Saturday, 26 November 2011

A colossus at 80

Rarely in this blog do we celebrate individuals, as there are sadly not many people to celebrate in our health arena. We share a collective guilt in our profession of not (yet) fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of the Nigerian people.

But some of us are less guilty than others and today we will celebrate one - Professor Adetokubo Lucas as he turns 80! I met Professor Lucas after he had already retired but a more energetic, knowledgeable and humble elder statesman I am yet to meet. Prof takes every call, answers every email and responds with candour, honesty and engagement that is simply extraordinary in our Nigerian context. In the the course of the last few years I have met other senior colleagues who have been taught by Professor Lucas while at the University of Ibadan and beyond and not one has not been inspired by his teaching. He is rare, not only in what he knows but in his humanity and humility. That makes him special - very special to us,  a leader, an inspiration to a whole generation of Nigerian doctors.

As founding Director of WHO’s TDR programme (Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases), TDR invested about US$200 million to combat malaria, schistosomiasis, leishmaniasis, leprosy, onchocerciasis, and lymphatic fi lariasis—achieving great success against the last three diseases. In his autobiography "It was the Best of Times", he recounts his struggle despite the odds to establish TDR, the innovations he introduced, and his navigation of the WHO environment. The book is reviewed in the Lancet.

Professor Lucas is an officer of the Federal Republic and Member of the Governing Board of the Global Fund for Fighting AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He has been a major force in scientific research whose deep life long interest in tropical diseases facilitated the advancement of the frontiers of knowledge in Leprosy, Onchocerciasis and other diseases. He is an international leader in the fields of preventive medicine and Tropical diseases who effectively deployed his knowledge and passion to human development in these fields. We wish him many more years in the service of humanity.

To celebrate his turning an octogenarian, his colleagues and friends invite you to 2 events - one at the University of Ibadan and the other at the University of Ife. Both functions are open to the public and invitations are included below. See you there!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

7 Billion and counting - implications for Nigeria

A few weeks ago, the worlds' population was said to have crossed the 7 million mark. Apart from the normal ritual of sound bites in the Nigerian media, there has been very little thought on what this means for us. But the population growth has profound implications. Below is a diagram called a 'population pyramid' for Nigeria. You do not need to see the details, on the right side are females and the left males. The youngest are at the bottom of and it rises to the oldest at the top. Nearly 50% of Nigerians are under the age of 15. Our dear country Nigeria has been experiencing a population explosion for the last 50 years due to high fertility rates, quadrupling its population over this time.

Some Nigerians pride themselves as the 'Giant of Africa' based on a numerical advantage offered by the stroke of Lord Luggard's felt pen in 1914. Only recently, with the exponential growth of MTN has the country come to realise the potential economic value of its rising population. It is definitely a great market, but there is more to building a country than  market size, especially one like ours that consumes a lot and produces very little. 

So, what does this mean for Health? Firstly, let us look at the shape of our population? The Nigerian Population Commission tells us that there are now 167 million of us. These 167 million Nigerians are not evenly distributed. They are mostly young consumers of services. Across the country, while we have seen growth in the private sector driving sections of the economy, our public services, especially health have lagged behind. With some notable exceptions in Lagos and Rivers states, the health sector has received little investment. Our politicians do not find political capital in investing in health. So, we are sitting on a time bomb....failing public services and a burgeoning young population. Is any one listening? We are unable to provide for the health of our population, the same population that is growing exponentially - something will have to give. 

We are not the only ones worrying about this. On the day the Nigerian Population Commission announced that our population was now a staggering 167,912,561 and is projected to hit 221,392,163 by July 1, 2020. - hardly anyone paid attention. As described by the Regional Head of Research, Africa, Global Research, Standard Chartered Bank, Razia Khan, Nigeria's "big concern of course is whether sufficient employment opportunities can be generated to absorb the country's growing pool of labour, and whether this can take place rapidly enough.”

We have to prepare or be prepared to fail. Business as usual will not be good enough. Our leaders will have to no sector is it more critical than the health sector.