Tuesday, April 7, was marked as World Health Day with the theme, ’Year of the Nurse and Midwife.’ There was unprecedented frenzy of activities in Nigeria. Jolted by a ferocious foe, the capacity to respond to health matters and properly situate what should actually be top priority in national planning has kicked in.
The annual budgetary allocation for health is a usual story of neglect with less than 10 per cent earmarked, underscores how much we value our health. It is gratifying to see private sector participation in combating the COVID-19 pandemic with unprecedented multi-sectorial donations as corporates seek to outdo each other.
The huge outpouring of donations in the wake of the national malady has somewhat been amazing considering that these donors consist mostly of indigenous companies, which had declined requests for their intervention few years ago. The pain of disillusionment is still very fresh.
At the Mohammed Yunus 2011 Conference in Vienna, I made an emotional presentation in one of the breakout sessions. For some strange reason I chose to speak on cervical cancer based on the less-than-satisfactory awareness in comparison to breast cancer in Nigeria. Although I have a career in banking, the health and empowerment of women is the nucleus of my volunteer work.
At the end of the session a lady walked up to me and said: ‘Excuse me Ada, are you really serious about combating cervical cancer?’ My surprise was poorly concealed. I embarked on a self-funded trip at zero temperature in November, flying the cheapest connecting flight in the smallest aircraft. Can you see these Oyibo, I thought to myself. ‘Yes madam, I am very serious’ I replied as politely as I could.
“In that case, let us talk’ she said pulling me to a corner of the hall. The German lady was a cancer survivor. As part of her contribution to society she was ready to facilitate the procurement of cancer screening machines to Nigeria. In fact the cancer centre where she was treated had received new machines and was willing to dispose the older versions at very minimal cost.
In reality the actual cost was more on freight. With my head in the clouds I set to work as soon as I returned, wrote several proposals to some of these ‘born-again’ brother’s keepers. I was now in a dilemma, after running my mouth in Austria I could not consummate a life-saving deal as the lady gave up after several correspondences.
No thanks to the Coronavirus, the pandemic has presented a critical juncture that would put in motion the extremely important responses to our health care. Organizations are donating well-equipped isolation centres, medical equipment and monetary resources to a sector that commanded scant attention.
The chicken has come home to roost for the Nigerian elite that sustained medical tourism in other climes as COVID-19 has no hiding place for anyone. With the Coronavirus, everyone could be a victim irrespective of social status, tribe or tongue.
The good thing in all this is that COVID-19 will usher in a potential turning point in the Nigerian health sector. Panic measures have placed the sector ahead of economic considerations, funds are being deployed with alacrity and governors are busy setting up state-of-the art medical facilities while many abandoned health centres are receiving emergency facelift.
The maxim, Health is Wealth, has suddenly assumed a new meaning as the health of citizens has become of prime concern to the government. Every news headline opens up with update on COVID-19
This looks like a rebasing of our values. While the frenetic activity aimed at the containment of the dreaded virus that has practically brought the world to a halt is commendable, it is hoped that other monsters like Lassa fever which have claimed almost 200 lives this year will also be placed on the front burner.
Can we sing Uhuru to the Nigerian health sector? Anyway, I send hearty felicitations to our wonderful healthcare practitioners, who are on the frontline in this pandemic. It is my earnest hope and expectation that our nurses and midwives, the unsung heroes, would also benefit from the intervention.
• Ada Obaje, CEO of Lenpriss International, a marketing consultancy, wrote from Lagos