Adewole @ 64: The lucky son Nigeria is proud to have By Kazeem Akintunde

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He came to the world in a rush. His mother, a trader had gone to the market when she went into labour. A vehicle was arranged to ferry her to the hospital but the child was too impatient to have a feel of the world. She was delivered right inside the vehicle. That child happens to be Nigeria’s current Health Minister, Professor Isaac Folorunso Adewole.

For many who knew him while growing up, either in Ilesa, Ibadan or Akure in Ondo State where he completed his primary education, Adewole was always in a rush to get things done. He had to traverse three States of Oyo, Osun and Ondo States for his primary education due to the fact that he was always on the move with his Uncle, who was then a staff of the Cocoa Marketing Board.

His love for Medicine germinated after a tour of the old Wesley Hospital as he was captivated by the neat environment he saw. What he did was to return to his father’s shop to recreate the neat environment and to act as a ‘Doctor’ attending to imaginary patients. When his Uncle noticed what he was doing, he made up his mind to support the young Adewole in the field of Medicine but what fascinated the young man then was the flying object in the sky – The Airplane.

“I wanted to become an aeronautic engineer but my teachers in Secondary School and our Guidance Counsellor were able to guide me towards Medicine with their subject combinations for me”.

Since then, his life has been a roller coaster, in the field of Medicine, which he took by storm, leaving an indelible mark where ever he touched.

Early Beginning
Adewole was born on May 5, 1954, at Ilesa, Osun State. His parents were traders. He attended Ogudu Methodist Primary School, Ilesa, where he spent one year, and Methodist School, Oke Ado in Ibadan, where he also spent another year before completing his primary education at St Mathias Demonstration School, Akure. He later attended Ilesa Grammar School, where he obtained a Grade 1 certificate with distinction in 1970 and Higher Certificate, HSC, in 1972.

In October 1973, he enrolled at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, where he obtained an MBBS degree and in 1978, won the Glaxo Allenbury prize for outstanding performance in Paediatrics.

In 1978, the same year he graduated from the University of Ibadan, he joined the University College Hospital, Ibadan. In 1979, he left the hospital for Sokoto for the compulsory one year of service in the National Youth Service Corps. On completion of his service, he worked for a year as a medical officer at Adeoyo Maternity Hospital, Ibadan, before returning to the college hospital as a senior house officer of the department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. He held the position for one year before he was appointed registrar in 1982. In 1985, he left Nigeria for a research fellowship in the department of Medical Oncology at Charing Cross Hospital, London.

Following the completion of the fellowship programme, he returned to Nigeria to join the Royal Crown Specialist Hospital, Ibadan, where he spent four years before returning to the University College as Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist.

He began his academic career as Lecturer, grade 1 at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, where he became a senior lecturer in 1992. On October 1, 1997, he was appointed a professor of Medicine at the University of Ibadan, the same year he was appointed a professor of medicine, and he became a member of the University Senate. In 1999, he was appointed as acting head of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology. He served in that capacity for one year. On August 1, 2000, he was appointed as the Dean, Faculty of Clinical Sciences and Dentistry, a position he held until July 31, 2002.

On August 1, 2002, he was appointed as Provost, College of Medicine and while serving in that capacity, he was also a member of the committee of provosts and deans as well as chairman, university campus committee on AIDS. He also served as Chairman of the committee on evaluation of academic staff in 2004.

On 1 May 2010, he became an adjunct professor at Northwestern University in Chicago. In December 2010, he was appointed as the 11th substantive Vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan, succeeding Olufemi Bamiro, a Mechanical Engineering professor.

Between 1989 and 1992, he was an editorial adviser to the Nigerian Medical Journal and in 1997; he became a member of the editorial board of the Nigerian Journal of Medicine.

He has published over 180 scholarly articles and tens of books and has contributed to hundreds of other books as well.

Adewole As A Unionist
Adewole started his career as a leader of men’s rights from secondary school when he was appointed the Secretary of the Students’ Representatives’ Council at Ilesa Grammar School. He has not looked back since then. At the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, he was influenced by Dr. Kayose Obembe, the former President of the Nigerian Medical Association, who encouraged him in the early 1980s to contest as the Secretary-General of the University of Ibadan Chapter of the Association of Resident Doctors.

He served in that capacity for one year. In 1984, he was elected President of the National Association of Resident Doctors of Nigeria and led a nationwide strike that resulted in his dismissal by the then military head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari. When Buhari declared him wanted, Adewole went into exile. He worked at the Cancer Campaign Research Institute in London, where he authored four papers. He later returned to Nigeria and was elected deputy Secretary General of the Nigeria Medical Association in 1988. In 1990, he was elected Secretary General of the NMA. He held the position for only two hours, and in 1993, he was elected chairman of the Oyo State Chapter of the NMA. In March 1992 he was elected Secretary General of the Confederation of African Medical Associations and Societies, and after his tenure ended in August 1997, he was elected Secretary of the African regional task force on the control of gynaecological Cancers.

Adewole As A Minister
In an ironical twist of fate, the same President Muhammadu Buhari, who, in 1984, declared Adewole wanted for leading Doctors on a Nationwide strike, found him worthy to be appointed Minister of Health on his second coming as a civilian President. Indeed, he was a bit surprised, when, on October 12, 2015, he was nominated as a Minister of the Federal Republic. Expectedly, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), lauded his nomination and described him as “a round peg in a round hole”.

The chairman of the union, Professor Olusegun Ajiboye, described his nomination as a “right step towards the change that Nigeria needs by appointing change agents who have achieved global recognition in their chosen academic careers and have unblemished administrative record”.

Dr. Ademola Aremu, the National Treasurer of the Union, said that the story of Prof. Adewole, “‘IFA’, as we popularly call him, is the story of someone who has been destined to serve humanity. His achievements as a provost of the College of Medicine made him to receive overwhelming support from the university community when he indicated interest to serve on the university governing council and later on as Vice chancellor. As Vice chancellor, he totally turned the university around in terms of staff and students welfare, academically; University of Ibadan unarguably became the best in Nigeria and one of the best in Africa”.

In the same vein, the Chairman of the University of Ibadan Senior Staff Association of Universities, Wale Akinremi said “The nomination of Prof. Isaac Folorunso Adewole as a minister was received by the university of Ibadan community with great enthusiasm. We can vouch for his professional pedigree and administrative competence”.

Since his assumption of office, Professor Adewole has gradually changed the narrative in the health sector as he anchored his programme on the revitalisation of the Primary Health Care system in the country which he described as the bedrock for our health care development.

Under his watch, Professor Adewole has transformed the health care system in the country. The implementation of the National Health Act 2014; development of National Health Strategic Health Development Plan; implementation of the Universal Health Coverage; scale up in malaria control: under which an increase in coverage with LLINs to over 69% from 42% in 2010 as well as steady increase in awareness, availability and use of ACTs in the treatment of malaria in children were carried out.

Aside that, he has ensured the development/review of relevant policy documents to incorporate up to date strategies for addressing health issues. For example, the National Malaria Operations Research Agenda (2017-2020); Nigeria Standard treatment Guidelines (NSTG) as well as the Nigerian Essential Medicine List (6thedition) etc.

Primary Health Care Revitalization project under his watch has received top priority. To date, over 4,000 PHCs have been upgraded. The World Bank provided funds to support the upgrade of 1400 PHCs, UNICEF paid for 774, while maternal, new-born and child health support the upgrade of 954 PHCs. State Governments are also supporting the PHC upgrade in their States. His desire is to ensure that 10,000 PHCs are renovated in the next few months. He has been reaching out to state governors to key in to the programme.

There has also been an improvement in storage of Health Commodities through the ‘Warehouse In A Box Project’ in Lagos and Abuja, strengthening of leadership and governance in health data management in the country through the inauguration of National Health Data Governance Council (NHDGC) including provision of infrastructure to strengthen the health information system, increase in access and availability of child spacing commodities and counseling in order to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity and improve child spacing, while new Family Planning (FP) Logo, the ‘GREEN LOGO’ has also been launched.

It is to his credit that there is now an improved response to health emergencies in the country through the provision of medicines, treatment, ready response and care to IDP camps while partnership and collaboration with the private sector, has shown tremendous promise, bringing about support in the face of dwindling resources. Examples include the joint support by the European Union, UNICEF and WHO of 70 million Euros to scale up maternal and child health care delivery in Bauchi, Adamawa and Kebbi States and strengthen health systems in Anambra and Sokoto states; the MTN Foundation’s ‘Yellow Heart initiative’, meant to provide free health care services to underprivileged women and children in six states of Oyo, Ogun, Niger, Kaduna, Cross River and Abia which is presently in the first phase.

There is now swift response and containment of disease outbreaks across the country. For example, polio outbreaks in Borno and Jere IDP camps were successfully contained.

The actualization of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund which is meant to increase the fiscal space and overall financing to the health sector to assist Nigeria achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is set to take off. The pilot scheme is presently being implemented in Abia, Niger and Osun States.

In addition, the ‘Save One Million Lives Project’ to make resources available to States for health programme implementation based on performance has been strengthened and rejuvenated, while initiation of the ‘Primary Health Care Under One Roof’ project, which is meant to remove fragmentation and lack of coordination in PHC management and service delivery has been put in place.

Under Adewole’s watch, eight tertiary hospitals has been selected from the six geo-political zones for upgrading to provide services on cancer treatment, cardiology, renal and orthopaedics.

Support for increase in the knowledge of HIV status by Nigerians through the launch of HIV self-testing (HIVST), which is an innovative way to help achieve the United Nations 90–90–90 treatment targets – which provides that 90% of all people with HIV should know their status by 2020, is being implemented while the ‘Tertiary Health Institutions Intervention’ Project which covers- 21 Federal Teaching Hospitals, 31 Federal Medical Centres, four Specialist Hospitals and 14 Fistula and Cleft lip/palate Centres have been given top priority.

The provision of free surgical and laboratory services to all fistula patients in all Federal Teaching Hospitals and Federal Medical Centres (FMCs) in the country came under Professor Adewole’s watch while the supply of medical equipment to medical centres e.g. provision of 26 dental chairs to Federal Medical Centres and their outstations across the six geopolitical zones of the country to strengthen oral health service delivery is ongoing.

The ministry has also supplied and upgraded six orthopantomogram machines in six dental schools across the six geopolitical zones to facilitate the development of human resource for oral health while at the same time, providing support to local drug manufacturers.

Of recent, the Ministry of health under him provided 8000 free surgeries and free cancer and Hepatitis B screening for indigent Nigerians under the Rapid Result initiative (RRI) while Health, Nutrition Emergency Response in the North East is been pursued with vigour.

In October last year, the federal government took delivery of two multipurpose truck for Tuberculosis treatment tagged ‘Wellness on wheels (WOW)’, for the eradication of TB in Nigeria.

Also recently, President Muhammadu Buhari gave approval to the ministry to add 50,000 HIV patients on treatment which has greatly expand access to treatment, testing and management of the disease in the country.

As he clocks 64 today, it is our hope that the man who came to the world in a rush would not depart as hastily and would be around to see the fruits he has planted in the health sector germinate for all Nigerians to see.

Happy birthday sir!

Kazeem Akintunde is the Special Assistant, Communication and Strategy to the Honourable Minister of Health

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