Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Attacking malaria…tackling the common enemy

With malaria being responsible for up to 63% of attendance at health facilities, 30 percent and 25 percent of child and infant mortalities in Nigeria respectively and 11 percent of maternal mortality in Nigeria, the federal ministry of health is pulling all stops at ensuring that the different interventions under the country’s roll-back malaria initiative are properly implemented for maximum impact.

Recognising Malaria as a common enemy to humanity, especially to pregnant women and children, Dr Yemi Sofola, the Coordinator of the Nigeria Malaria Control Programme has called on all tiers of government, countries, partners and stakeholders to take affirmative action to address in a broad based manner the issue of malaria and to collectively make all efforts to eliminate malaria.

While speaking at the national review meeting for malaria programme managers at the picturesque Gateway Hotel in Ijebu-ode Nigeria recently, Sofola stated that the devastating effect of malaria has not only laid a heavy burden on the gaunt health system in Nigeria but has also diverted funding priorities creating huge gaps in our national development.

The Nigerian national malaria control programme is employing a workable and evidence-based framework for the elimination of malaria and this includes; improving prompt and appropriate management of malaria cases; promotion of multiple preventive measures such as the use of Insecticide Treated Nets; promotion of the use of Intermittent Preventive Treatment for pregnant women; development of workable partnership for Health System Development; improvement of monitoring and evaluation including tracking of project implementation and commodities and operational research to increase the evidence base for policy.

As she urged greater commitment of the programme personnel, Sofola commended the programme partners ‘who have stuck with us through thick and thin. We believe that our concerted efforts will definitely yield the successes we have been expecting since the Roll Back Malaria initiative.’

She shared with participants that the meeting was also to enable the programme to commence the process for the development of a new Business that would enable the programme to mobilize the required resources form within and outside Nigeria in order to massively scale up service delivery to have the desired impact.

Sofola opined that with the rising profile of malaria, the current bottlenecks being experienced at the state and local government levels will soon be overcome and the expected output and outcomes of interventions met to halve the burden of malaria by 2010 and a malaria-free Nigeria by 2015.

By Nnenna Ike

Goge Africa’s charity event raises awareness for orphans and children with special needs

While most fingers point at the Nigerian government and the health institutions they fund as being the culprits when it comes to the appalling number of women and children who die needless deaths in Nigeria, corporate organisations are pitching in to highlight the need to have better health policies that would ensure that children are born healthy because of the quality of care their mothers had access to during pregnancy and childbirth.

Improving MNCH takes more than government policies and roundtable discussions among policy makers. Though the different tiers of government have an obligation to ensuring the health of its residents, there is an immediate need for effective involvement of organizations at the community levels as a stepping stone for making a difference in the society.

To this end, the Lagos-based organization Goge Africa took the opportunity of the festive season to host a charity event for orphans and children with special needs. Knowing that many children in Lagos do not have the privilege of visiting parks or cultural shows because of their physical challenges, congenital disabilities, and lack of opportunities arising from coming from broken homes, the management of Goge Africa decided to invite them to enjoy a day of dancing and music.

Isaac Moses, the co-director of Goge Africa, while speaking with the Devcoms team stated that this year’s event was part of Goge’s ongoing community support projects meant to bring publicity to MNCH issues such as child development and maternal health.

His words, ’The government should continue to educate women on the need to access antenatal care in clinics so as to prevent child disabilities in the future, they should also endeavour to provide these clinics with the skilled medical staff and equipment.”

According to Moses, “They [the government] are most visible, so I usually mention them first. But organizations have their own responsibilities, too. I find if people aren’t asked to give, they won’t give. So it’s up to organizations like ours to push multinationals to give funds to children.”

The daylong charity event, held at Apapa Amusement Park in Lagos, drew a crowd of children, families, media, non-profit organizations, and government sectors, including the Federal Ministry of Health and UNICEF, who led a health and nutrition workshop for the children. Dance competitions, gift-giving, and cultural performances were among the festivities throughout the event, as well as a visit from the popular musicians the Mamuzee Twins.

By Amanda Hale

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Empowering Youths to Drive Nations Forward

The growing need for youth involvement in development issues was at the forefront of Nigeria’s agenda last week as Action Health Incorporated (AHI) Nigeria, alongside an array of non-governmental organisations in Lagos met with Donald Floyd, President and CEO of the National 4-H Council, a U.S.-based non-profit organization, in Lagos to discuss partnerships for innovative youth development projects in Nigeria.

The National 4-H Council is the partner of 4-H, one of the United States’ largest youth development programs, which works with the mission to advance youth development movement; building a world in which youth and adults learn, grow, and work together as catalysts for positive change. According to Floyd, youth empowerment can only take place when adults step up and give young people the skills and opportunities to grow personally and professionally.

Youth involvement in decision-making is an important fuel to the social and economic strength of every nation, and should thus be encouraged in every developmental organization. “We need to give young people governance positions,” said Floyd. “Youths should have the power to sit on the board of directors or to make funding decisions within their organization, and also to make important decisions about the development of their communities and country.”

Floyd described his own experience working with four young people on the board of directors for the National 4-H Council. “It was an often painful experience,” he said with a laugh, “but the best strategy was for youths and adults to learn to mentor each other-- sometimes young people knew things we didn’t, and sometimes we knew things that they didn’t.

“It’s all about mutual learning to work together as catalysts for change.”

The meeting took place at a brunch reception hosted by AHI and drew a variety of non-profit organizations from Lagos to discuss the importance of youth empowerment in Nigeria, and how creative partnerships between local, national and international organizations can boost the level of youth projects and youth involvement in Nigeria’s future.

*By Amanda Hale

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Creative social marketing can stem unintended pregnancies in Africa

In Nigeria, the rise of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases demands a revolutionary approach to social marketing in order to promote positive behaviour among youth. The following story of successful youth social marketing programs in Cameroon, Rwanda, and Madagascar could be applied to Nigeria’s social framework as well. With such a wide range of print, radio, and broadcast journalists pulling together to highlight sensitive and controversial issues regarding reproductive health and safe sex—such as cross-generational sex (sex between older men and younger women)—Nigeria could see a substantial reduction in harmful sexual and reproductive practices.

The social learning theory, which categorizes human behaviour in terms of the dynamic interaction between personal factors (knowledge, expectations, and attitudes), behavioural factors (skills and self-efficacy), and environmental factors (social norms, access to information, products and services, and ability to influence others), has been identified as capable of shaping young people’s perception of safe sexual behaviour.

This is based on a study by Population Services International (PSI), which was conducted across Cameroon, Madagascar, and Rwanda. PSI’s theory is based on the belief that individuals learn not only through their own experiences, but also by observing the actions of others and the consequences of those actions. The program concluded that after two years of media interaction with youth on reproductive issues in Cameroon, Rwanda, and Madagascar, that repeated exposure to multiple communication channels is necessary to change youth’s sexual behaviour.

Population Services International (PSI), a US-based non-profit group, implemented youth-oriented programs to prevent unplanned pregnancies and STDs, including HIV/AIDS, among youth between the ages of 15-24 years.

Past social marketing programs in Africa endeavoured to stem the tide of unintended pregnancies and STDs by using donated products such as condoms, and then selling them—attractively advertised under a brand name—in small shops and outlets to low-income shoppers. This encouraged people with low incomes, particularly youth, to buy condoms without fear of social backlash from shopkeepers or friends.

PSI workers took this conventional approach, but added a new twist—based on PSI’s behaviour change framework, which incorporates elements of the most commonly used behaviour change theories, such as the social learning theory, the health belief model, and the theory of reasoned action, PSI used the media to communicate intensively with youth and encourage them to use condoms or abstain from sex. In Cameroon, PSI launched a multi-media program with peer educators, journalists, comic strip artists, radio personalities, and scriptwriters to develop messages in the media, which highlighted experiences of youth who challenged social norms to protect their health. Television and radio advertisements aired repeatedly for four to six weeks and encouraged positive sexual behaviours, such as young women buying condoms to protect themselves from pregnancies and STDs. Additionally the program employed street vendors to sell monthly youth newspapers, called 100 % Jeune Le Journal, to youth around Cameroon. The newsletter included articles about reproductive health, letters from readers and responses from peer educators, sports, music, comic strips, and tear-out colour posters.

By Amanda Hale

Monday, 3 December 2007

Immunization of children: the greatest achievement of all…

Immunization: gifting disease immunity to children of all social status


Experts have reiterated the fact that up to 3 million deaths are prevented yearly and 750, 000 children saved from disability if vaccination services are improved and maintained. The immunization of all children remains one of the greatest achievements of all humanitarian goals.

This assertion was made at the high level 1-day Conference session titled ‘immunization in Nigeria during the just concluded 34th edition of the international Medical Exhibition and Conference held at the Ocean View Hotel, Victoria Island Lagos.

Prof Chris Obionu of the college of medicine, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus Nigeria, gave the presentation for the day titled the ‘Value of vaccine’. According to him, vaccine-preventable diseases/ infections constitute a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, especially in developing countries like Nigeria. These diseases include: measles, yellow fever, smallpox, poliomyelitis, neonatal tetanus, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, and cerebrospinal meningitis. According to him, with future vaccine development, the number of preventable diseases will increase with future.

Though eradication of these diseases is possible through vaccination, there are concerns that vaccine coverage is falling. While a surprisingly large number of people are reluctant to accept vaccinations even when they are given free of charge, some governments view vaccines as a capital intensive venture instead of an investment and thus are reluctant to allocate funds to vaccination programmes. Thus there is no sustainable financial backing for the different vaccination programmes. He also lamented the ignorance of the value of vaccines which leads to squandering of immunization resources.

Outlining the values of vaccine for the individual, Prof Obionu said ‘Three million deaths are prevented yearly and 750,000 children are saved from disabilities. For the community, next to clean drinking water, vaccines are the most effective intervention in reducing and preventing the incidence of infectious diseases. While for the economy of the nation, its benefits are a decrease in: hospitalization, loss of productivity, and need for expensive treatment, permanent disabilities and disease outbreak.’

Prof Obionu maintained that government and individuals need to recognize the value of vaccines and disease prevention. The Government should recognize that a healthy population attracts investments and increase in productivity. He stressed that adequate investment in resources (human, material and financial resources) is needed for effective immunization. Applying the lessons learned from smallpox eradication in the use of other vaccines to fight diseases will enhance the value of vaccination.

He stressed that vaccines must be made available to all people no matter where they are in the world. Vaccines should be as highly valued as pure drinking water. With a motto such as “No vaccination, no achievement of the health-related MDGs”, the government will work harder towards achieving these goals. ‘Living in a world free of polio, and maybe measles, is not a dream. It can actually be realized’, he concluded.

By Adanma Ike.