On Thursday last week the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) organised a sent-forth party in honour of the United Nations Children Funds (UNICEF) Country Representative, Dr Suomi Sakai, who has been transferred to the UNICEF headquarters in New York as Special Assistant to the head of UNICEF on Ethics. In this interview with MUSA UMAR BOLOGI she talks about her challenges working in Nigeria and the strategies Nigeria should employ to improve its health system
What is UNICEF job like?
A UNICEF representative job in many ways is a green job for every public health practitioner. It comprised education, protection, work and sanitation and communication for development. This entails what need to deliver primary health care. I have enjoyed being a representative of UNICEF IN Nigeria. And I don’t know if it is what it is to leave Nigeria and leave this position. I don’t know if there is anything different after this. But I thank the people of Nigeria and I hope to bring to my new job within UNICEF ethics and accountability.
Nigeria will always be part of me. And I hope to celebrate with you soonest, not only in the eradication of polio, but also achieving a good health care system in Nigeria.
Can you recall one of your best moments in Nigeria?
One of my best moments was when I visited a nutrition clinic we supported one of the state in the northern part of Nigeria to operate. In one of the mother’s testimony, she said before the clinic was opened they had to go to the other side of the border because an NGO has a clinic there. She said before the clinic was opened in their community she had sold chicken and goats in order for her to go to a traditional healer, but the child was still getting sick. But when she came to the clinic she was able to get the treatment for malnutrition.
I think the good moment is when you can talk to people and see how what we are doing together in the health system is making a difference for mothers and children.
What are the things you are leaving behind?
If I have to say what I am leaving behind I will say it is dialogue, ideas, strategies, programmes and services that Nigerian health system and communities are now able to carry on with.
What hope for Nigeria in reducing maternal and child mortality by 2015?
Reducing maternal mortality is something you can do by making sure mothers are healthy, and by ensuring that there is enough child spacing so that the mother will have good health and so also the child. Mothers must know when they need to go for help. They should know the danger signs and the whole family should also know these signs; so that when they happen they know that the mother must be taken to the hospital. Then we need health facilities that could handle a certain amount of emergency care.
I think that all of these have been done in countries without fewer resources than Nigeria. So it can happen here too.
Can you recall your sad moments?
Professionally off-course we had a sad moment the United Nations (UN) house was hit by bomb. Partners, who are working to bring vaccines to the country; who are working to get better nutrition for children were affected. That is probably my saddest moment.
But there are other moments of sadness, and that happened when we heard that children are used for violence…war crime. When children leave school and hawk or do menial jobs. When you hear about these things, off course, you saddened because you know that the potential of that child is not only reduced but the potential of Nigeria.
What was your motivating source of encourage to continue to work in Nigeria in spite of insecurity?
Off course you can be in a wrong place at the wrong time. I was involved in a road accident in my country and almost died. So, one realised that life is a gift, and one needs to take precautions and be careful. But in the end life is meant to be lived. But since you have to contribute to the society, you have to be careful, but not too worried.
What are your observations about Nigeria’s growing population?
The issue is about not so much on population growth. As an organization we are really concerned about health of the people. The health of people means how you make sure the children continue to be healthy and the mothers continue to be healthy. In order to do this we look at child spacing. We are looking at child spacing not because of population, we are looking at it because it is the best way to have a healthy family and healthy population.
How did you get to UNICEF?
I know what I wanted to do in those days in public health, and in countries where their health systems we weak. I studied and through the studies I learnt about UNICEF. I thought it is a good organisation I will be proud of. I found out the kind of skills they will need, so I prepared myself and I applied. I have worked UNICEF offices in different countries.
Filed Under: Health