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The President speaks, but not about health…

Our president hardly ever grants interviews. When The Guardian got him to sit down with them for his most detailed interview to date, they called it Umaru Yar’Ardua: President… on a mission incredible. For 3 hours he spoke to the editorial team from the Guardian…in what they described a voice … though gentle, had a bell-like jingle to it that seemed to emphasise his authority on the subject of discussion.

And yes…he did speak in detail, with more insight than I have ever heard a Nigerian president speak, about most of the big issues that confront us in Nigeria….all except health.

In all 16,500 words (yes 16,500) …just 441 were vaguely related to health. Within these 500 words is the most painful admittance of our collective failure as a country Nigeria cannot meet the MDG target by 2015, on the issue of child maternal mortality and morbidity”

These 441 words are reproduced below. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on the Government’s commitment to health, and draw your own conclusions about how much we the people and the press has placed the health sector on the political agenda.

…Talking about the “enablers for development”… you must have the manpower – educated and skilled manpower – to operate within those sectors, especially education and health that determine quality of human capital.

…The same thing we are doing in the health system. We are concentrating on primary health-care. We said all contracts awards from building the clinics, purchase of drugs, we should get out. We should help with the policy, help build capacity, supervise and make sure that those policies are implemented by the state governments. And we concentrate on the tertiary sector. Right now, we have said that the special project fund should concentrate on three teaching hospitals: the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus Teaching Hospital. To bring these teaching hospitals up to the minimum acceptable international standard so that any research hospital, any university hospital you see abroad, you can compare these three teaching hospitals with those teaching hospitals. We believe by doing this, it may take us say, three or four years to accomplish, we may not use this year to complete this. It may take two years, it may take three years.

…on the issue of the Millennium Development Goals. Last week, I was at a quarterly meeting where we received the MDG quarterly report. If you cast your mind back, at the end of that meeting, we said Nigeria cannot meet the MDG target by 2015, on the issue of child maternal mortality and morbidity and on the issue of poverty and hunger. So what I have asked the Senior Special Assistant on the MDGs and other officials to do is to look at what we need to do between now and 2015 to ensure that we increase the pace of investment in these areas and to determine what additional time do we need to realistically be able to say that we will be able to achieve these human development goals. So this is what we are doing now: they are working it out now. We are aware of that and we are being frank to this nation that this is the position and that we have asked officials to look at these two issues. What we need to do is to raise the level of investment in these four areas between now and 2015 and at what time would we be able to say that we have made progress and achieve these goals. Is it by 2018, 2020, at what point? I told them that by the next meeting which will be in three months time, these are the issues we will be deliberating on.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

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