WANTED: A NEW HEALTH MINISTER

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By  Sonnie Ekwowusi

Clearly the current Health Minister Prof Isaac Adewole is not the Health Minister that Nigeria needs at the moment to tackle her serious primary healthcare delivery challenges. Apart from telling Nigerian women that they have a “right” to commit abortion, Prof. Adewole has not demonstrated that he can positively transform Nigeria’s healthcare sector.

Shortly after his inauguration as Nigeria’s Health Minister the first health gift which Prof Adewole offered to Nigerian women was what he dubbed “expanded access to comprehensive abortion care”. As if that was not scandalous enough, Prof Adewole was on Channels TV just last week to market his population control gift. He wants Nigerian families to stop having children. He wants married Nigerian women to be on pregnancy- terminating pills in order to avoid having children.  Prof Adewole is obviously under the influence and sponsorship of the United Nations Populations Funds (UNFPA) and The Guttmacher Institute, two agencies which are notorious in Africa for pressuring African governments to reduce human capital through abortion and contraceptive. Whereas Prof. Adewole has not articulated any serious primary healthcare program that would benefit the Nigerian poor who still lack access to the much-vaunted primary health care system he more inclined in venturing into irrelevant complex demographic issues.

In other words, Prof Adewole has abandoned medicine and the real health needs of the Nigerian people and now meddling with demographic issues. What a paradox ! Is President Buhari not aware that attempts to implement population control policy by successive Nigerian governments have consistently failed. For example, when Goodluck Jonathan was in power he entrusted the then chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC) Festus Odimegwu and twenty-two others with the task of controlling the Nigerian population through birth-control and all that. Chief Odimegwu said something at that time that shocked many people: he said that the NPC did not know the population of Nigeria, and that the various population figures declared in the past by the NPC and government-owed agencies had been based on distorted and fictitious figures presented by the World Bank, United Nations and other international bodies. According to Chief Festus Odimegwu,  “we do not really know our population; that is the truth of the matter. We do our work but politicians interfere and at the end, you do not really know what population or census figures are…”, Answering question from the Punch Newspaper during a courtesy visit to the NPC by a delegation of the UNFPA, Odimegwu said,  “…the population of China is over 2 billion, India is 1.2 billion. Nigeria ranks about the 10th in the world population. If other countries are surviving, I don’t think we will kill ourselves…The important thing is having the resources to make people live a good life. Good living is not determined by the population but by so many other things. If some countries have large populations and are living well, Nigerians can also have good lives.”

Odimegwu is right. Good living is not determined by population but by the seriousness of government to improve the living condition of the people. Certainly Prof Adewole’s new population control policy will bring a bad image to the Buhari government. Therefore, President Buhari should act fast and appoint a new Health Minister to replace Prof Adewole. Prof Adewole clearly lacks focus. What has population control got to do with the urgent health needs of the Nigerian people?. If Adewole is looking for something to control, why can’t he control diseases such as malaria, typhoid, polio, high blood pressure, hypertension and so forth that have been killing many Nigerians. Look at exponential rate with which cancer especially cervical and breast cancer is spreading across Nigeria and killing many Nigerians. Why not set up cancer screening centers across Nigeria? Is the Federal Government not aware that many public health institutions in Nigeria lack essentials drugs? Why budget huge sums of money for population control when you cannot provide ordinary drugs in our public hospitals especially in our rural health centers and clinics in Nigeria? Why not use the money budgeted for population control to pay striking doctors so that they stop going on strike and render diligent medical services in Nigeria.

  Last week I visited a medical consultant friend of mine at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) Enugu. In the course of our conversation, this diligent doctor informed me that primary and secondary health care systems are virtually non-existent in Nigeria. He regretted that everybody is rushing to Tertiary Heath with utter neglect for community medicine and basic rural medicine that are most beneficial to Nigeria’s numerous rural dwellers. He shocked me with the sad stories of the uncountable children from Enugu, Nsukka, Abakaliki and their environs who die of preventable diseases before they are brought to UNTH.

My UNTH consultant friend further shocked me with the stories of how poor children in Enugu, Nsukka, Abakaliki and  their surrounding villages regularly die in their respective homes from preventable illnesses and from lack of simple vaccination and immunization. This is not a peculiar Enugu State tragedy. It is everyday tragedy across the country. For example, if you step outside the South-East and travel to, maybe, the South-West you will find similar ill-health miseries. Take a trip to Borno State, Kano State, Zamfara State or Sokoto State and you will fall short of words to describe the miserable lives of so many women and children who also lack access to basic primary health care. And if you dare visit the Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs) Camps, you will shed tears after seeing the uncountable number of children and women dying from food and medical starvation.

It is baffling that amid the aforesaid health challenges, Health Minister Prof Isaac Adewole is more interested in population reduction even though is not our priority at the moment. In any case, Prof Adewole was appointed a Health Minister not a population controller Minister. So, why should a Health Minister be exerting his energies in population control matters and leaving unresolved the more urgent primary health care challenges? Is Adewole not aware that due to the exorbitant ante-natal and post-natal bills, many Nigerian pregnant women are still delivered at home by traditional birth attendants and in the process lose their lives?.  Has Adewole forgotten that primary Health care and outpatient clinic services are yet to be decentralized to reach the suffering and dying women in every State, local government, village community and ward community in Nigeria?. If the answers to the above queries are in the affirmative, why is Prof. Adewole seeking alibi in questionable population control issues instead of focusing on the real health needs of the Nigerian people?

It is an absurdity, if not downright stupidity, to argue that the solution to Nigeria’s deplorable health care system at the moment is population control via contraception and abortion. Why do we fail to get our priorities right in Nigeria?. You may ask: what is the business of the Health Minister with population control? Why is UNFPA Executive Director Prof Babatunde Osotimehin always pressuring every Nigerian government to make abortion and contraception accessible even to Nigerian teens in secondary schools?.  You will recall that Prof. Osotimehin pressurized the Jonathan administration to legalize abortion and contraception in Nigeria but failed in that bid. For example, on page 36 of THISDAY Newspaper of November 22, 2012, Osotimehin stated that only investment in abortion and contraception will lead to increased productivity and economic development in Nigeria. Anyway, having failed to get the Jonathan government to legalize abortion and contraception, the same Osotimehin is now mounting pressure on the Buhari government to make abortion and contraception more accessible to a greater number of Nigerians. Two weeks ago Prof Osotimehin approached President Buhari with the aforesaid demand. This is sad. I am sure President is not listening to Osotimehin and his ilk. In a country in which the average citizen suffers from genteel poverty and illnesses, it is illogical to demand that the Buhari government should spend its hard-earned income on stupidities.

Health Minister Adewole argues that population reduction will boost the economy and improve the quality of life for women and children. This is untrue. As I said earlier, the best way to improve the quality of life for Nigerian women and children is through the provision of qualitative health care that is accessible, acceptable and affordable to Nigerian women and children. I still maintain that Adewole is not properly focused otherwise he would have known by now that now is not the best time for population reduction campaigns. We need a more focused Health Minister. Whereas the Buhari government is bent on diversifying the Nigerian economy through people-oriented agriculture in order to come out of the present economic recession, Prof. Adewole is promoting an anti-people population reduction policy. Agriculture thrives on population growth. Thus population growth is not a threat to Nigeria. Instead of seeing population as a threat, population should be seen as a great catalyst for economic growth. The vibrant young people that constitute the bulk of Nigerian population are indeed a vibrant work force that should be used to fast-track Buhari’s agricultural revolution.

In case Prof Adewole does not know, countries like China, Singapore, Bangladesh, India and many Asia countries have reaped enormous demographic dividends from their respective large populations in the last thirty years. The Chinese economy has been growing steadily in the last fifteen years. The Chinese are everywhere today thanks to their huge population. The demographic catastrophe that hit China as a result of its one-child policy has forced China to recently reverse its one-child population policy. Therefore a large population is an asset not a liability. The popular aphorism is that population is power. Population is money too. Small wonder virtually all the big-player telecommunications companies have invested in the Nigerian market. They are obviously reaping huge profit from Nigeria’s large population.

Those familiar with the population control politics in developing countries will attest that it is being done to destroy the human capital in developing countries. But human capital is the elixir of economic growth. A society that kills its children and neglects to fulfill its obligations towards them is obviously heading for extinction.

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