By Owei Lakemfa
IT was a Nigerian event. The crème of our medical profession gathered in their hundreds at the International Conference Centre, Abuja. It was simultaneously an international event as they were joined by leaders of National Medical Associations from the Commonwealth Medical Association, CMA, which was holding its 25th triennial conference.
However, the cynosure of all eyes at this five-day conference which held from November 4-8, 2019 was 48-year-old Dr. Osahon Enabulele, a civil and human rights activist, writer, health advocate, noted public analyst with a bias for family health. The consummate organiser was sworn in as President of the 54-member country CMA, the first Nigerian to be elected in that body’s 57-year history.
Enabulele is a sensation in the history of the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA. Within three years of his graduation from medical school, he was elected NMA national assistant secretary-general. Two years later, he became national deputy general secretary and within seven years of graduation, he was elected the NMA national second vice president, the first junior/resident doctor to be elected into the NMA Presidency. When in 2012 he was elected NMA national president after only 15 years in practice and at age 41, he became the youngest-ever president of the professional association. He was also known as the leader of the ‘Lion Killers’ in the association. His Presidency of the NMA revitalised the vibrancy, sense of purpose and commitment to general good the NMA was noted for in the 1980s and early 1990s when it was led by the Thompson Akpabios, Beko Ransome-Kutis and Boniface Oye-Adenirans.
What produced Enabulele is an unusual sense of commitment to peoples’ welfare, courage, some humility, hard work, quality education, high intellect and daring. One of his major projects as NMA president was the holding of the First NMA National Health Summit. He is also the founding coordinator of the Coalition of African National Medical Associations in Africa and a member of the Executive Committee of the World Medical Association.
It is no mean feat for a Nigerian to be elected president of medical doctors in the Commonwealth which has one-third of human population and consists of National Medical Associations from diverse countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, India, Pakistan, Australia, Jamaica, Malta, Malaysia, South Africa and Sri Lanka. As CMA President, Enabule is responsible for the promotion of healthcare amongst populations that cut across rich and poor countries and even nations that can be classified as destitute.
In the words of his predecessor, Professor Vajira H.W. Dissayannake, Enabule has become the chief medical diplomat of the seven-decade-old Commonwealth of Nations who has to be consulted by Commonwealth Health Ministers and gets the attention of the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (retd) who was chair of the occasion stood watching the sea of heads at the conference and joked: “You heard I am a doctor (he has a PhD in Political Science). Yes I am a General Doctor and I can perform anything, Babalawo (divination/herbalist) inclusive.”
NMA President, Dr. Francis Adedayo Faduyile, lamented the loss of investment on medical education as: “Nigeria retains less than 60 per cent of her medical graduates, seven out of 10 Nigerian trained doctors are either out of the country or on their way out, and up to 80 per cent of newly graduated doctors are considering migration abroad, with consequent worsening of patients-to-doctors ratio and all its consequences. This trend is also applicable to the pharmacists, nurses and other healthcare professionals.”
Medical tourism, he lamented, swallows over $1 billion annually, adding: “It has contributed largely to infrastructural neglect as both government officials and influential Nigerians leave the country in their numbers to access healthcare even for conditions that can be handled at the secondary healthcare level.”
President Muhammadu Buhari who was represented by Health Minister, Dr Osagie Ehanire, promised his administration will restructure the National Health Insurance Scheme by enrolling more persons and that it wants to see an end to inter-professional rivalries in the healthcare system. On the election and installation of Enabulele as the CMA President, he said: “This is a proud moment for us Nigerians.”
Former Health Minister, Prince Julius Adewale Adelusi-Adeluyi, a pharmacist, congratulated the country for producing the new CMA president and called for unity in the health sector, adding that just as the sky is wide enough for all birds to fly without colliding with each other, so also is the healthcare system big enough to accommodate all who work in it.
Governor Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa, a medical doctor with a 38-year experience was the keynote speaker on the theme of a “Patient-Centred Care” system. The Governor of Nasarawa State, Abdullahi A. Sule was a co-host of the occasion.
The installation of Enabulele and his acceptance speech was the climax. Doctors, he said, need to make contributions to the positive transformation of healthcare systems and “strengthening the health rights of citizens across the Commonwealth”. He promised to establish platforms like “Young Doctors Forum” as part of attempts to liberalise the participatory space within the CMA. He said the CMA under his leadership will help fast track the attainment of Universal Health Coverage, UHC, including advocacy for strengthening primary healthcare and promotion of the Digital Health Initiative of Commonwealth doctors.
Enabule said his leadership wants to assist in the attainment of UHC in the Commonwealth, establish a CMA Safe Hospital Initiative to protect health workers against violence, institute CMA Excellence Awards, carry out a ranking of health systems in the Commonwealth and host CMA Games to promote the well-being of physicians and other health workers.
He made a direct appeal to all doctors in the Commonwealth of Nations thus: “At times, history and fate meet at a single place to shape a turning point. Surely, we now stand on the edge of a new frontier with boundless opportunities… We must all now be prepared to abandon any effort at sustained lamentation of our fate, and truly organise for positive action and progressive resurgimento. If we must build foundations of greatness, we must now be prepared to make supreme sacrifices and put CMA and our health systems first. Surely, we must all be prepared to bear the noise of thunder if we must get the blessings of the rain.”
The new CMA President gives Nigeria a boost on the international scene where our image and rating is quite low. He is a fresh breath. Enabulele’s achievements in so short a period of socio-medical activism, the heights he has attained nationally and internationally within 22 years of graduation, his dynamism, courage and commitment to building new humanity, indicates that another Nigeria is possible.