Remembering Dr Alfa Sa’adu – An NHS Angel
Dr Folarin Majekodunmi, PhD, is the Director of Strategy and Transformation at Draper & , an international Healthcare and Data Analytics company that is currently assisting a number of global health systems in their response to the Covic-19 pandemic. Here he pays tribute to the selfless Dr Alfa Sa’adu who, during his lifetime, had been described as a “living legend” and was a distinguished member of The Medical Association of Nigerians across Great Britain, which boasts of 18,000 members. It was typical of him to refuse the suggestion by his son to go to hospital for treatment after he noticed his symptoms, but instead, opted to self-isolate at home because he “did not want to take up a hospital bed because others would need it.”
Dr Sa’adu had already retired but recently volunteered to return back to service to assist the NHS and Britain through the Covid-19 pandemic. The nation, which has been in a state of lockdown since March 23, has recorded 5,373 deaths as of April 6.
Other tributes outlining his excellent service to the medical profession have been paid to Dr Sa’adu, including from the former president of the Nigerian Senate, Busola Saraki.
On the morning of April1, 2020, I read the sad news of the death of Dr Alfa Sa’adu. He had contracted COVID-19 in the course of his work and passed away at the age of 68. Dr Sa’adu was a highly regarded physician and past president of the Royal Society of Medicine Geriatrics and Gerontology group.
Born in Nigeria, Dr Sa’adu completed his secondary education and medical degrees in the UK, before going back to Nigeria to manage a District General Hospital in Niger State. He later returned to the UK and completed a Diploma, Masters and subsequently a PhD in Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Although he retired in 2017, he returned to work on a part-time basis at the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital in Hertfordshire. As a geriatrician, his work meant that he was treating patients at most risk of the COVID-19 infection on a daily basis. With over 40 years of medical practice, he was no doubt aware of the risk to himself, particularly given that at 68, he was also in a higher-risk category.
As was his nature and with his enduring sense of duty, he continued to work, contracted the virus and ultimately gave his life in the service of others.
I cannot claim to have known Dr Sa’adu well on a personal level, but I was fortunate enough to spend a significant amount of time with him on a professional basis. Even though it was several years ago, his words and his example have continued to have a profound impact on me in both my personal and professional life. It is natural, in times of crisis, to think of those who have inspired us the most, so that we might channel their wisdom and find the strength we need in our darkest moments.
At the time I first met Dr Sa’adu, I was a coach/ facilitator on an NHS programme. My role was to support senior NHS leaders from minority-ethnic backgrounds in being more effective in their roles and in developing their careers. At that time, Dr Sa’adu had been the Medical Director and Deputy Chief Executive of Ealing Hospitals NHS Trust for two years. The programme was gruelling; in addition to a range of psychometric tests, it involved long and detailed interviews with participants in order to understand their motives, values, leadership styles and the impact of these on their colleagues.
In our conversations as part of the process, which totalled several hours and covered a range of topics, three things were so clear, that they remain fresh in my memory, seven years later:
�He loved medicine and being able to help people, particularly when they were at their most vulnerable and their need was greatest.
�He was a man of unwavering integrity, he always stuck by what he believed was right, irrespective of the personal and professional cost. He was never afraid to speak his mind and make his position clear.
�He held himself to a high standard and did this without being aloof, but with a spirit of generosity.
Dr Sa’adu’s passing is a great loss to the NHS and to medicine in general and it comes at a time (with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic) when these qualities, above all others, are most needed. There is much that Nigerians can learn from both his sacrifice and his beliefs.
The situation developing in the UK and the USA in particular, demonstrate not only a sobering failure of leadership, but also the consequences of failing to take timely action, and to listen to and abide by the advice of medical and public health professionals.
Without urgent action and a willingness to learn from these mistakes, my fear is that Nigeria, megacity Lagos in particular, could become the epicentre of the pandemic in Africa. The reasons for this are numerous, but the most compelling evidence comes from the statistics, which provide an indication of our preparedness.
For example, it is notable that Nigeria only has 72,000 registered doctors for a population of 180 million, whilst the UK has 301,000 for a population of 60 million. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a ratio of one doctor per 600 head of population; the ratio in Nigeria is one doctor per 2,500 head of population.
From these figures, it is clear that Nigeria simply does not have the capacity to deal with the volumes of infected that are currently being seen in the US and much of Europe. As a result, to avoid a huge loss of life, our public health strategies must lead in their best ability, using their resourcefulness to contain the virus.
As well as our government, individual Nigerians also have a social duty in this time of crisis. In addition to limiting our exposure to the virus (by minimising social contact and practicing good hygiene), we must:
. Avoid spreading dangerous, conspiratorial and malicious misinformation.
. Avoid the unhelpful, xenophobic (anti-Chinese) narrative being propagated elsewhere.
. Remain vigilant in everything we do
. Support our government and public health officials by following guidance and support our doctors and medical professionals.
It is my hope that we Nigerians and our national and local governments will make decisions that are in the best interest of our citizens and nation, so that the sacrifice of Dr Sa’adu and many others like him, will not be in vain. May he rest in perfect peace.