Two for the price of one

I was away from Ado for some days, and didn’t have much time to pen my thoughts. While away, I tried to get some rest and also explored my environment. Usually, I would share my top 3 takeaways, but I have several thoughts and experiences to share, a culmination of my reflections over the past couple of weeks. If you would like to know them, keep reading!

My name is Oyebanji not Jack!

1. The lockdown which was declared in March 2020 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 forced a considerable number of people including myself to slow down and take a break from the usual hustle and bustle of normal working life. At the time, I was rounding off my role as the technical director for Nigeria’s Basic Health Care Provision Fund for a short stint with the World Bank. Prior to the lockdown, I hadn’t had a proper break in 10+ years, so I embraced the lockdown and used the opportunity to do other things (I watched the entire 8 seasons Game of Thrones during the lockdown!). Immediately the lockdown was lifted, the workload fell back like a ton of bricks and that was the norm even after I became Commissioner for Health in Ekiti State. Taking the past two weeks off work to do other things was a much-needed break, helpful for reflection and I am now back with renewed energy. All work and no play they say…LOL.

Societal differences

2. During my time off, I travelled to the US. Now, I’ve been to the country more times than I can immediately remember, but I still get fascinated by its diversity, especially the distinct variations in culture across States. While in Washington DC, I was struck by the social consciousness. Months after the protests following the death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter signages were still conspicuously displayed on almost every property. Contrast this with the attempted revisionism of the chain of events leading to and culminating in the outcomes of some of the social causes that gained nationwide concern in Nigeria recently. Miami, on the other hand was a hive of activity; every day seemed like a party. I only saw a handful of bikers protesting the Cuban government’s response to the ongoing social crisis in Cuba. In Orlando, it appeared people just wanted to enjoy themselves at the Disney theme parks, while Virginia was much calmer and had a family-friendly sub-urban vibe. Something else I noticed? There were more beggars in DC compared to Florida. My Uber driver mentioned it had something to do with Florida’s right-to-work status. Oh, did i mention I visited a museum in DC?

An artefact taken from the southern part of Nigeria, seen at a museum.

Who says Naija no dey try?

3. From DC to Florida to Virginia, one thing stood out for me — Nigeria is not doing badly as far as COVID-19 response is concerned! While in the US, I noticed there were very few people wearing face masks (let’s not even talk about Lollapalooza), further confirming my assertion that enforcement and compliance to COVID-19 preventive measures are much better in Nigeria. Additionally, the processes for getting tested upon returning to the country is well automated and easy to use. Took my post 7 days travel test on Monday and got my result less than 48hrs later!

“Don’t die, it is expensive”

4. In Orlando, I met a female Uber driver who shared a thought-provoking experience with me. She mentioned that she had recently moved to Orlando from New York following the tragic death of her son. While narrating the experience, she said “don’t die, it is expensive”. She explained that burying her son cost her $45,000 (about 18 million naira). There was a cost attached to EVERY aspect of the burial and what I found most gripping was that her son was buried in the same grave as her grandmother and another family member. Yes; 3 people buried in one hole (Did I hear you mutter tufiakwa and Olorun maje under your breath?). While listening to this sad story, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that burials and interment are very structured in western societies, with each industry having very robust value chains. While this may have significant cost implications, I believe it demystifies burials and makes graveyards a place to “reminisce” deceased loved ones, rather than a place that evokes fear or mystery. In Ekiti, a private sector firm recently opened 260,000 capacity private cemetery to provide a safe and conducive place for indigenes and residents to lay their loved ones to rest. We hope that this initiative will address the social and environmental challenges associated with burials in the State.

“Extra-ordinary things we’re doing…”

5. I am excited about our tripartite MOU with Helium Health and Sterling Bank. This partnership will ensure that select General Hospitals in the State will be equipped with Health Management Information Systems (HMIS), Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and digitised payment solutions to enable these hospitals to provide faster and more efficient patient-centred services. I look forward to our increased ability to utilise the high-quality data generated from these facilities to make informed decisions, strengthen our case for increased investment in healthcare and contribute to the State IGR. This initiative is part of our 4-pronged approach to healthcare quality improvement in the State which is: infrastructural development, procurement of medical equipment, optimisation of the human resource for health and improved data generation and management.

At the signing of the tripartite agreement with Helium Health and Sterling Bank

You think 2023? We think 2022!

6. Over the weekend, I was home in Ikole LGA for our ward congress elections. Despite some hitches, it was a largely peaceful and successful event and we look forward to the LGA elections. Clock is ticking and sooner than later, there will be a change of guard. We have roughly one year left to deliver impact and we will continue to work to ensure that we do the best for the people of Ekiti State.

Discussing the relatively peaceful congress elections with stakeholders in Ikole

Health Systems Reforms and Health Financing Expert