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Absence of heads of agencies causing disquiet in health sector


The failure by heads of two crucial health agencies to resume work four months after their appointment is raising concerns in the nation’s health sector.

One of the immediate negative impacts of the development is the fear that Nigeria’s responses in the fight against HIV/AIDs and Polio may not be receiving the best of attention.

The new boss of National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Echezona Ezeanolue and Director General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr. Sani Aliyu, who were both appointed in July are yet to report for work.

Dr. Aliyu, who was to head NACA, is currently a Consultant in Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Cambridge University, United Kingdom; did not respond to inquiries by The Guardian.

However, a top official of NACA, told The Guardian that though the new DG had not officially resumed, there was no leadership vacuum, adding: “He has come around a few times.  He is rounding off his contract at Cambridge and will resume in full in December. Meanwhile, there is an acting DG who works closely with the DG to ensure effective administration.”

New head of NPHCDA, Dr. Ezeanolue, is currently a Professor and Director Global Health Initiatives at the School of Community Health Sciences, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

After more than two years without wild poliovirus in Nigeria, last August the government reported outbreak of two news cases of Polio and two additional cases had since been reported, bringing the total new cases between August and October to four.

It is difficult to link the new cases to the absence of a substantive head for the agency, but stakeholders point to the need for “tighter” leadership for Nigeria’s fight against polio and other related ailments.

It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had in July sacked heads of five of the agencies in the health sector and immediately appointed new ones to replace them.

While others have since resumed, the new heads of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) and the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) have not officially taken charge at their new duty posts.

Both helmsmen were said to have made brief appearances in Nigeria to acquaint themselves with the workings of both agencies. Their official resumption is still shrouded in secrecy.

While Dr. Emmanuel Odu currently serves as Acting Executive Director at the NPHCDA, Dr. Kayode Ogungbemi serves as the Acting Director General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA).

In a chat with The Guardian, Ezeanolue confirmed that transitioning from his contract at the University of Nevada stood between him and his new role as Chief Executive Officer at the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency.

He confirmed that though he had not officially resumed in his new position in Nigeria, he had made a brief stop to speak to management and staff in an unofficial capacity.

“I had control over five big grants that were all in Nigeria.  When I was appointed I was in Gboko, Benue State working with my team from the US. When they did that (the appointment) I approached them and let them know that I was the only Nigerian at my institution.

Most of the other people that I work with don’t want to come to Nigeria, which is one of the reasons I get those grants to work in Nigeria. When they hear Boko Haram, they think it is everywhere in Nigeria. When I went back to my institution no body was available to take on the assignment and there were threats of pulling out the grant. But if they do that, Nigeria will lose the funding that is coming here. That is more than 10 Million Dollars coming to the country.

“Government felt that it was important that those monies to continue to come to Nigeria and we should work on to make sure that Nigeria does not lose those grants for me to serve. So, we started working with US government and the National Institute of Health and my institution.”

He disclosed that he has not started drawing salaries as yet from Nigeria, stressing that he had the permission of the Federal Government to sort out his contract at the University of Nevada within the shortest time possible.

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