Isaac Adewole: The Golden years of a working emeritus

Kazeem Akintunde
Kazeem Akintunde
Isaac Adewole

The management and staff of the University of Ibadan and the College of Medicine, UCH, rolled out the red-carpet on Thursday in honour of Professor Isaac Adewole on his retirement after over four decades of meritorious service to both institutions and his fatherland.

The Vice Chancellor of the University, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Provost, College of Medicine and other senior eggheads in both institutions all came out to pay glowing tributes to a man many refer to as ‘IFA’. It was as if Isaac Folorunso Adewole should not retire.

But at the age of 70, the Ilesa-born Medical Doctor, Administrator, Politician-cum Technocrat has paid his dues in full. Having seen it all, it’s time to say goodbye to the institutions and take a well-deserved rest. For those who know him personally, even at 70, Adewole is not likely to rest as he has set his sights on a new vocation: farming.

Before he exited the system, he set up a farm in Ibadan that is being managed by one of his children. Now that he should be relaxing at home and playing with his grandchildren, he wants to start tending to cows and chickens in a bid to providing food for the nation. Ahead of his new mission, the UI and UCH organised a colourful valedictory session in his honour.

On the guest list were the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Dr. Ali Pate, and the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Tunji Alausa, both of whom left Abuja to honour Adewole. Professor Adewole was also a former Minister of Health under the immediate past government of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, joined online to pay a glowing tribute to Adewole. A clinical Epidemiologist, Professor Deborah Watson-Jones, who works at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine flew several kilometers to be part of the celebration. She gave the valedictory lecture on the topic: ‘African Response to Emerging Public Health Threats: Lesson Learnt from EBOVAC and HPV Vaccines’, while several others gave good testimonies of their encounters with Adewole.

Thereafter, the celebration moved to Agbala Daniel Cathedral on Sunday, where a Thanksgiving service was held in his honour before guests and well-wishers were hosted to a reception at the International Conference Centre, Ibadan. Three books he wrote were also launched at the event.

When he was born inside a car that was taking his mother to the hospital 70 years ago, the young Adewole gave the impression of a child in a hurry to come into the world to make a difference. As the seventh child of his parents’ nine children, he showed from birth that he was a child of destiny. He chose medicine as a course of study at the University of Ibadan and, due to his brilliance, returned as a lecturer to the school after his graduation. He rose through the ranks to become the Provost of the University College Hospital on August 1, 2002, and vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan on December 1, 2010.

He was appointed Minister of Health by then President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, but he laid the foundation for that appointment in 1984 when he led Resident Doctors on a prolonged strike that crippled the health sector in the country. He felt that the Buhari regime was not taking good care of resident doctors and paying enough attention to the health sector. For that, Adewole was sacked and declared wanted by Buhari.

He sneaked out of the country into exile, only to return to the country after the Buhari regime was overthrown to continue where he left off on his job. When Buhari became president in 2015, he wasted no time in reaching out to Adewole to take charge of the health ministry for him to perform the magic he desperately canvassed for in 1984.

True to character, IFA gave his all to that ministry. I met him when he invited me to be his Special Assistant, Communication and Strategy when he was appointed Health Minister. I never knew him from Adam. A friend had recommended me to him. Our discussions did not last more than 10 minutes before he offered me the job. One thing he told me on that day was that whatever I did, I should be mindful of his good name. Nothing must soil it. And I upheld that as my guiding principle throughout the period I worked with him.

Adewole is a workaholic. In fact, some of us who are younger than him find it difficult to cope with his pace of work. There was a day that we toured three states, commissioning and inspecting projects. The following day, he was on his desk by 8 a.m., while many of his aides were still in bed. And the record of his achievements within those four years is there for all to see.

Professor Adewole as health minister, had a blueprint with which he planned to change the healthcare narrative in the country. Using the Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) as a springboard for the turnaround, he wanted to rehabilitate 10,000 PHCs across the country so that General Hospitals and Teaching Hospitals would be free to attend for Nigerians with critical health challenges. He succeeded in rehabilitating over 5,000 with the support of international partners such as the Department for International Development (DFID), the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank.

He gave the nation a blueprint on Tuberculosis (TB) Control and how to reduce the scourge. There was an increase in GeneXpert sites from seven health facilities in 2011 to 390 facilities as at the end of 2017 to enable the nation detect accurately and respond to TB cases. He expanded screening for TB, as over 2 million people were screened and 204,000 treated in 2017 and 2018. In October 2017, the federal government took delivery of two multipurpose trucks for Tuberculosis screening and treatment tagged ‘Wellness on Wheels (WOW)’, for the eradication of TB in Nigeria.

He also conducted, with funding support from the US Government and Global Fund, the National HIV and AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey to address the lingering challenge facing HIV and AIDS data in Nigeria. The results of the survey show that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS dropped from 3% in 2014 to 1.4%. He also expanded HIV/AIDS treatment to additional 78,000 Nigerians in 2017. He worked assiduously in tackling the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country, particularly in the area of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and also gave many of our teaching hospitals modern cancer-treating machines despite limited finance to the health sector.

Professor Adewole intensified the war against malaria with the distribution of 33.1 million nets between 2017 and 2018, while additional 12.3 million nets were distributed in 2019. This led to a modest reduction of malaria burden from 42% to 27% within those periods.

He launched the Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) to ensure effective and efficient coordination of immunization activities, by approving the establishment of Emergency Routine Immunization Coordination Centres at the national, state, and local government area levels known as NERICC, SERICC and LERICC, respectively. They were to coordinate routine immunization activities and quickly improve immunization coverage at these levels in low performing states.

In less than a year, the States’ Emergency Routine Immunization Coordination Centres (SERICC) were established and functional in 18 low performing states (Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Jigawa, Yobe, Borno, Bauchi, Adamawa, Taraba, Gombe, Kogi, Niger, Nasarawa, Plateau, and Bayelsa). These efforts yielded fruit, as immunization coverage went up from 48% to 57% between 2016 and 2018. It was therefore not a surprise when Nigeria was certified polio-free few years later.

In line with his commitment to the health of Nigerians, particularly children under-five, he engaged the Global Alliance for Vaccines Initiatives (GAVI) to continue their support for Nigeria. This enabled the country to unlock additional resources to the tune of $1.03bn for vaccines procurement and Health System Strengthening over the next decade.

Under his watch, some tertiary health Institutions were upgraded and made referral centres for cancer cases across the country. The National Hospital in Abuja was given two brand new high-end Linear Accelerator (LINAC) with capacity to treat up to 200 patients per day. The LUTH-NSIA Cancer Centre was commissioned under his watch alongside a bunker for radiotherapy machines, brachytherapy machines and other relevant equipment.

Teaching hospitals that benefited from the upgrade and installation of cancer-treating machines were University College Hospital (UCH); University of Benin Teaching Hospital; Usman Dan Fodio University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto; Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria; University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital; Enugu University Teaching Hospital, and University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital.

The Basic Healthcare Provision Fund (BHCPF), through which the National Assembly set aside one percent of the national budget for health, was his baby. Through the BHCPF, an estimated 100 million Nigerians would have access to basic healthcare at the Primary Health Centre closest to their homes, as one PHC in each political ward across the country was to be linked to the BHCPF programme. In essence, Nigerians seeking care and medical attention on issues such as Malaria treatment, ante-natal care, delivery—including Caesarean sections—under five childhood illnesses, immunisation and screening, and referral of hypertensive and diabetic cases are to be offered at the PHC level and paid for by the Federal Government.

Under his watch, Professor Adewole transformed health care system in the country. He oversaw the development of the third National Health Policy and the second National Strategic Health Development Plan (NSHDP II). Both documents provided the underpinnings for Nigeria to achieve Universal Health Coverage and provided an opportunity to shape the direction of the health sector
With the implementation of the Saving One Million Lives Programme for Results (SOML P4R), the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Health, was funding states based on results achieved and changing the narrative on health care to a focus on outcomes. The Federal Government disbursed over $259 million to states between 2017 and 2019.

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., the 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, was also carried out under his watch.

The Ministry also supplied and upgraded six orthopantomogram machines to six dental schools across the six geopolitical zones to facilitate the development of human resources for oral health.
In 2018, the Ministry of Health under him provided 8,000 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 was also pursued with vigour.

That he was not reappointed for a second term was not due to non-performance but to the fact that he stepped on powerful toes who wanted things done differently in the health sector. One of those powerful toes belongs to the late Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari. He would also not bend the rules in the appointment of CMDs for Teaching Hospitals. There were several other powerful interests that were not comfortable with his ‘rigid’ posture. He gladly returned to the classroom as a teacher after the expiration of his four-year tenure, and today, he is retiring at the age of 70 with his head held high.

While I wish my Oga a happy retirement, knowing him, I am sure that he won’t rest. I just pray that he slows down a bit. My fervent prayer is that God keeps him around for many more healthy years to come.

See you next week.



Share This Article