Saturday, 28 July 2012

David Mark, Social Media and Health

Our Senator President, David Mark, the Nigerian Senate President recently called for a check on the use of the social media in the Nigeria, saying that people now use them to demean their leaders. Wow.... this is the same gentleman that came to fame when he declared previously that that telephones were not meant for ordinary people when he was Minister of Communication. The good senator does seem to have a problem with information being in the hands of the people. What really is he afraid of? What stories are spread by social media that he thinks are demeaning?

One recent story that went viral in the Nigerian Twittersphere was this;
"Mark returns from medical trip, says he is moved by love from Nigerians" 
This was published by the Vanguard....conventional media! But in the good old days that served our politicians very well, the story would have disappeared in a few days, and we would all return to business as usual. While our politicians access the excellent medical services in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Germany, ordinary Nigerians have to make do with the sordid state of affairs in our public health care facilities.

Dear Senate President, we do not seek to demean you. Honestly, we do not. But we are on the path to returning power to where it belongs - in the hands of the people. Social media is just one of several platforms. Like you saw from the voting in Edo, we will come out to protect our votes. Like you saw in January, we will defend our rights to know how our funds are being spent, and one day dear Senate President, we will insist that our leaders not use our money to fly to Israel, for an ailment that your own staff described as minor. The reason is not complicated - it is illustrated in the pictures below - the use of social media on the continent is growing......every day. We are not quite sure what the Senate President means that its use should be you?  

Credit - Portland and Tweetminster
If you really want to stay on the side of the people Sir, use the hospitals we use. It is not demeaning to do so. If you do, the story will go viral on twitter sphere....promise! 

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Another International Conference on AIDS

Today - July 22 the 19th International Conference on AIDS opens in Washington DC. 

NHW will miss this year's conference, BUT we thought that a good way to reflect on it would be to bring you the summary of proceedings of the meeting of Nigerian delegates in attendance at the 13th International AIDS Conference, Durban, South Africa on Wednesday 12 July 2000.

12 Years ago...this is what we talked about! Judge for yourself how much has changed.

Venue: Chamber of Commerce Building (Indaba 1), Stanger Street, Durban 

The meeting was declared open on the dot of 3.30 pm by Prof (Mrs) Ibironke Akinsete, the National Coordinator of the National Action Committee on HIV/AIDS (NACA). She welcomed everyone in attendance and thanked delegates for attending. There was a large turn out of Nigerians both from Nigeria and in the Diaspora. Akinsete apologised for the inadequacy of seats at the venue, as this problem was not foreseen at the planning stages of this meeting. She also noted that she had indeed started making parallel arrangements for a meeting at another venue but conceded to this venue arranged at the initiative of Mr Omololu Falobi (RIP) and signalled that this was a sign of the new spirit of dialogue within the renewed efforts by the Federal Government in its fight against HIV/AIDS. All delegates present were then asked to introduce themselves. Characteristic of most gatherings of Nigerians, this was filled with humour as all those present were immediately categorised into "expatriates" and "inpatriates". There was indeed a wide spectrum of Nigerian professionals in attendance including students, clinicians, public health professionals, journalists and people living with AIDS (PLWAs). Affiliations ranged from government, non- governmental organisations, and the pharmaceutical industry to the press and academia.

Akinsete then opened the session by giving an account of the activities of NACA since it was set up by the present administration. Highlights of her speech include: 1. That the one single, most important aspect that has been missing in attempts by previous administrations over the years in the battle against HIV/AIDS has been a lack of political will. She stated that this has indeed changed for the better and is self evident in the present administration as the President himself has taken charge of the inter-ministerial committee on HIV/AIDS. 2. That the approach to fighting the epidemic would be a multi- sectoral one as manifested in the constitution of various committees set up. This is to emphasise that HIV/AIDS should no longer be seen as a purely medical problem but as one that is presently affecting almost all spheres of human existence. 3. That the new approach to the epidemic will involve strategic planning. This will prioritise different aspects of the epidemic to be handled and would assure the help does get to areas where it is most needed. In this regard a Strategic Action Plan is presently being formulated. Since this will involve a detailed outline of activities and considering the urgency of the situation, an Interim Action Plan is also at the final stages of formulation presently and will soon be made public. 4. That the Government has released N52 million to her committee to date. 5. She rounded up by noting the large pool of human resources available both within and outside the country and appealed to all those in attendance to contribute whatever they can to the battle against HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. She emphasised her commitment to efforts in this regard and looked forward to a new era of communication and cooperation. The UNAIDS representatives were then asked to address the meeting. The UNAIDS rep opened by noting the large number of Nigerian delegates in attendance. She said that she had attended meetings of delegates from other African countries at the conference and that Nigeria had by far the most delegates among African countries outside the host country. She congratulated Nigerians on their turn out and their new-found zeal. Nigeria's' exclusion from the main stream of activities over the past few years was noted with disappointment. She however stressed that that she had been in active consultation with the new Government and acknowledged the efforts of the President in his campaign for debt relief for African countries. She announced that Nigeria was in the next set of countries for which a new dept relief package was being arranged through which money saved by such efforts will be directly channelled into funding anti-AIDS programmes...the "Debt-for-AIDS" programme. She encouraged the removal of the barriers that exist to a large-scale response to the epidemic and commended the renewed efforts in this direction.

The meeting then proceeded on a question and answer mode: All answers are by Akinsete.

1. Poor access to test kits, drugs, etc at the community level. (Raised by a community worker for an NGO). Was a major theme throughout the conference! Answer: The issue of drugs was not as simple as it sounds as the provision of anti-retroviral drugs must be accompanied by adequate infrastructure and trained personnel for pre- and post test counselling, on-going management, emergency responses etc. However that pilot projects are going on in a few centres including the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). On test kits, it was remarked that Government's policy would be outlined within the Interim action plan soon to be released to ensure a steady flow of high quality kits into the country in a structured and controlled manner. This will lead to the avoidance situations such as the scandal associated with the importation of kits close to their expiratory dates by the previous administration.

2. The "Dr Abalaka Issue" (Raised by a Secure-the-Future scholar in South Africa) The fact that this was not mentioned in the address by Prof Akinsete was noted. It was demanded that the government clarify its stand on this issue. Answer: Just prior to the Durban conference, the Nigerian Academy of Science, the highest academic body in the country had issued and published its findings into this issue. This report stated that it found no evidence to support the claims that Dr Abalaka was making. Akinsete said that Government has learnt from this experience and will handle such cases better in the future. Delegates wondered why Abalaka was absent from this conference and expressed their concern over the plight of Nigerians on his "vaccine". Government was asked to take a clear and unambiguous stand on this matter.

3. Negligence both by Government and NGOs of People living with HIV/AIDS in the planning and implementation of AIDS programmes. (Raised by a PLWA) He noted that despite the large number of NGOs in attendance here, none financed a person living with HIV/AIDS to the conference. Answer: Government was addressing this issue. A plea was again made to Nigerians living with HIV/AIDS to organise themselves. The UNAIDS rep noted that unlike in the Northern hemisphere where People living with HIV/AIDS were the major drivers of responses to the epidemic, this was sadly not the case in Africa probably as a result of the high level of stigma associated with the epidemic. She encouraged PLWAs to engage in activism and advocacy in directing the Government's response to AIDS.

4. NGO networking It was noted that the previous arrangement in which any NGO could start activities anywhere in the country without any relationship to needs assessment and without any form of control, monitoring and evaluation could no longer continue. It was accepted that there was of a lack of organisation, communication and rivalry among NGOs operating in the country. Different options on how NGOs could organise themselves and elect a representative into NACA were discussed and abandoned as impracticable within this forum. It was however agreed to that the NGOs should organise themselves along the lines of the 6 geo-political zones in the country. These zonal representatives will then communicate directly with an NGO liaison officer within NACA

5. Costs of Anti-Retroviral Drugs. (Raised by a delegate from Glaxo- Wellcome Nigeria) High tariffs on anti-retroviral drugs were apparently keeping the costs of drugs high. Answer: Government is presently looking at different options on how to bring down the prices of anti-retroviral drugs. These include the concepts of compulsory licensing and parallel importing. Delegates in attendance however implored Glaxo-Wellcome to seek ways of manufacturing these drugs in Nigeria rather than importation, as is the practice in some other countries.

6. Negligence of the Youth in anti-AIDS efforts. (Moses Imayi, Nigerian Youth Action Rangers) It was alleged that the youth felt marginalized and used in the anti-AIDS efforts. Answer: It was agreed that this was the case in the past but that this will change in the present dispensation.

7. Lack of research in Nigeria, lack of funding for research and lack of communication among researchers and research institutions. (Prof. Maurice Iwu, Prof. John Idoko) Answer: It was agreed to that the problem of inadequate research into the AIDS situation in Nigeria was definitely not due to lack of the human resources as is evident by the participants in this forum. However there was a large ignorance of each other and their activities. This meeting at which a resource bank is being compiled should be a starting point for a change of attitude. Names, addresses and affiliations of those in attendance were collected by the facilitator of this meeting and will be compiled and made available as soon as possible. NGOs were also encouraged to fund research or to source funds for research. The roles of further research into traditional remedies especially those for the opportunistic infections associated with HIV were stressed. An appeal was made to various academics to work together, and to form partnerships especially with foreign-based colleagues and institutions. There was a consensus for a dire need for improved networking. Post Durban The need for a post-Durban meeting of all the stakeholders in this epidemic was emphasised. This is to assess progress on all the issues raised here. Akinsete highlighted the logistic difficulties involved in the arrangement of such a meeting as she pointed out that in previous attempts, many addresses of NGOs were found to be non- existing. However despite the difficulties, it was agreed that there was an overwhelming need for this meeting and it was scheduled for about the end of August or early September. This is hoped will coincide with the release of the Interim action plan by NACA. Family Health International (FHI) volunteered to help with the logistics involved in arranging this meeting.

Prof Akinsete then congratulated the co-facilitator of this meeting, Mr Omololu Falobi for his initiative and tireless efforts towards improving communication among Nigerians involved in different aspects of AIDS-related activities. He also received a rousing applause from delegates present and a passionate appeal was made to him to not relent in his efforts. The meeting ended punctually at 5.30 pm.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Rest in Peace Dr Dantong, Chair Senate Committee on Health

Every time news comes of another tragic incident in our country Nigeria, we cry, shrug our shoulders and move on. The routine condolence messages are sent, a firm statement is made from the presidency, normally to the effect that government will leave no stone unturned in finding those that carried out the dastardly act, a high powered committee is set up, if we are lucky, we will get a Senate hearing......and then we wait for the next tragedy.

While many people would have heard of the death of Senator Dantong Gyang in Jos last weekend, you may not know that he was also the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health. He undertook his medical training at at the University of Jos and until his ill-fated  foray into politics, was the MD of Vom Christian Hospital. 

Until his death, he was committed to the signing of the new Health Bill into law by our President Goodluck. The bill has been sitting with the president for over a year, neither signed, nor returned. Now the good Senator is gone....and our health bill remains somewhere in a pile in the president's office; untouched. 

Many will remember how Senator Dantong Gyang attended and actively participated in some of the sessions of the 1st workshop on ‘Improving Financial Access to Health Services for the Poor in Nigeria” which held at Tinapa Calabar from Nov 1-3, 2011. At the time, he assured participants that his committee had been in talks with the presidency on the signing of the health bill. He promised he would expedite work on the Bill once Mr President sends back the unsigned Bill back to the National Assembly. Sadly that will no longer happen, as the good Senator is gone and we have to find a new Health Committee Chairman to chase our president to sign the Health Bill. If he does send it back one day - Nigerians will again work to educate the new Chairman on the tragedy of a bill, passed by both houses of parliament, sent to the presidents office......only to be locked away. Just one example of the tragic state of affairs in our country. 

Those that knew the Late Senator  Gyang  well say he was calm and easy going, just as he was so passionate about how to improve the health situation in Nigeria. a blog post on Nairaland says:
This passion for the health sector was displayed by the late Senator Gyang Dalyop Dantong when he met with the leadership of the National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD Thursday, May 31, 2012 in the wake of threat by the doctors to go on strike nation wide during the logjam between the Lagos State government and the doctors. During the marathon meeting to end the crisis, Senator Dantong told the doctors that they were special people in the society who play very important roles, adding that doctors as a result of this, be treated like eggs and must not be allowed to embark on any nationwide strike.

However, it is important to remember that Dr Gyang belongs to an elite group of  Nigerian Senators that are in a position to change the country for better or for worse. I just wonder if his death will stir his colleagues in the Nigerian Senate to wake up to their responsibilities to the people that voted them in. As Plateau North will have to bury its dead and seek a new Senator, so will the House Committee on Health have to seek a new Chairman. There will be many candidates, but I wonder how many of them will care more for health than the perks of the position. For Nigerians...the struggle continues.

Rest in Peace Dr Dantong...and hopefully not for the Health Bill of 2008!