How Public Health is Changing in Nigeria

The direction of public health is changing across Africa, and Nigeria is no exception, slowly moving away from traditional healers and focusing more on preventative measures and improving health awareness.

Dr Ugochi Ohajuruka is a medical doctor who lives and works in Nigeria and recently completed an online Master of Public Health (MPH) with the research-led University of Liverpool.

Dr Ohajuruka’s motivation for doing an MPH was to advance her knowledge and improve public health in her community and she now runs her own NGO (non-governmental organisation) — Health Aid For All Initiative (HAFAI). HAFAI is a nonprofit organisation that is primarily focused on the rights of girls and women including the promotion of safe reproductive healthcare choices and reduction of maternal and infant mortality.

While Nigeria accounts for 2 percent of the world’s population, it contributes to about 10 percent of global maternal, infant and child deaths.

“My work specifically looks at reducing maternal and infant mortality in Nigeria. Women and children are dying through lack of care. Doing the online masters in public health with the University of Liverpool gave me the confidence to start my own NGO,” says Dr Ohajuruka.

Red Diamond project

HAFAI organise many community projects to improve the lives of residents in Nigeria and Dr Ohajuruka is excited about her new venture, the Red Diamond Project:

“The Red Diamond Project is something I’m really passionate about. We are reaching out to 4,000 girls in secondary schools in Nigeria and giving them washable, hygienic sanitary products. This means they can still attend school and remain active and keep their dignity, confidence and self-esteem.

Menstrual hygiene management is some of the practical work we do in the local community. One of the main reasons many girls miss school in Africa, and particularly in Nigeria, is because they don’t have access to appropriate sanitary products.

We also teach women in the local community how to make these reusable sanitary products. Women can learn to make them, sell them and actually make an income. It’s a wonderful project that is really making waves here in Nigeria.

The girls are happy, the women are working and they have an improved quality of life because they have better sanitary products to use.”

According to Dr Ohajuruka, speaking to women and girls about menstrual hygiene management also opens a window of opportunity to talk to them about other serious issues such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C), HIV/AIDS, gender equality, rape and violence against women, and discussing methods of self-defense.

Diabetes in Nigeria

In the past in Nigeria there has been more focus on communicable diseases (infectious) with little or no attention on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes. Diabetes is becoming a serious public health challenge in Africa — there were more than 1.56 million cases of diabetes in Nigeria in 2015. (idf.org)

“The way to address diabetes in Africa should follow a multifaceted approach, there needs to be adequate awareness about diabetes and increased access to affordable drugs. Most people in Africa don’t really know about the symptoms and consequences and there needs to be emphasis on prevention and promoting positive lifestyle changes.

We need to address the food and beverage industries. There are so many companies, particularly in Nigeria, that don’t supply calorie and nutritional information on the products that they make. This is a major problem that needs to be addressed. People need to have more knowledge about what they are consuming.

We also need to look at strengthening our primary health care centres. Most of them in Africa are just bare empty rooms, they don’t even have the proper equipment or staff.”

Traditional healers

Many residents in Africa tend to visit traditional healers and religious centres when they are sick instead of going to hospitals and Dr Ohajuruka believes we need to look at the role of these healers in addressing the management of serious illnesses.

“We speak to the people living in rural communities who use traditional healers. Being a doctor means people tend to listen. We persuade them that they have to go to a hospital to get properly tested and treated. The government and policy makers need to be involved too. There are homemade concoctions being sold at the local markets and the government can create policies that will stop that from happening and reduce the practice of traditional healers. We are working on advocacy and government policy, and trying to push the government into doing something drastic.”

The University of Liverpool’s online Master of Public Health

Health professionals, like Dr Ohajuruka, could increase their impact in the public health field through the fully online Master of Public Health Programme which is accredited by APHEA, the Agency for Public Health Education Accreditation.

Dr Ohajuruka uses the knowledge she learnt from her online masters degree in public health in her everyday work as a doctor and health specialist. “Health promotion was one of my favourite modules,” says Dr Ohajuruka.

“Some of the key things I learned were the different models and approaches involved in health promotion, including empowerment and social change — which is the core approach we actually use in the field when we’re doing community programmes. We educate people and empower them to talk about health issues. These are the basic strategies a field worker would require and you learn it all on the Liverpool MPH programme.”

If you’re interested in making a positive change to public health in your community find out more about the University of Liverpool’s online masters degrees in public health.