By Olusegun Samson
In a twist of events and as global response to the issues associated with tobacco consumption continues to remain divergent depending on which side of the divide the proponent is, it looks like the controversial tobacco is now a part and parcel of the cure for the much dreaded Ebola.Tobacco is one of the elements which constitutes the makeup of the new EVD drug been tested for potential cure of Ebola. This drug according to various media reports was administered on the two American doctors who were infected with the disease. The doctors are said to be recovering to the treatment.
In the past couple of months, it has become more obvious that the overriding focus of WHO and their local NGO affiliates both in Nigeria and West Africa seem to be misplaced. The deteriorating state of the Nigeria’s medical sector and health delivery system is one that worries everyone. While aggressive advocacy for tobacco control continues within the country with millions of dollars backing it up, more and more life threatening issues continue to rear its ugly head.
The health sector problems are enormous and clearly show that the donors and their local implementers have misplaced priorities. As the drama in the sector continues to increase in tempo with the doctors going on strike once more, as they usually do, which has invariably led to about 16,000 doctors been fired by the presidency, we are suddenly hit with the Ebola epidemic.
Right now Nigeria and most African countries needs to be focused on the salient issues such as getting the basics in place and more resources needs to be pumped into seeing that this is addressed aggressively. Therefore issues such as tobacco control advocacy and the often times media sensationalism that comes with it as opposed to research and education of Nigerians and African seems like a self-seeking project. A lot more can be achieved if half of the enormous energy and funding pumped into tobacco control advocacy had been sunk into some form of advocacy in ensuring the health care delivery system is brought up to standard – this will save the lives of millions of Nigerians who are dying not from tobacco smoke but from lack of basic health care delivery systems. Very few people in Nigeria can afford good health care and even many of those who can also go out of the country to places like South Africa and India to get medical treatment. The number of lives that have been lost in Nigeria due to poor health system delivery, lack of equipment, shoddy health care system and wrong diagnosis is not only tremendous but frightening. This is in addition to the number of brain drain that we have in the sector today.
It stands to reason that more money needs to be pumped into more life threatening issues – such as cataloguing those diseases that currently have no cure and are peculiar to our region/country and funding research of same, making sure that the Ebola scourge is truly gotten rid off, and a permanent cure secured and also sensitising various health care delivery sectors on what to do and how to ensure that the standard health care delivery is given and in place such that health givers are themselves not exposed to such trauma while treating patients. The issue of HIV/AIDS and subsidising the drugs to enable HIV infected patients access to it, finding a lasting solution to the problem of malaria and addressing the problems of maternal health.
It is pertinent to address the basic issues which have tied down the delivery of a sound health system to Nigeria people for decades. This is where our focus should be right now, without getting the priorities right and pumping all the resources we can get into addressing these problems then we are nowhere near the sustainable development that we so fervently desire and yearn for, neither can we address the problem of inclusive growth. When just a few can afford to access good medical care by flying out to other countries then there is unfairness and injustice in leadership.
The African culture in itself is a strong mitigating factor to any rising trend in tobacco consumption. If WHO or any of the NGOs involved in Tobacco Control Advocacy really want to do anything serious, it will be to ride on the African culture which largely frowns at smoking and embark on more education in order to support the right form of lifestyle choices.
The use of tobacco has progressed and many more scientists are looking at how to use this as fuel for airplanes and now as potential cure for this dreaded Ebola disease – we, therefore, need to transcend beyond the current debate and look for what can be done with tobacco. This will include backing up research into how to take away the smoke constituent that causes the harmful effect when smoking and offering consumers healthier choices and also ensuring that more work is done in assisting people to choose the right kind of lifestyle that promotes healthy living and this is not only in tobacco but also in other areas where Nigerians and African are most susceptible to. If the product EVD truly works in curing Ebola and can also act as a vaccine it will be a major break for us in Africa.
The recent WHO report on the health sector in Africa paints a grim picture for Africans:
“A child born in Africa faces more health risks than a child born in other partsof the world. Such a child has more than a 50% chance of being malnourished, ahigh risk of being HIV-positive at birth, while malaria, diarrhoeal diseases and acuterespiratory diseases account for 51% of deaths. A child born in the African Regionis more likely to lose his or her mother due to complications in childbirth or to HIV/AIDS, while that child has a life expectancy of just 47 years, and is very likely — atleast once in his or her short life — to be affected by drought, famine, flood or civilwar, or to become a refugee.People living in the African Region are more exposed to a heavy and wide-rangingburden of disease partly because of this Region’s unique geography andclimate. These factors make malaria, for instance, more intractable in Africa than it iselsewhere. At the same time, non-communicable diseases and injuries are emergingas significant contributors to the disease burden.Nowhere has HIV/AIDS killed such large proportions of the population as ithas in Africa. Nowhere has the old scourge of tuberculosis re-emerged to fuel theHIV/AIDS epidemic as it has in the African Region. No other region has witnessedso many armed conflicts and other humanitarian emergencies.Nowhere is poverty so prevalent. The population of the African Region represents about 10% of the world’s population, but an estimated 45% or more of itspeople live below the poverty line, on less than US$ 1 a day. About 330 millionpeople in this Region — one-third of the world’s 1.1 billion poor — are caught in thispoverty trap, in which low household incomes lead to low household consumptionand, in turn, the countries in which they live have low capacity and low productivity.”
These facts are also true of Nigeria. As Nigerians, we all know what we face when the lives of those we love or those we know are lost through poor health delivery systems and wrong diagnosis. It is time that we to the right thing.
With so much issues that we have to face, another question that quickly comes to mind is that why is it that the cure for such a deadly disease had to be discovered outside of the continent to the extent that when Africans were dying we had to resort to begging. This is why resource allocation by WHO in the right direction and for the right things is extremely important. Tobacco consumption is a problem but most critical is getting us the basics.
If we get the basic health care system right, address the issues fuelling the consistent striking of the medical doctors and pump more of the resources into educating tobacco smokers and researching into alternatives for the consumers such as the beverage sectors have done in providing healthier options for their consumers then we will be on the right track to building a healthy nation.
Olusegun Samson a public affairs analyst wrote from Abuja.