Being a good child to a dear parent, whom you share invaluable memories with all the time, it becomes obviously challenging and painful at the sudden loss of such a wonderful parent to find the right words to fully and adequately confer a warm tribute to such a personage, a rare gem and a trailblazer!
Chief (Dr.) Micheal Mbanefo Nwabuonu Ogbalu (Ebubedike Abagana) was a quintessential gentleman, an accomplished community physician who devoted his entire lifetime to the service of the nation and humanity, particularly in the development and management of the nation’s primary health care delivery system, as well as in the practice of community medicine in Nigeria. He was a Fellow of the West African College of Physicians, National Health Sector coordinator for Vision 20:2020 and a former executive director/CEO of National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA). He was also chairman/CEO, Ebubedike Health International Limited, and also founder and executive chairman of Coastal Health System Development Limited.
Born to the famous Ogbalu family of Abagana on July 14, 1940, Dr. Ogbalu was happily married to Chief (Mrs.) Pauline Adaobi Ogbalu, from Eziowelle in Idemili LGA of Anambra State, a Nigerian/British-trained ophthalmic nurse who rose to become a senior nursing matron at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, and later became the deputy head of the Department of Nursing Services at the famous National Hospital, Abuja. They have eight great children.
Mike Ogbalu attended St. Paul’s Central School and St. Augustine’s Grammar School, Nkwerre, Imo State, and Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha, Anambra State, before gaining admission to the University of Ibadan in 1963 to study medicine. In 1967, the Nigeria/Biafra civil war broke out and young Ogbalu served as the refugee medical director for Nnewi, Awka-Etiti, Amechi, Ekwulobia and Nnobi, before joining the Biafran Army in 1968. He served as army medical doctor for the 21 Division and 5 Brigade, Military Representative for the Joint Hospital, Mbano, and public relations officer for the Armed Forces Hospital headquarters, Nkwerre. In December 1969, he served as military representative for the Teaching Hospital, Emekuku, in Imo State.
When the Nigeria/Biafra civil war ended in 1970, Ogbalu returned to the University of Ibadan and, in June 1972, he qualified as a medical doctor. He did his House job and Senior House job at the UNTH, Enugu, and worked as registrar in anesthesiology, before proceeding to the University of Manchester on East-Central State Scholarship. Dr. Ogbalu was awarded the scholarship following his unprecedented achievements as medical officer of health for Aba in present-day Abia State, where, in less than three months, he was able to rescue Aba from being drowned by myriads of mountainous heaps of refuse, opened up over 40 roads that were completely blocked by refuse, and more than 20 public water taps, which were buried by refuse for several years.
He returned to Nigeria in 1977 as a pioneer specialist in community medicine. As a famous sportsman, Ogbalu was the first-eleven football goalkeeper, hockey first-eleven centre forward and high jumper in all the schools and universities that he attended, and was second best high jumper at the West African Games in 1964. He was hockey first-eleven captain for all the schools he attended, including University of Ibadan, eastern and national hockey teams, as well as UCH hockey captain. Mike Ogbalu (M.M.) was also lawn tennis captain for all his schools, including the UCH, Ibadan. He was also vice president of the Students’ Union, UCH Ibadan (1964/65).
As one of the earliest community physicians in Nigeria, Dr. Ogbalu has held several important positions and made major achievements, especially in the development of primary health care (PHC), for instance, senior lecturer and consultant community physician, University of Nigeria; senior consultant community physician and assistant director of primary health care; pioneer zonal coordinator of PHC Health Zone A (Eastern Nigeria and Benue State 1985-89); chief consultant community physician and director of public health services for Anambra State (1992-1995); project director, USAID/THS Resource Intensification Strategy for Anambra State ( 1994-1995); Member of CCCD Review Committee of Federal Ministry of Health (1984-1989); director, USAID/CCCD project for Anambra State (1992-1995); director of Primary Health Care and Disease Control for Anambra State (1995-1996); deputy director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (1997-1999); principal consultant (IEC) NPHCDA/PTF Bamako Initiative Project (1998-1999); executive director/CEO, NPHCDA (1999-2000); secretary, Presidential Committee on Primary Health Care (2000); Federal Consultant Community Physician Special Grade One (2001- 2002); and consultant to World Assisted Health Systems Development Project 11 in Anambra State (Survey of Health Manpower Development and Training Needs in Anambra State, 2006-2007).
Dr. Ogbalu designed/played a principal role in the establishment of several health projects, including UNTH Comprehensive Health Centre (first practice area for community health officers’ training) in Abagana (1979-1980), successful control of yellow fever epidemic in Benue State and Ihiala LGA of Anambra State (1986 and 1994, respectively), NYSC community-based health centre in Ndiowu (1992), community health practice area at Ajaka for Benue State School of Health Technology, Idah (1986- 1987), Central International Immunization Centre, Awka (1993), Diarrhea Treatment Unit at Abagana, Idemili LGA HQ, and Awka General Hospital (1993-1994), Community Health Practice Area at Eziowelle for Anambra State School of Health Technology, Obosi (1993-1994), Anambra RIS Family Planning Project (1993-1994), Development of the School of Health Technology, Obosi, and several others in various parts of the country
As a health education guru and pioneer community physician, Dr. Ogbalu made great achievements in public health education and was very popular with journalists. For example, he initiated and popularised the famous NTA weekly programme, “Your Health,” a public health education programme in English (1978-1981), Anambra State Television’s weekly “Iwe Ahu Ike,” a health education programme in Igbo (1978-1981), Radio Nigeria Enugu’ weekly Igbo health programme, “Ogbu Ehumu Uche Dibia Ikuku (1980-1981), Special News Talk writer on health issues for Federal Radio Corporation, Enugu (1980-1981). He also organised and moderated the national debate on legalisation of abortion in Nigeria, chaired by the former Premier of Eastern Nigeria, Dr. M.I. Okpara, on May 7, 1981, at the main hall of the Enugu Campus of the University of Nigeria. He was also a member of the University of Nigeria Consultancy Management Board (1985).
Dr. Ogbalu was a key member of several organisations, for example, he was a member of UNICEF International Observation Team that monitored EPI success in Turkey in 1985, and developed original EPI documents for Nigeria. He was a founding member of the National Committee on Reproductive Health, National Technical Committee on Roll-Back Malaria and Poverty Alleviation Programme that produced original programme documents (2000-2001). A principal technical resource person for over 500 major workshops and seminars within and outside Nigeria, and a member of board of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Nigeria (1971-1985), and Medical Advisory Committee of UNTH (1980-1981).
Dr. Ogbalu belonged to several medical associations and important medical committees, such as NMA Special Committee on Recommendation of Nigerian Health Service Panel’s Report (1978), NMA Special Committee on Death Benefits (1979), and NMA Special Committee on Impact of Ban on Private Practice on National Health Service (1978). He has published over 80 papers and books.
For all these achievements, Dr. Mike Ogbalu received several honours, chieftaincy titles and academic awards, including “Best Nigerian Health Administrator Award for year 2000.”
Until his death, Dr. Ogbalu could easily be described as an uncommon achiever, a patriotic Nigerian and a foremost medical physician, who came, saw and conquered. He was a devout Christian and a good family man who had so much love and good dreams for his children. Having run a good race, and having contributed invaluable to the development and promotion of health care delivery system in Nigeria, and the practice of community medicine in Nigeria, Dr. Mike Ogbalu passed on to the eternal glory on February 29, 2020, after a very brief illness.