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Meet Dr Chikwe, His plans of changing the Future of Healthcare in Nigeria

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Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu assumed the role as Chief Executive Officer/ National Coordinator of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control on the 15th of August 2016. He is an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist and Consultant in Public Health Medicine.

It has been about five months since his resumption in office, leading the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. He have spent the last few months, building the ship while sailing at the same time.

In the last quarter of the year 2016, he and his team undertook a number of activities in order to fulfill the mandate of protecting the health of Nigerians. A team from the NCDC spent about two months, visiting all 36 states of the country including the FCT, to preposition medical supplies including Personal Protective Equipment and drugs ahead of the Lassa fever season which is usually between December and April. This was done to ensure their readiness for any outbreak. This is now paying off as they are able to respond more rapidly to emergent disease. They were also able to support the development of guidelines for Zika virus, Rabies and Acute Watery Diarrhea, assuring our readiness to control and respond to any outbreak. Additionally, They provided support to Lagos and Sokoto States during an outbreak of cholera and febrile illness respectively; and to other States with cases of Lassa Fever.

In December 2016, the NCDC constituted a working group led by renowned virologist, Professor Oyewale Tomori to support the operationalisation of NCDC’s Laboratory Network. With this group made up of laboratory experts in the country, we have plans for a proper system to be used for the testing and confirmation of samples during outbreaks, a challenge we have faced in previous years. I am excited at the prospects of building a network for our laboratories and bridging the gap in surveillance between suspected and confirmed cases.

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Working with our partners, an NCDC Team was in the North East for an initial period of 6 weeks, providing support specifically in the areas of surveillance, verification and response. After a short break between Christmas and New Year, the team is back in Maiduguri for another four weeks. It is our hope that this year, we will be able to continuously collect, analyse and interprete data to inform decisions that will improve the health status of our brothers and sisters affected by the insurgency.

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Just as we were winding down with activities for the year 2016, we were hit with an outbreak of Lassa fever in Ogun and Taraba States. Fortunately for us, we had been prepared for the season having provided States with PPEs, drugs and other supplies. A team was deployed and we were able to contain the outbreak, although not without challenges. The outbreak in Ogun State started within a hospital setting. Upon our visit, we realized a good number of health workers had not been trained in Infection Prevention and Control, and were working without PPEs. This is one aspect of our work that we hope to improve on. One of our goals for the year 2017 is to ensure the training of health workers from the Local Government level to the State, in specific areas such as IPC and surveillance. This way, we will ensure that our human resources remain safe, while saving lives.

With all of these activities we carried out towards the end of 2016, I realized a key part was missing. We hadn’t set SMART Goals for ourselves. Asides the dedicated team I met, I also met strategic plans which had been created to drive the processes of the institute. Unfortunately, these objectives had been set without timelines and over the years, no one had been held accountable for these. As we ended activities in the year 2016, we understood the importance of reviewing what had been done, to re-create a driver for our processes.

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On the 29th of November 2016, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control held a workshop with all members of staff including our team from the Central Public Health Laboratory in Lagos, to align staff with the 2017-2021 Strategy and Implementation Plan, that will be our guide from the beginning of the new year.

This process began in September 2016, and included all members of the management team and members of staff, including our partners. Two Consultants from the Tony Blair’s African Governance Initiative and the Public Health England offered their services pro-bono to help us shape our activities and we remain grateful to them. They spent two weeks engaging in deep-structured interviews with members of the NCDC Team and some of our partners. At the end of the two weeks, we had a draft strategy.

To drive the future we will create, we delved into our past successes and mistakes, our previous strategic plans and overall, the journey so far. We recognize the importance of looking back to know how we achieved our successes such as the Ebola response, and why we may not have been able to achieve previously set objectives. It is based on this that we have come up with a new vision, mission and five Strategic Goals with objectives and activities to guide us over the next five years.

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This means that all our activities are now well defined to drive towards ensuring the protection of the health of Nigerians. To achieve these, we have been able to identify what we term ‘short term wins’, areas in which we will hold ourselves accountable towards the achievement of our mission. Over the next one year, we will share these with you as we progress.

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