By Dr. Chikwe | July 27, 2017
I believe a country’s health system is only as strong as the priority it receives from her Government. With the passionate leadership and support from the Honorable Ministers of Health, I am very confident that we are on the right trajectory in building

My May blog is a bit late. It has been a hectic period. However, we will catch up over the next few weeks. Hope you enjoy this piece. I look forward to your feedback.

Being at the 70th World Health Assembly (WHA) was a remarkable experience and honour for me. Although it was not my first time attending the Assembly, it was my first time as the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and a member of Nigeria’s official delegation. The biggest highlight of this WHA was the election of Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as the new Director General of the World Health Organisation. The election was carried over three rounds and attendees were all on edge. We had three excellent candidates who have had illustrious careers in public health and who would have all made great directors. Dr Tedros was finally elected as the DG of the WHO, making history as the first time an African would hold this position. He had already had an extraordinary career as both Minister of Health and Foreign Minister of Ethiopia. His biggest achievement as Minister of Health was considerably reducing child mortality rates, HIV infections, malaria deaths and deaths from tuberculosis in his home country. It was an emotional moment for all the African delegates and we walked around the venue with a bounce in our steps for the next few days. I ran into Dr Tedros in the hotel lobby the day after the election and reiterated Nigeria’s support, as offered by our Honourable Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole. He is counting on it, he said.

I was also inspired by the speech of the outgoing Director-General, Margaret Chan. In her speech, she acknowledged the times where the WHO had faltered, but never gave up. This is an important lesson for me, as I work hard with my team to build a strong NCDC for Nigeria. As the WHO is re-building post-Ebola, so must we. We must not abdicate our responsibility as a country. We must be able to look at areas that we have not been at our best and have the courage to learn hard lessons. We will continue pushing towards a better, stronger and more effective Nigeria Centre for Disease Control for Nigeria.

Another highlight at the WHA was speaking on behalf of Nigeria at one of the most important sessions, examining our engagement on health security issues. I fed back to the assembly on the work that we are doing in terms of our implementation of the International Health Regulations, as well as on our new National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance. The 70th World Health Assembly meant a lot for my team and I; we were on the global stage and there was no hiding place. We know we have to deliver on our mandate.

One of the issues that featured prominently on the agenda of the WHA was the presentation of Action Plans for Antimicrobial Resistance by member countries. In 2015, the Assembly had agreed a resolution for member countries to tackle antimicrobial resistance, urging all to have a National Action Plan by May 2017. This deadline meant that between my resumption in office in August 2016 and the May 2017, we had to work extra hard to deliver an output that most countries did in two years and more. With limited resources, we began work in January 2017. We started with a stakeholders meeting to identify individuals across the academia, health, agriculture, environment and private sectors to work towards creating a path to halt the development of antimicrobial resistance for Nigeria.

For us, this process created an opportunity for a stronger and more collaborative “One Health” approach, one which, we have continued to build on in protecting the health of Nigerians, in recognition that about half of all infectious diseases in humans are transmitted from animals. The development of a National Action Plan is only the beginning of a long process towards strengthening the awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance, and other activities with the goal of optimising the use of antimicrobial agents and protecting the last tools that we have against infectious diseases. Through this process, the leadership of many members of my team stood out, especially that of Dr Joshua Obasanya, who led on most of this work.

In May, we also begun to see a decline in the large meningitis outbreak that we had been managing. The entire team was exhausted from the long hours and weekends in the office and on the field. Our teams that were deployed to the states were slowly returning to Abuja. We had the outbreak under control, but we all realized that there were many lessons to be learnt from this response and we could not afford to find ourselves in this situation again. I committed myself and my team to work hard to prepare for the next season.

The days in May went by really fast for me. I spent most of my time attending sessions, side meetings, delivering presentations on behalf of the Government of Nigeria and networking with stakeholders in the global health space in a bid to build more support for the work we do at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. My former team at Nigeria Health Watch invited me to speak at a breakfast meeting with my other colleagues, appointed on the same day. On this stage, I shared some thoughts about the responsibilities and opportunities that came with leadership in the public sector in Nigeria. It was wonderful to see the room filled with enthusiastic delegates engaging and believing that a new Nigeria was possible.

I believe a country’s health system is only as strong as the priority it receives from her Government. With the passionate leadership and support from the Honorable Ministers of Health, I am very confident that we are on the right trajectory in building a national public health institute that will effectively protect the health of its citizens and be a leader on the continent.

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