Health Minister Gives Progress Report on the First Six Months

Nigeria’s Health Minister, Professor C.O. Chukwu came into office just over six months ago, at a time of great political turmoil, and following a rapid turnover at the helm of the health ministry. Prior to his appointment, he was Chief Medical Director at the Ebonyi State University Teaching Hospital, and then Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Deputy Provost of the College of Health Sciences, Ebonyi State University at Abakaliki. He had just taken a sabbatical as Visiting Professor of Surgery at the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria but before he could settle in Enugu, he received the fateful call from President Goodluck Jonathan that would thrust the health of Nigeria’s 150 million people into his hands.

President Goodluck Jonathan

So what progress, if any, has been made in Nigeria’s health care under President Jonathan and Minister Chukwu? In an exclusive interview given to The ANPA Blog, the Minister made his case directly and rendered a progress report on the activities of the ministry during his first six months in office. We asked: “You have been in office for less than 6 months, so it may be too early to discuss your achievements. However, are there some things you are particularly proud to have accomplished?”.  

Professor Chukwu opened by touting the “new sense of urgency and responsiveness at the Federal Ministry of Health” and his drive to establish “trust and confidence-building” as his guiding principles. Also, he revealed that President Jonathan has been singularly focused on health policy and has invested enormous political capital to pass the Health Bill that will facilitate the development of a functional health system for the country.

But, what specifically has he achieved, we asked. First he recalled that during his Senate confirmation hearings, the entire healthcare sector was in crisis over the wage dispute between the ministry and several groups of health workers. He had swiftly quelled the crisis, he said, by implementing “payment of the new wage structure for health workers and the arrears thereof”. To produce transformational changes in the health system, however, the Minister said that he is focused on passing the National Health Bill and the implementation of the National Strategic Health Development Plan. The Health Bill has passed both chambers of the National assembly and is awaiting harmonization. President Jonathan recently expressed confidence that he will sign the bill before the New Year.

A top priority of his ministry, said Professor Chukwu, is to ensure that Nigeria meets the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. However, he recognized from the outset that little will be achieved without fostering a sense of collegiality among all health workers. Notably, during his Senate confirmation, Professor Chukwu was embroiled in a controversy over whether only doctors should be appointed to the top job. Then, he had forcefully emphasized the important role of all ranks of health workers, saying: “The bottom line is that without team work nobody can do it alone.” To this end, he said, he went on to create the “Committee on Harmonious Working Relationship among Health Workers/Professionals” charged with  instilling a sense of common purpose among physician and non-physician health workers. Professor Chukwu said he is working at full speed to fully implement his “Action Push Agenda for Health” plan before a new government is sworn in in May 2011. He reiterated what he had told The Guardian about his plan:

‘The Action Push Agenda’ is a compass for the period from April 2010 to May 2011. During this period, our top priorities will be on governance and stewardship, team work and industrial harmony, keeping on track the realisation of the MDGs especially the Health MDGs, disease prevention, surveillance and control, provision of affordable but world-class healthcare services at our public and private tertiary health institutions, and the establishment of a reliable referral system.”

Regarding dissatisfaction among resident doctors, the Minister said he was determined to address them comprehensively and has therefore established a “Committee to Review the Residency Training Programme”. He noted that he has invited a broad coalition of medical experts to serve on this committee, including ANPA, which is represented by the Chair of the Education Committee, Dr Dotun Ogunyemi. The Minister said that ensuring quality training and meeting the MDG goals were part of his push to “inspire international confidence in the Health Sector”. He pointed out the vital role that diaspora organizations such as ANPA can play in this regard, noting his full personal engagement during the “Retreat for Health Professionals in the Diaspora” held by the health ministry in July 2010.

Other achievements listed by the Minister include: audit/mapping of skills and facilities in the federal tertiary health institutions; providing support for first ever ATLS course in Nigeria; deployment of 2488 midwives across 652 primary health facilities; update of health data and statistics update; convening an inter-country inter-ministerial meeting with Nigeria’s neighbours to discuss and sign an agreement on cross-border health issues; and hosting of the 2nd International Cancer Week.

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