ExxonMobil held its first African Health Initiative(AHI) in Nigeria Partners/ Media Forum on Friday July 21, at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja. It was a punchy, well-controlled and effective session which started by 3pm,and in less than two hours, by 5pm, was over.
The Forum, according to the fact sheet provided by the oil company, set out to do three things. One, it was an opportunity to provide information about the company's current and potential AHI activities and learn more about what others are doing. Two, to reconfirm ExxonMobil's commitment to partnering with government and other stakeholders in the fight to turn back the Malaria scourge. And three, to provide a platform for varius media sources to learn more about the "many efforts underway to fight Malaria in Nigeria.
For the media and maybe, some of the partners present, it was indeed a learning affair however there were only two serious worries throughout the interactive session. The first was when the Health Minister, Prof. Eyitayo Lambo, re-echoed in his remarks, what he thought he heard his Director in the Ministry of Health and National Co-ordinator of Roll Back Malaria(RBM), Dr Mrs Sofola mention. That 300,000 children in Africa die from malaria every day. A quick mental calculation revealed that at that rate, 3,0000,000 will die every 10 days. Then, imagine the figure for one month? One year? Later in a private chat, Sofola, assured it was a slip and that the actual figure is 3,000. But that should not be any consolation either.
The fact that most of the beneficiaries of the Long Lasting Insecticides Treated Nets (LLITN) preferred to keep them under wraps than use them for the purpose they are meant for. Our problem for all we might want to believe is not poverty alone; it includes the predisposition to commit suicide some of the times too!
In her opening remarks, Gloria Essein, ED, ExxonMobil informed that her company as a member of the global partnership set up to reduce the malaria scourge by half by 2010, was committing $10million (N1.3 billion) through AHI in the next five years. But since its launch in 2000, the AHI has invested more than $20 million in support of efforts to reduce the malaria pandemic in Africa. In Nigeria, "the programme has funded interventions in Malaria Control and prevention, importation of over 185,000 pieces of Long Lasting Insecticides Treated Nets for the forthcoming measles vaccination campaign, a training centre for National Blood Transfusion Service in Abuja and a blood service programme in Akwa-Ibom State."
This was prelude to the two major presentations of the day. Osita Chidoka of ExxonMobil did the AHI presentation. Aided by slides, his presentation centred on the objectives, goals, partners, challenges and projects in Nigeria. But first, a little background. ExxonMobil launched its AHI, with its main focus on malaria, in 2000 to "support disease prevention, control and treatment programmes." Its initiative tools are education and advocacy, expansion of treatment and prevention methods and support for research and development of new drugs, vaccines and health care delivery.
The objectives of AHI as stated are: to help governments and health service providers lessen the burden of malaria in Africa in line with the stated health goals of African host governments; to improve the quality of life for Africans at risk by reducing the impact of malaria; to help strengthen the capacity of indigenous health service providers and non-government organisations so as to promote sustainability efforts to manage the malaria pandemic, and to strengthen and enhance the company's community relationships by helping to contribute funds, resources and expertise in an area of significant community need.
From Sofola's presentation over 90 per cent of the population is at risk; 50 percent will suffer at least one attack every year. 300,000 children die of malaria each year; of the pregnant population, 11 percent die each year, and if you have be checking the accounts, billions of Naira, lost each year in the treatment of the scourge. These facts enabled her reach three conclusions: that Nigeria has a huge malaria burden; that proper harnessing of resources is required in the fight against malaria and that time is right for rapid scale up to achieve the expected impact.
This latter subject was one area the Health Minister touched on in his address. He opined that "cost effective interventions are known. What is left is to scale up." Strategies that have been found effective in this regard include the promotion of the use of insecticide treated nets; improving prompt and effective management of malaria at both health facilities and community levels; promoting the use of intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancies; and introducing and scaling up integrated vector management.
Dr Obong Emma, Akwa-Ibom's Health Commissioner's contribution emphasized the need to concentrate more on vector control measures as prevention, any day, is cheaper than cure. This will include eradicating and prevention of stagnant waters. As simple as this may seem, it remains a difficult challenge that has continued to overwhelm all and each government tier.
In the meantime, it would appear that the bills and casualty figures will continue to pile up. ExxonMobil is however, determined to change this grim reality through its AHI.
A fact well acknowledged by the Prof. Lambo who noted that in the "early days of the Roll Back Malaria Initiative in Nigeria, Exxon Mobil was one of the few organisations that identified with the struggle against malaria which impoverishes our citizenry and further keeps them poor."
It was a good outing for ExxonMobil, a point that was acknowledged by Victor Olaiya, the oil company's head of external relations in his vote of thanks.