By Chika Abanobi
“I don’t care what people think of me”, someone said. “At least, mosquitoes find me attractive.” Another noted: “There are those who consider me sweet. They are called mosquitoes.” Still another observed: “I want to be so full of Christ that if a mosquito bites me it will fly away singing ‘there is power in the blood.”
“Mosquitoes find me attractive.” “They consider me sweet.” “If they bite me, they will fly away singing ‘there is power in the blood.” You may smile, laugh or cry at the jokes. But not so for Prof. Okwuoma Chibundu Abanobi! Researches by the consummate public health expert show that you don’t mess up with mosquitoes. Big or small! Anopheles or Culex! A child may admire a camel from a distance, a Hausa proverb says. But when it comes nearer or closer, its towering and intimidating size makes the child run away.
Something like that happened in Southern Sudan said to have one of the highest numbers of malaria cases in Sub-Saharan Africa. Between 2014 and 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO), worried by the situation over there, under its malaria control programme, supplied anti-malarial drugs and Long Lasting Insecticides Treated Net (LLITN) worth billions of dollars to the natives.
But a research study conducted by Prof. Abanobi, alongside other researchers like Dr. Daniel Ebenezer, the Geneva-based WHO expert and Prof. Oladapo Olagbegi, of Discipline (Department) of Physiotherapy, University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, showed that in spite of WHO’s concerted efforts, thousands of deaths were being recorded especially among children under the age of five years. “Malaria cases among Under-5 accounted for 52-59 per cent of Outpatient Department Consultations between 2014 and 2016,” it said. In the research published in Texila International Journal of Public Health, Volume 5, Issue 4, Dec 2017, the researchers called on the world health body to concentrate their efforts on that segment of the population, especially in Wulu County.
Findings of another research by him showed that the small agrarian community of about 60,000 people, and comprising artisans, craftsmen, traders, farmers and non-working housewives needed more than medical supplies and LLITN to roll back the ravaging flood of the malaria disease. It found out that they needed serious public education and enlightenment on how to use the treated nets. Why? Because the research published in the Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences Vol. 30, Issue 4 indicated that many of the poor natives did not know how to use the LLITN.
While he lived, Prof. O.C. Abanobi’s researches were always like that: fact-finding, solution-providing and ground-breaking. A member of several national and international academic bodies like the African Institute of Public Health Professionals, (where he served as the chairman governing council till his demise, American Public Health Association; Nigerian Institute for Health Promotion (NIHP); Nigerian Society for Parasitology and Public Health; Health Promotion Research and Association of Nigeria (HEPRAN), he dreamed public health, lived public health, researched public health, and advocated public health.
ResearchGate, the Berlin, Germany-based professional networking site, listed 56 of his researches. The site was founded in 2008 by Dr. Ijad Madisch, the Syrian-born German virologist, and Dr. Sören Hofmayer, a fellow physician, to connect the world of science and make research open to all by sharing papers, asking and answering questions, and finding collaborators for scientists and researchers. With over 20 million subscribers worldwide, the site has helped to push many of Prof Abanobi’s findings into the international limelight.
They include: (1) his 2011 assessment of medical waste management practice in selected hospitals in Owerri, Imo State, and his 2014 follow-up research study, all of which not only looked at the waste disposal management of the hospitals surveyed but also pointed out the health danger of disposing medical wastes anyhow on the public dumpsites; (2) his February 2020 research, published in Annual Research & Review in Biology, and which shows that you can contract tuberculosis through touching or eating of infected animals like cows, sheep and goats; this is known in medical science as zoonotic Mycobacterium Bovis infection, and (3) his 2019 research on “pattern, competence and distribution of environmental health officers (EHOs) in Benue State,” in which he raised alarm over the dearth of primary healthcare providers through old age, retirement, poor remuneration, and government neglect.
Public health experts say that in these days of cholera outbreak in several parts of the country, Governor Samuel Ortom should pay close attention to the recommendations of his research which was approved by the Department of Public Health, School of Health Technology, Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), and Benue State Ministry of Health, and later published, respectively, in the International Journal of Academic Research in Psychology and World Journal of Innovative Research.
Born on July 7, 1953, the consultant to government and non-governmental organisations on various aspects of public health care services died on June 27, 2021, at a medical centre in Abuja, following some health complications. An author of several books on public health, he taught in various universities. They include the School of Public Health of the University of Minnesota, Towson State University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, the Abia State University, Uturu, the Imo State University, Owerri and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) where he became the pioneer Head of its Department of Public Health. He also served as the Dean of the university’s School of Health Technology, from 2007 to 2012.
As the world gathers on Friday, October 8, 2021, to inter his body at Ukwuoji-Umuoni, Ihitteafoukwu-Ekwerazu, Ahiazu-Mbaise, Imo State, and to bid him final farewell, people who interacted with him while he was alive said they are consoled by the fact that he is leaving behind him some world-class academic researches that are bound to serve as guides on public health issues, for a long time to come.