Rukewe Ugwumba – Beauty,Brains and Brawn

on   /   in Allure, Health 8:39 pm   /   Comments

Dr. Rukevwe Ugwumba is the Special Adviser, Health Monitoring to the Delta State Governor. Until she joined the Government of Delta State in August 2011, Dr. Ugwumba was an associate professor in Family Medicine, University of Saskatchewan in Canada. She graduated from the University of Benin in 1992, where she obtained a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) with honours.

In 1995, she attended the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine where she obtained a Post Graduate Diploma in Infection & Health in the Tropics and a Master of Science degree from the University of London in
Infectious Diseases.

She then worked on a PhD programme at the same London school with special emphasis on Tuberculosis and River Blindness. She received the Tropical Disease Research (TDR) Award from the World Health Organization for her PhD studies.

Rukewe Ugwumba

Rukewe Ugwumba

She became a Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery of the Society of Apothecaries of London in 2000. In 2005, she became a Licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada (LMCC) and in 2006, she became a Member of the
Royal College of General Practitioners, United Kingdom (MRCGP). Also, in 2006, she achieved Membership of the College of Family Physicians of Canada. (C.C.F.P.)

A passionate woman, Dr. Rukevwe’s expertise has no doubt impacted on the tremendous medical feat achieved in Delta State. With the catalogue of successes recorded in the state, ‘Delta Beyond Oil’ is becoming a reality as the state is set to become a medical tourists’ destination.

The beautiful mother of four, who credits the Delta first lady, Mrs.Roli Uduaghan as ‘a pillar of support’ turns 44, come May 31st.

In this interview with Allure, Dr. Ruky shares her experience as a ‘Diasporan’ trying to fit in to our ways. Enjoy!

How did you feel when you first heard about the girls that were abducted in chibok?

Sick to my stomach! I was livid! As a child who went to boarding school for secondary school at age 10 years
old, I put myself in their shoes. As a mother of 3 young children, my eldest being a girl aged 12years, I put
myself in the shoes of the mothers. Beyond horrific is this idea that some people can and will take our children
from their place of learning into bondage..sexual slavery…(shaking my head)!!

Two /three weeks after the incidence , it took an american to start the #bringbackour girls campaign for nigeria’s female leaders to start their own campaign. Why did we take so long?

I sympathize with all the victims and their families and PRAY for their safe return home, TODAY! I can tell you
that every woman was outraged! It’s perhaps the formal organization of this campaign to bring them home in the
mainstream and social media that wasn’t seen.. compared with missing Malaysian Flight 370 when almost immediately photos of the crew and passengers flooded the media and faces could be put to the tragedy
I suppose as still no word on where it is, or what actually happened.

This abduction was no mystery, and the girls who were able to escape told their story. It is a lesson for us really to do this much better, as Nigerians sometimes are afraid of stigmatization and think that keeping quiet will protect the identity of the girls. We Rukewe Ugwumba – Beauty,Brains and Brawn need to be liberated from this general idea, indeed many women have gone to their graves as a result of keeping quiet when they should be shouting at the top of their voices. This same Western EDUCATION which is being attacked, is the way forward to learn to organize to SPEAK..have a VOICE for our issues and the time is NOW!

As special adviser on health to the delta state governor, what are your duties?

As Special Adviser, I was not given a schedule of duties. Upon resumption, my boss said: “You are a professional. Do your job!” With no predecessor, I set about getting to know how government works, having
been in the Diaspora for over two decades. I received great assistance from the Hon. Commissioner for
Health, Dr. Joseph Otumara, and staff of the ministry.

The Deputy Governor, Prof. Amos Agbe Utuama SAN, along with others, has been a great support in
understanding the workings of the job. As an Ex-Co (executive council) member, I transitioned from the
Diaspora to Nigeria, especially having no clue about protocol which I’m still a student of. (laughing).
In summary, as Special Adviser, Health, reporting to the Governor of Delta State, making sure that the
governor performs brilliantly in this sector is my sole responsibility.

By the grace of God, this is my third year on the job and it has been monumental. It is always a team effort with the Ministry of Health. No doubt, it has been made easier with the fact that the person at the helm of affairs, our governor himself, is a physician who rose from the ranks – from private sector physician (anaesthetist) to Commissioner for Health, to SSG (Secretary to the State Government) before getting his elective gubernatorial position.

Delta recently achieved the feat of successful kidney transplant. What role did you play in this medical feat?

I wish to use this medium to congratulate my boss, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, for achieving this groundbreaking milestone in health for all Deltans and for doing the first two test cases on the 13th and 14th of
January respectively for free. Also, for bringing down the cost of future cases substantially to between N1.5m-
N2.5m whereas in Abuja, it is between N4m-N5m; India N5m-N10m and in the United States about N22m. Also
for the subsidy for dialysis state-wide from N22,000 to N5,000 so the patients do not miss their treatments;
knowing that the average cost of dialysis elsewhere is N35,000 and up to N100,000 in some settings in
Nigeria.

Patients who need dialysis need a minimum of 3 treatments in a week and this government subsidy has
given real hope to the most vulnerable groups in our society, the chronically sick people. You can see the
synergy. We want to provide the best services and at the same time, we want people in Delta State to know
that these services exist and the chain of command so that they can take advantage of them. Now that’s my
role and it is always a team effort.

There seems to be much focus on health in delta state. Would it be because the governor is a
medical doctor, plus your imput as s.A. Health?

I have to say our governor has been diligent in putting a square peg in a square hole in his decisions; as a
senior colleague in the profession who practiced anaesthesia as one of the finest we had in Delta State
before becoming a guru in politics. He understands what the people need as a physician and what will gain
him political mileage as he rose through the ranks from being Health Commissioner to the Secretary to the
State Government, before becoming Governor. So, he had the benefit of being a professional and an
experienced public office holder and I am learning tremendously from him. He is also my able political
father as he brought me in. Note, not god-father! Delta State politics is fierce. I’m sure we are the only state
with three elections and two terms. We are in a sense a mini-Nigeria. If you do well here, then your job at the
national level has been made easy!

As a doctor, one always practices one’s profession.

For example, decisions on what type of equipment a hospital needs or qualifications required when hiring
doctors and even the right type of service require a doctor’s experience and input. In summary, my special
adviser role leverages on my profession and my experience, training and work in the Diaspora.

How has it been developing the health sector? You have 446 primary health-care centres and a stateof-
the -art hospital plus, a newly opened women hospital. What was the state of affairs when you took over?

Delta State has 446 primary health-care facilities which at 18,000 square kilometres is over 200 more than the
one for every 10 square kilometres recommended by the Federal Government (adopting world standards).

We have 64 secondary health facilities state-wide from which we are currently running many of our health
programmes and one state-of-the-art world class tertiary centre, Delta State Teaching Hospital (DELSUTH), Oghara, which has currently graduated 2 sets of medical students. The hospital referral system is from primary to secondary then the tertiary centre. This would maximize our efforts and scarce resources.
How DELSUTH has impacted on livelihood! I’m talking about cleaners, drivers, cooks, hotels etc. (This
is) minus the other positive impact – the dedicated transformer, because that hospital must have power
24-7. That has affected livelihood positively in Oghara but let’s talk patients and their relatives, transport, food,
medicine.

Ours is the only hospital in Nigeria that has people from the Diaspora and locally trained doctors handling
almost every specialty, including very skilled orthopaedic spine specialists. So, what are we doing at
Oghara? to name some… We do everything… For issues like spine surgery, neuro-surgery including
treatment of brain tumours, cement free hip and knee replacement surgeries, specialized neonatal unit with
CPAP, there are only 2 functional hospitals in Nigeria and none of them is a government owned hospital).
Even a 0.5kg baby can survive there; specialized renal unit with 7 state-of-the-art haemodialysis machines
operating at heavily subsided costs, renal transplantation! Wow!

This year, Delta State Teaching Hospital introduced a neonatal helpline where expected premature babies
will be located state-wide prior to or as soon as they are born to improve their chances of survival;
acknowledging the fact that the skill set of the doctor or mid-wife who took the delivery and their equipment may be inadequate for such a premature new born or neonate. One hundred such phone lines have been distributed state-wide at zero cost to the providers!

Our free maternal programme, including free Caesarean sections, means that we have seen a sharp increase in the use of our public health facilities and as such, we need to expand our services; hence, our new 100-bed state-of-the-art women and children’s hospital in the busiest facility for child and maternal services in the state.

The state of affairs of our health sector has been growing from strength to strength as the sitting governor as been in top level government (within the health sector) since 2003 when he was Honourable Commissioner for Health. It was during his tenure as commissioner that the tertiary institution at Oghara was conceived and built but commissioned for use after he became governor.

Two problems facing medical practice in nigeria are mis-diagnosis, which you also experienced with the death of your father, chief akpedeye in 2007, and acute shortage of female doctors. With your vast experience as a medical doctor in the diaspora,
how should these be resolved?

Training, training, training and retraining! In the Diaspora, typically, your medical license to treat any human is only valid for one year! After which you will be breaking the law if not renewed with the regulatory body (the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the respective society or college). As a specialist, you are required to renew annually with your professional body.

In the Diaspora, every doctor who independently attends to a patient is a specialist. Indeed, family medicine or general practice is a specialty that requires 2-5 years training, depending on the country. Only in Nigeria will you find unsupervised practising doctors who are not specialized.
This is a clear indication of the fact that medical school training is insufficient to provide licence to treat.

Indeed, in many cases, it becomes a licence to kill! The renewal of a doctor’s licence occurs with set criteria. For hospital doctors, there is always mortality review which examines the reason for every hospital-related death and other physicians examine colleagues’ records to ensure human error is not a factor in anyone’s death, either by omission or commission – according to our Hippocratic Creed which every doctor swears to before resuming duties.

This presents a ‘puns-dens’ situation. United Kingdom trained doctors know this term well. I obtained my membership with the Royal College of General Practitioners after rigorous training and examination and still believe the UK doctor training programme, which ours in Nigeria is modelled after, is still one of the best in the world today. PUNS-DENS simply means ‘patients unmet needs’- ‘doctors’ educational needs’.

Indeed, you will not pass your exams as a GP (general practitioner); you cannot pass your fellowship without, at least, one mention of this term in your oral and clinical examination scenarios. Also, you need a certain number of points accumulated in CME’s (continuing medical education) before your licence is renewed through various activities. Also, in the Diaspora, we have something called PCA, which stands for patient centred approach; acknowledging the fact that the patient is the reason you, as a doctor, has a job!

In Nigeria, I still find in many cases, even in Delta State, that the attitude of doctors leaves much to be desired and here again is where the training gap is visible. As a medical student at the University of Benin, we trembled at some of the consultants’ rounds where paucity of knowledge was mocked, whereas in the Diaspora, consultants could lose their right to teach if they used those same methods! Indeed, I was surprised at the Guys Kings and Thomas’ Medical School to receive a form at the end of each lecture or training session, to assess the presenter or teacher, for how well he or she did!

This kind of feed back is still lacking in Nigeria! So, not just the juniors but all doctors need to embrace this
more humane approach to teaching and learning. As an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan
in Canada, I am involved in active recruitment of medical students. The final stage of this recruitment is
using a new interview method developed by McMaster University in Canada called MMI (mini-multiple
interview) which tests not just a person’s intelligence and understanding of the subject but the personality of
the individual with the hope of recruiting only those with the skill set to provide patient centred care. Sometimes, the most brilliant students fail to gain admission due to these tests. Very fascinating indeed. The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria also requires CMEs to register annually, as I found out last year when I decided to obtain a licence to treat patients as a specialist and I was very pleased indeed.

In Delta State, we are enforcing this and indeed have shut down hospitals with poor hygiene or without
properly licensed staff or facility. We also investigate any report of foul activity with promptness. Our Ministry
of Health enforces this very well. I could talk about my father, a diabetic’s needless death 7 years ago.

But maybe, I would not have become actively involved had he not passed on. He was given a wrong treatment by a doctor who was careless but he didn’t know any better. I could also talk more about our pharmacy
regulations and patent medicine stores and fake drugs and this section of the interview will continue indefinitely.

You seem to thrive in a male dominated terrain, from medicine and now politics. How would you
describe yourself? What motivates you?

Excellence. Perfection is an anthem I preach on my blog… with my peers from secondary school, where I go
and unleash sometimes! I am a self-driven person naturally who fears only God and not man. I don’t put
any limits on myself. I like to excel at everything I do and never really consider my gender until I’m
sometimes reminded. My late father who was a lawyer taught me that there is no substitute for hard work,
hence he closes late from his chambers and always knew he had won because, like he told me as a child,
the case is won not in court but in your chambers!

I am fortunate to have such parents who give their all to see we get ahead in life. I’m humbled every time I
see a woman emerge at the very top, knowing what it took to get there. We must endure a lot of sexism in our
careers because some people, even women, do not know their true value. I wish for a world where competence and skill set rather than demographics are the criteria for the job.

How have you found politics in Nigeria as a woman and as someone whose has lived abroad for over
two decades? Are you planning to take it further after this dispensation, dirty politicking, godfatherism
and all?

All over the world, women have to be at least twice as qualified and better than their male counterparts to get
the same positions; not only in politics but in almost all top-tier jobs. It is nature and we Christians say God
gave a woman the uterus which makes us very unique in the sense that everyone on earth today was borne by
a woman.

This responsibility has its unique sets of challenges yet that’s the same responsibility that makes
us better leaders. When I first became involved in politics, I always heard the words – you have to stoop to
conquer. Honestly, I had no idea what that meant. My understanding is still a work in progress. I have leaders
in politics; loyalty is 100% or nothing. This is a fact everywhere although the debates are not as divisive
after the elections, sometimes.

See how the Republicans shut down government just to prove a point to a leader whom they oppose. I’m
convinced that race is a factor but that glass ceiling was broken by Barack Obama, who is a genius. Women are
also emerging.

Hilary Clinton almost shattered that glass ceiling. It is very reassuring and we will certainly
get there! I am eternally an optimist yet I like to think I’m no fool. I will do my bit and move on to other things
because I have other things. Those people who take politics as a do or die afair, it’s because it’s just like that
to them, do or die! I don’t think anything is worth killing or dying for. For sure there are other less fatal options?
I’m asking.

How were you recruited and how did your family take it? How are they coping?

The hardest part of this job is being away from my family. Luckily for me, I have my husband’s support and
that makes it bearable. I married an Anambra man on purpose; dreamt of him since I was 16 years old
because I knew that these Igbo men marry well.

A long story but had this idea from my childhood friend’s strong family unit compared to what I observed in our place and 14 years later, I’m still right! He actually encouraged me to take this job despite knowing the burden it would place on him with 3 young and energetic children. My older brother, Dafe Akpedeye SAN, was the Attorney General to my boss Dr. Uduaghan during his first tenure.

He introduced me to the governor, knowing that I had some ideas and wanted to share them. As a physician who attended same schools as myself (Federal Government College, Warri and the University of Benin Medical School), we hit it of right away as we had a lot in common. My husband and I then had several meetings with the governor and the rest they say is history.

You are obviously an acada, a bookworm, as we call people who take pleasure in reading. Is there room for relaxation and doing the things that we, regular women, like to get involved in – viz.
Shopping, fashion, beauty, gossip, etc?

Definitely yes! I’m a typical woman. However selfdriven, I love being a woman! Everything in life is really
about moderation and you can only be an achiever if you can show restraint, especially indulgences. But it is
okay to let loosen up sometimes and just go for it… even for some of us as over-achievers! So, I love
shopping, reading some trashy magazines to unwind, check their fashion. I read blogs. I write blogs, Facebook… name it! Not quite there with twitter… I feel I’m already consumed by the digital world, so hesitating!
I will hold out for as long as possible…

Ifyou are not reading medical books or journals, what do you relax with?

More like ‘who’? My children! Doing any and everything with them! I also love music… all genres! Bob Marley is
as good as Tupac Shakur or Phil Collins. Depending on the day! A good movie is also a favourite pastime but
nowadays, I rarely get chance for that! In my spare time, I still work with foreign health partners; to donate
medical expertise, drugs and equipment to several impoverished communities, to treat simple ailments
realising that government cannot do it alone. For example, malaria, which is completely preventable still
kills a child every 6 seconds on the average, every single day!

Have you ever had an ahaa! Moment? If yes, when and what was it?

Severally! I always want to learn and evolve! I’m sure you know that a diamond is really a gas combination of
carbon and oxygen! The purest, finest diamond is the strongest metal on earth, yet it will dissolve and
disappear without a trace when immersed in hyperbaric oxygen and extreme temperatures. So, every
tempering nature has its melting point! So learn from it!

Ahaa! could be a positive or negative Ahaa! Not always the case. A favourite Igbo adage goes like this:
“If a snake doesn’t behave like a snake, little children will use it to tie firewood.” I find human beings keep
surprising me and could pose the greatest obstacle to self.

For example, 239 humans disappear just like poof! In a large aircraft, in a world full of satellites, without a trace and with no clues for over two months? I had yet another Ahaa! moment when I saw, in action, that in politics there is no permanence… I’m sure you know this adage well. I’m having one Ahaa! just by responding to Allure…

What is your style?

I like everything that fits me well! I don’t take myself too seriously.
What is your fashion passion?

Shoes, shoes, shoes! Maybe, there’s an Imelda Marcos hidden somewhere within me! Usually, my shoes will
determine what I’m going to wear but in general, accessorizing your outfit properly makes the fashion
statement!

Do you have a designer preference?

Local couture is always the best, made to measure. So, I’m always exploring though I have to say that I love
Channel suits.

What would you not be caught in?

I’m fierce and daring but I don’t think I can pull off a bikini now!

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