The one-day summit, held at the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research, Yaba, Lagos and chaired by the distinguished Prof. O. O. Akinkugbe, also had in attendance leading health practitioners, including Dr Kingsley Akinroye, a cardiologist and executive director, Nigerian Heart Foundation; Mr Rutger Schilpz from Choices International Foundation, Belgium; Prof. Tola Atinmo, a professor of human nutrition at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan; Professor Oni Idigbe, a medical microbiologist and immediate past director-general of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Lagos; and Mrs Charlotte Foluso Babalola, a Fellow of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria.
The summit was organised to bring all the major stakeholders in heart health together to discuss and provide answers to most of the germane and contentious questions on cardiovascular health in Nigeria and by extension non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
I had attended a number of well organised health summits and seminars in the past but I must say that this summit by the NHF was quite exceptional and indeed provided an exemplary model for other organisers of health programmes. Not only did the NHF assemble all whose inputs are crucial to the formulation and implementation of heart health policies in Nigeria, but it also facilitated a necessary parley amongst the stakeholders to ensure everybody involved in heart health is on the same page.
Aside from the renowned cardiologists at the summit, there were also representatives of the minister of health, minister of agriculture, NAFDAC, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), distinguished nutrition experts, as well as an array of talented physicians, representatives of manufacturers of food products (especially those having impacts on heart health), professionals from sectors other than health and journalists.
Aside from the several educative and thought-provoking papers presented by leading authorities on different topics at the event, the uniqueness of the summit lay in the fact that it was quite interactive. All the participants were able to make contributions on why the nation is still grappling with issues relating to heart health and NCDs and what must be done to improve the situation. This crucial interactive session was facilitated by the fact that after the opening ceremony, participants at the summit divided into groups to debate and articulate what should be done to surmount the various challenges confronting Nigeria and Nigerians on heart health. The summit then reconvened later in the afternoon to deliberate and adopt the various recommendations put forward by the groups.
I was a member of group one and I was quite impressed with the contributions of the members of my group. In fact, this summit has further reinforced my belief that Nigerians can solve the problem of Nigeria. What has always been lacking is the political will to implement novel ideas that will not only solve our problems but take this nation to the next level.
It is important to state that most of the recommendations of the summit are far-reaching and if implemented can go a long way in helping Nigeria to reduce the increasing burden of cardiovascular and non-communicable diseases. Amongst others, the summit recommended that a concerted effort must be made to provide NCDs data in Nigeria. This is crucial because without this data, planning to deal with the challenge will not just be difficult but almost impossible. Planning health intervention programmes without the requisite data is like a journey through a cul-de-sac, a very frustrating exercise.
The summit also recognised the fact that dealing with challenges of cardiovascular health cannot be made an issue for the health sector alone, as sectors like agriculture and education must be involved because their inputs are crucial to achieving short and long term health goals. Therefore, the intervention must be a multisectoral task.
The summit also recommended that labelling of dietary oil and lipids should be made mandatory and enforced by NAFDAC to ensure that what Nigerians are buying are what they should be ingesting, especially, when researches have confirmed that reduction of blood lipids can reduce cardiovascular incidents. The summit disclosed that while there are over 40 different brands of consumable oil products in the market, only four of such companies are popularly known, a very unhealthy situation because the quality of the oil in the market is difficult to monitor.
While I fervently hope that the Federal Ministry of Health which is getting the recommendations adopts and implements them, I, however, urge the health ministry, NAFDAC and SON to increase their partnership and collaboration with bodies like the NHF to further explore and tap from their competencies to improve the health of Nigerians.
Let me also say that it is necessary to embark on serious awareness campaigns to educate Nigerians on heart health and NCDs. The issue of NCDs has now become a dominant health concern in low income countries like Nigeria and the earlier it gets the deserved attention, the better for our future.