The death of the former Minister of Health and Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, is a great loss to Nigeria and the global health community. The consummate medic and the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, died in New York, United States on June 4, at the age of 68. Without doubt, his death has deprived the nation of an accomplished physician who was versed in reproductive health and HIV/AIDS issues.
His death has elicited tributes extolling his sterling qualities from far and near. In his tribute, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said the world had lost a great champion of health and wellbeing. He stressed that the deceased was admired globally for his leadership of the UN Population Fund and for his forceful advocacy for the world’s women and girls, in particular.
Guterres also noted that the deceased’s calm yet ardent efforts helped families get the sexual and reproductive health services they need and helped the world advance the landmark 1994 Cairo Programme of Action on Population and Development.
To UNFPA, his passage was a devastating loss for the agency and for people all over the world, especially the women, girls and youths he dedicated his life to serve, starting from when he became a doctor in Nigeria. On his own part, Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, on behalf of the people and government of Nigeria, condoled with the family over the passage of the former Minister of Health.
Also, the Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, (NACA), Sani Aliyu, recalled that as DG of NACA, Osotimehin transformed NACA from a committee to a federal government agency, and will be fondly remembered for his outstanding contributions to HIV/AIDS response in Nigeria. The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said that the deceased would be remembered for his role and global contributions to increased access to family planning as well as sexual and adolescent health, especially in low and middle income countries.
Similarly, the President of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Mike Ogirima, attested that during his time as Health Minister, Osotimehin ensured that the welfare of health workers was taken care of. He gave them a new enhanced salary structure.
The former Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) was born on February 6, 1949 in Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State. He attended Igbobi College between 1966 and 1971 and later went to the University of Ibadan for his medical studies. He capped his academic attainment with a doctorate degree in medicine from the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, in 1979. He became a Professor of Clinical Pathology, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan in 1980.
Osotimehin, who was once the Provost of the College of Medicine at the University of Ibadan, served as the Minister of Health in Nigeria between December 17, 2008 and March 10, 2010. He was appointed the 4th Executive Director of UNFPA in November 19, 2010 and was reappointed on August 21, 2014, for a second term. Before his appointment as UNFPA boss, he was the Director-General of NACA.
In his capacity as the chairman of the National Action Committee on AIDS, Osotimehin oversaw the development of systems that today manage more than US$1billion. He achieved tremendous success as the Project Manager for the World Bank-assisted HIV/AIDS Programme Development Project from 2002-2008.
As a Minister of Health, the deceased united the 36 states to build a national health plan focused on primary health care. He bagged the Nigerian national honour, Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), in December 2005. Osotimehin died at a time his invaluable services are most needed. He will be sorely missed by his numerous admirers in Nigeria and the world over for his advocacy in reproductive health, women and girls’ health as well as HIV/AIDS. He was so passionate about women’s health in Nigeria and frequently wondered why any woman should die in pregnancy. Let those in the medical profession emulate his shining example.
We enjoin the Federal Government to immortalise this illustrious son of Nigeria for his numerous contributions to women and girls’ health in the country and globally. We wish his soul a peaceful repose.