My interest in health issues naturally started very early in life when I had made up my mind that I was going to study medicine. The story has it that I took an uncle’s stethoscope from his clinic when I was 7 or 8 years old and refused to return it, while insisting that I was going to be a doctor. I don’t quite recall that incident, but I do know that the central focus of my life has been to manage the sick. I co-founded the first on-campus HIV/AIDS outreach programme at a Nigerian university as a medical student in Jos, and my encounter later with public health issues among internally displaced persons camps in Liberia finally swayed me towards population medicine.
2. What is your role as Global Network’s National Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Advisor in Nigeria?
As the Global Network’s NTD advisor in Nigeria, I advocate for increased government commitments to the fight against NTDs. I work closely with NTD partners to support the government through evidence-based advocacy to sustain and incrementally grow federal and other tiers of governments’ political and funding commitments in order to expand NTD treatment access and coverage. I do this by demonstrating that NTDs should be a priority for the federal and select state governments in Nigeria. My role as Global Network’s National NTD Advisor is to also foster the establishment of policies and/or mechanisms towards sustainable NTD programing in all of Nigeria. I will also work with partners to provide technical support to the National NTD Steering Committee in order to enhance its capability for advocacy.
3. In your view, what are the biggest challenges standing in the way of Nigeria’s efforts to control and eliminate NTDs?
The major challenges in Nigeria’s efforts to control NTDs has largely been around funding; over dependency on donor interventions and inconsistent funding by government counterparts. As much as we situate the critical funding gap for NTDs with state governments, an often overlooked significant funding gap also exists within the local governments, which ordinarily should be major implementers of primary health care and third tier government partner for the NTD programmes in Nigeria. The second issue is the lack of community –based manpower to implement the NTD programme.
4. Does Media (social media, print and others) play a role in the fight against NTDs? How can we leverage this tool to effect change?
Media does play a major role in the fight against NTDs. Because NTDs remain ‘neglected’ in policy, programme, and perception, the power of media to effectively communicate and give the NTD programme a voice is critical to moving the issue further away from public neglect to the front burner of policy. Media has a great function within any public health system, whether in Nigeria or elsewhere. It is worth noting that new media such as social media has enhanced communication and knowledge management for health, as it has bridged the gap between persons, establishments and systems, and has deepened potential for targeted and non-targeted messaging with the potential to boost public health communication of all kinds.
To leverage these tools we have to begin to understand the data on utilization of the media forms and social media adoption in policy, programme and perception management for public health outcomes. The good part is there has been marked public health interest lately in this domain. NTDs can leverage the lessons learned from other programmes in order to move forward.
5. Why is Nigeria a focus when it comes to NTD control and elimination?
Let’s play back to 2014; Nigeria received its Guinea Worm Eradication Certificate from the World Health Organisation — an achievement that made headlines. In the same year, Nigeria managed to free itself from the Ebola Virus Disease pandemic that ravaged several African countries, and the world heaved a sigh of relief. Even though Ebola is not one of the NTDs, it further emphasized the potential of good stewardship, financing and sheer determination at the frontlines.
Nigeria’s success is critical to the fight against NTDs because Nigeria holds the highest NTD burden in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria’s NTD burden reduction will have a significant impact on the global burden of NTDs, considering that for some time now, Nigeria has been regularly ranked in the top 10 nations with the highest NTD burden. Now we have the opportunity to reduce the NTD burden through sustainable funding and effective implementation of programmes.
Dr. Ohanyido is the Global Network’s National NTD Advisor in Nigeria. Stationed in Abuja, he works with national NTD partners to strengthen stakeholders’ advocacy efforts for Nigeria’s NTD programme. Over the last 15 years, Ohanyido has worked with diverse international organizations like UNHCR, UNICEF, and WHO across Africa, as well as various USAID projects in Nigeria. He has also served as an Advisor to the Senate Committee on Health in Nigeria. Recently, he served as the National Pneumonia Coordinator in Nigeria, in collaboration with USAID and UNICEF.
He has a medical degree from University of Jos, and postgraduate trainings in diverse areas such as public health, information communications technology and management. He is a fellow of both the Royal Society for Public Health (UK) and the Royal Society for Tropical Medicine & Hygiene (UK), and Senior Fellow of the Academy of Learning Nigeria. He is a martial artist, poet and strong advocate for African Renaissance.