The World Health Organisation (WHO) marked its 70th anniversary last week. Our Health Editor, HASSAN ZAGGI, examines the impact it made on the lives of Nigerians and the areas Nigeria needs the urgent intervention of the UN body.
Last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) celebrated its 70th anniversary. The celebration coincides with the World Health Day (WHD). The theme of this year’s WHD was, “Universal health coverage (UHC): everyone, everywhere.”
For the record, the WHO is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that is concerned with international public health. It was established on April 7, 1948 . The day is commemorated every year as World Health Day.
WHO has its presence in 150 countries with six regional officers across the world. It is estimated to have almost 7000 workforce. Its headquarters is in Geneva.
The WHO is a member- owned organization with specific roles tailored towards improving health outcomes of member countries. To achieve this, it works closely with the governments of member countries and supporting in the formulation of national health policies and strategies. It does not provide funds to member countries or organization, however, base on its mandate, it provides technical support and advice, when the need arises to any member country.
Over the years, since its establishment, WHO has contributed immensely to the development of the health sector of many countries across the globe. It has also contributed in the fight against and prevention of infectious diseases. Where are outbreaks, it provides the needed expert advice and technical support to bring the situation under control.
In his message during the celebration of the WHD and the 70th anniversary, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, disclosed that over the past 70 years, there have been major advances in health and health technology, including life-saving medicines for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, hypertension and diabetes.
According to him: “In the African Region, health outcomes have been improved through strategies such as distributing insecticide-treated nets to prevent malaria, and vaccinating against the human papillomavirus which causes cervical cancer and access to treatment and essential services has improved.”
At a media parlay in Abuja, the WHO Country Representative in Nigeria, Dr Wondi Alemu, while delivering the message of the Regional Director, charged African countries to strive to improve health governance and information systems to ensure better regulation, planning and accountability to their communities and partners.
He, however, insisted that, effective leadership and high-level political commitment are critical to achieving UHC.
In what seems to be like the scorecard of the WHO in recent years, the Regional Director said: “ For the first time, more than half of all people living with HIV in Africa (14 million) have access to life-saving HIV treatment. Between 2010 and 2016, new cases of malaria dropped by 20% and there were 37% fewer deaths due to malaria.
“Moreover, in 2016, the risk of developing pneumonia and meningitis reduced for nearly two thirds of children on the continent because they were vaccinated, compared to only 3% in 2010.
“In 2012, Africa accounted for over 50% of polio cases globally. The good news is that since August 2016, the Region has not reported a case of wild poliovirus.”
While calling on African leaders to live up to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) pledges they made in 2015, and to commit to concrete actions and build stronger, more resilient and responsive health systems, the WHO Director said: “We have developed a framework of actions to assist countries in selecting their own path towards achieving both UHC and the SDGs.
“We have also developed a flagship programme geared towards providing integrated and holistic support to countries through implementation support, a regional learning programme for UHC and more.”
What Nigeria benefited from WHO
The questions thus are: What exactly has Nigeria benefited from the WHO since its inceptions? And what are some of the areas the UN body needs to concentrate in the years ahead in order to assist Nigeria to combat its myriad of challenges in the health sector?
While responding to questions from The AUTHORITY, the President, Association of Health Care Professionals, Dr. Godswil Okara, said that the WHO has played a central role in setting health agenda, health policy initiative and immunization efforts for Nigeria.
“At every stage in Nigeria, WHO has remained central and focal point in our health developmental activities both in terms of technical support and even funding and logistics.
“When we had the Ebola outbreak, it was the WHO that gave technical support and sent experts from the developed world to give assistance to enable us draw strategies on how to combat and overcome the challenge. The same thing they did to some of our neigbbouring countries that had the challenge.
“WHO has been instrument to the eradication of some infectious disease both in Nigeria and globally.
“When Small Pox was eradicated in Nigeria in 1978, it was the WHO that was driving the effort. It was WHO that gave Nigeria millions of naira to produce Small Pox vaccine that was used both in Nigeria and in other African countries. It has really played a dominant role in eradicating infectious disease and promoting infant and maternal health. WHO, indeed, has been very central in Nigeria’s health sector,” Okara reiterated.
On his part, the Chairman, West Africa Health Sector Unions Network (WAHSUN), Abdulrafiu Adeniyi, said that over the years, the WHO has, at various times, mobilise resources for Nigeria through its other agencies that come to Nigeria to assist in one way or the other.
He, therefore, charged the Nigerian government to emulate the way WHO operate so that it can grow faster.
“All Nigeria needs to do is to take and adopt the ideals of the WHO to be able to succeed.
“For example, the current DG of the WHO is from Ethiopia, he is not a medical doctor. He rose to that position by merit. So, if Nigeria can adopt the ideals of the WHO, I bet you we will feel the impact of WHO more,” he Adeniyi said.
Speaking on the areas the WHO can work on to make much impact in Nigeria in the years ahead, Dr. Godswil Okara, lamented that the greatest challenge Nigeria has is the incessant ravage of infectious disease, insisting that, as the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria needs to lead the way in producing vaccine in order to ameliorate the effect of infections disease in our environment and country.
“Therefore, the WHO will do well to encourage Nigeria to develop in- country capacity for vaccine production.
“We have done it in the past and there is no reason whatsoever that we cannot do it now.
“Look at when there was the outbreak of Monkey Pox, Nigeria has to sent clinical samples to Dakar before it was confirmed that it was Monkey Pox that we are battling with, whereas, we have the technical capacity in terms of man power but to provide necessary infrastructure and allow organizational capacity to do this thing, the political will has not been there,” Okara noted.
The health expert revealed that professional associations have been calling repeatedly for the government to exercise political will to revamp the vaccine production laboratory in Nigeria so that the country can be self sufficient in vaccine production.
“Now that an African and an infectious disease expert and immunologist is the head of the WHO, so we will expect that he will intensify the emphasis on the need for in-country production of vaccine in Africa, Nigeria in particular.”
On the other hand, Abdulrafiu Adeniyi, insisted that if Nigeria wants to benefit more from the WHO, it should be ready to replicate and implement all that is being agreed by the WHO- member countries during WHA.
It is however, pertinent to stress that the WHO, has, over the years, improved the workings of the health systems of most countries across the globe.
However, some countries, Nigeria inclusive need special attention to be able to confront the myriad of challenges confronting the health sector.