Thursday, 18 October 2012

Saving 1 million lives in Nigeria

On the 16th October 2012, most people involved in maternal and child health in Nigeria gathered at the Banquet Hall of the presidential villa in Abuja to participate in a new initiative from the Minister of State for Health; Dr Muhammad Ali Pate - Saving one Million Lives, by 2015. Close followers of this blog will recall the first time he stated his intentions in this regard in a webinar which we covered (No ordinary webinar with Dr Ali-Pate Minister of State for Health). Also on the programme, was the launch of the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children.  I am sure you are beginning to wonder - Oh not another lofty ambitious headline, with lots of talk and little substance. But something in the room felt different...

Firstly - this is the first time I can remember that a Minister for Health in Nigeria is providing Nigerians with a clear unambiguous objective, in health terms, to be delivered within a specific time frame. Dr Muhammad Ali Pate, by doing this has put his head above the parapet, and you bet Nigerians will be ready to assess progress by 2015. As eloquently pointed out by Moji Makanjuola who compered the day, within the time it took to say the Christian and Muslim prayers during the ceremony one woman and several children would have died in our country, so we really have to commit our words to action! No one put it better on the day than the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor who "confessed" to the international audience - saying "In Nigeria, we talk a lot and do very little".



In a series of commitments, the Senate, House of Representatives, and the Nigerian Governors Forum all declared that they were "on board" (pls don't ask me for details :)). However, the most passionate commitment came from Mr Jim Ovia, the founder of Zenith Bank, who told a story of how he had learnt from the American millionaire Ray Chambers, and was now dedicating most of his time to creating value for society through endeavors such as the Nigeria Private Sector Health Alliance.

Chelsea Clinton
The words of some of the foreign partners were also poignant - especially those of the USAID representative, who warned Nigerians that in addition to seeking more funds, we must also aim to do more with the money we have. One of the more intriguing speakers during the morning which was packed full with speeches was Chelsea Clinton, (who in our Nigerian way, we kept referring to as "Miss" Clinton). She recalled how the Clinton Health Initiative had been on the forefront of pushing down the costs of ARVs and ACTs and will now do the same for the commodities recommended by the UN commission to save the lives of women and children in Nigeria. Her most important point maybe, was that she will be back in 2015 - to see how we put our words into action!

Then came the description of the initiative by Dr Mummamad Ali Pate. He started his passionate speech with a short video that brought to life the enormity of the challenge, and pain of loosing a mother or child to any family. He promised a paradigm shift in the health sector from the measurement of inputs to outcomes - showing the audience a scorecard that will be provided to each state over the coming months, measuring their progress towards saving a million lives by 2015. He ended by saying that "our journey is tasking, and the road is far", but that we should let history judge him. Then he called on the midwives in attendance to sing their anthem to a standing ovation.


Before the President took the podium, there were speeches from the Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, the former Minister for Health, Profesosr Babatunde Osotimehin and the Minister for Finance Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Mrs Iweala's comments were most poignant as she referred to Nigeria's total fertility rate of 5.7 children per woman as being too high, unless we turn this into a demographic advantage. She assured the support of her Ministry, through the SURE_P programme which would continue to support efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality.

Surprisingly, the most powerful story of the day came from Mr President. Having sat through 3 hours of speeches, I was not really expecting great oratory, which even he would admit is not one of his strongest areas. However, he won the crowd over with a simple story. His, mother had given birth to 9 children altogether. Surviving today, are only two - himself and his older sister. He told us how he always thought about the the faces of the siblings he lost. It now all made sense....it made sense that he had patiently sat through all the proceedings.

Am I optimistic? Yes - but ultimately the challenge lies squarely on Dr Pate's shoulders. He will either take the glory or live with the consequences. We are a people that forget a lot - but that is changing. There is nothing more difficult to forget than the death of a mother or a child. Now the ceremony is over, lets get down to the task of saving those lives!

Some pictures below - apologies for the poor quality :).

Muhammad Ali Pate, Minister of State for Health 

Bright Ekweremadu of SFH and Emmanuel Emedo of CIDA 

Guests at the event
Toyin Saraki of  The Wellbeing Foundation




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