important to focus on AIDS, Malaria and TB, we should not forget all the other important causes of illness and death! His question: What would happen if any of us had a heart attack here in Arusha, Tanzania at 11pm at night….for the answer…Watch out for Ernest’s talk on TEDtalks, on the website over the next few weeks.
Then there was Seyi Oyesola....boy, did he give a good talk. But he should, he spent hours working on his presentation.:-)...and it was well worth the time. (Seyi...sorry had to say this). Where are the well-trained African doctors? Seyi asked...the answer: Overseas. Where they're better paid, better treated and enjoy modern hospital settings. In contrast, most hospitals on the continent lack vital equipment. On a mdeical mission back home, Seyi was distressed by the conditions in a Nigeria hospital where he came to perform a dozen open-heart surgeries; floors were dirty; X-rays taped to windows etc...and he decided to "do something". Precisely what he is doing....Oyesola resolved to find a portable solution for bringing modern medicine with him. He co-developed the a complete operating room in a small trolley that can run on electricity, solar and batteries..or a combination of these. These are now in production and Seyi is heading home with them.
OK...not about health....but just as important! Leaving the best for last....Ngozi Okonjo Iweala closed the conference with the most powerful and inspirational speech..I have heard. If you heard the first one, you will want to look out for this one. But if you cannot wait, read the summary here or here.
And to think that we had almost stopped believing...In Africa, we say it takes a village, but sometimes all it takes is an individual! These individuals motivate thousands of others to believe again. Thousands of inspired, committed, competent and motivated individuals…."the village"! It does take a village! The challenge is to transform these villages into institutions. It is up to us, young Africans to draw inspiration from the Okonjo-Iwealas, and prove our competence in taking our destiny in our own hands and going out there and doing it.
Thank you Ngozi for helping to restore to many of us young Africans the self-belief we need to fulfil our shared dreams for the continent.