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Omiye: Challenges in medical sector transcend infrastructure decay, brain drain

By Tobi Awodipe
30 December 2018   |   4:18 am
Former Director of Media (External) of Federation of Africa Medical Students’Associations (FAMSA), and Organising Chairperson, 2018 FAMSA General Assembly...

Former Director of Media (External) of Federation of Africa Medical Students’Associations (FAMSA), and Organising Chairperson, 2018 FAMSA General Assembly (FAMSA GA) Tofunmi Omiye, in this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, spoke about the recently concluded FAMSA Conference, challenges in the Nigerian health sector, repositioning the nation’s healthcare system and battling brain drain. Tofunmi, who has participated in several international conferences, including Bank of America Merrill Lynch Corporate Presentation, Access Conference, and World Healthcare Students’ Symposium, was a participant at the Harvard-MIT ImpactLabs summer workshop, where he led his team to design a prototype novel medical wearable device.

What is the Federation of African Medical Student Association General Assembly (FAMSA GA) all about?
The Federation of African Medical Students’ Association General Assembly (FAMSA GA) serves as the annual meeting of the Federation of African Medical Students’ Associations, a project- oriented medical student body recognised by the African Union (AU) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), as the official international forum of African medical students.

This year, the assembly coincided with the 50th anniversary of the federation. So, we planned a high-impact conference poised to revolutionise healthcare in Africa. It brought together youths, healthcare professionals and high-profile speakers at the University of Ibadan to discuss the theme, “Repositioning Healthcare in Africa for Sustainable Development.”

What were the highlights of the conference?
FAMSA GA was designed to be robust and groundbreaking in order to provide an enriching and stimulating experience for participants, as well as, proffer sustainable solutions to healthcare challenges in Africa. It featured plenary and parallel sessions. Its main aim was to inspire participants to take charge and play active roles in structuring the future of healthcare on the continent for sustainable development. This year’s FAMSA GA also promoted Pan-Africanism and advocacy amongst youths.

Repositioning healthcare in Africa for sustainable development must definitely be a huge task to accomplish. How do you intend to bring this to fruition?
A first definite step towards accomplishing this mission of repositioning healthcare in Africa for sustainable development was the FAMSA GA 2018. The conference was designed to stimulate conference attendees to think differently about development issues in Africa, including healthcare and sustainability, and their roles in driving the Sustainable Development Goals.

A novel reso-hackathon challenge pioneered in this event will give birth to draft policy papers that will directly address the case of repositioning healthcare in Africa.

Also, the post-conference reports will be distributed far and wide to African governments, policy makers, ministries of health amongst others. These reports will serve as recommendations that will help in taking informed decisions concerning healthcare in Africa and the world. It will also be made freely available in public domain for maximal impact.

Obviously, the conference had as its target group, medical students and young doctors. Why do you believe that this is the right demographic group to have this conversation with?
Africa has the largest youth population of any continent in the world. Youths (medical students and young doctors) have enormous power to catalyse change if directed towards the right causes. The ever-growing youth population, the energy they possess and the current climes coupled together makes me to strongly believe that this conversation needs to start happening amongst this powerful demographic group.

How supportive was the Federal Government and relevant authorities in putting this conference together?
The support of the relevant authorities ranged from minimal to no support. The Federal Government and other relevant authorities in Nigeria are far harder to reach than international institutions based outside the country. In other words, the bureaucracy in the relevant authorities is overwhelming. So, virtually all the funding and institutional support for this strategic event came from organisations primarily based outside the country. For institutions based in the country, there are inadequate channels to engage them, and in instances where they were engaged for events like this, there is always relative lack of interest.

Of what impact would you say the recently concluded conference has been?
The impact of the conference was massive. It direct impact includes inspiring youths, forming strategic partnerships, promoting Pan-Africanism, and increasing their knowledge of the Sustainable Development Goals amongst others.

If you had the opportunity to effect a change in the country’s health sector, what would be your area of priority?
My first step will be to address the Nigerian health sector challenge with an ecosystem approach, which will be multi-pronged, involving multi-level advocacy amongst citizens and government leaders, impactful funding, infrastructure and human capital development.

Nigerian doctors are migrating in droves to Europe and the Americas to better their lot. With the current state of the sector, will doctors ever be more inclined to remain in the country?
The sad truth is no. My experience during my sub-internship at Northwestern University in Chicago, made me deeply reflect on the issues of brain drain and its accompanying problems. I discovered that doctors’ migration is an issue that transcends infrastructure and is intertwined with welfare, healthcare workers’ interaction, job satisfaction amongst others. Currently, Nigeria still remains far behind in all the metrics one will use to evaluate job satisfaction and happiness as a doctor. As long as this continues, doctors will be inclined to leave the shores of this country.

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