Professor Friday Okonofua: Trailblazer in Women’s Right and Reproductive Health

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On 8 March 2018, the world marked International Women’s Day to recognise the achievements of women throughout the world, as well as to highlight their rights and challenges. Currently, much effort is particularly being made by governments and other stakeholders in sub-Saharan Africa to address issues affecting women’s right and reproductive health. Yet, only very few people on the continent have dedicated their lives for this cause. Prominent among them is the pioneer and current Vice Chancellor of Ondo State University of Medical Sciences, Professor Friday Okonofua.

Okonofua is a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Benin. An internationally renowned expert in women’s sexual health and reproductive research, he has been at the forefront, championing the advancement of women’s rights and reproductive health in Nigeria and indeed Africa. He has led and conducted many seminal research programmes, as well as documenting the socio-cultural determinants of women’s health. He has equally provided critical data for developing policies and programmes for implementing best practices in sub Saharan Africa.

Professor Friday Okonofua

In recognition of his outstanding research and expertise in women’s reproductive health, he was appointed as the executive director of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics in 2009. He was also an Honorary Adviser on Health to President Olusegun Obasanjo from July 2006 to May 29, 2007.

Professor Okonofua is a recipient of more than 40 research grants, and he is a member of several international organisations and committees, including the editorial board of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, where he has served for more than 12 years. He is a reviewer to 20 international journals, and a technical consultant to many international agencies, including the World Health Organisation, the Macarthur Foundation.

In 2010, he was appointed as the programme officer, Ford Foundation, West Africa Office and in 2012, he was appointed as Chairman of Ethical Review Board of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research. In 2014, he was appointed as the Team Leader of the University of Benin chapter of the West African Regional Centre of Excellence in Reproductive Health Research and Innovation (CERHI). All three positions he holds till date.

Ground-Breaking Initiatives

Professor Okonofua’s vision and passion for women’s rights and their reproductive health spurred him to establish the Women’s Health and Action Research Centre (WHARC) in 1993. WHARC is non-governmental, charitable organisation focused on promoting female reproductive health research.

Located in Benin-City, Nigeria, WHARC consists of a multi-disciplinary team of health, social science and legal professionals and researchers working together to build the knowledge base and to improve the policy environment for advancing women’s health in Africa. The Centre also publishes the African Journal of Reproductive Health (AJRH), now widely recognised as the leading journal that promotes women’s reproductive health and the principles of sexual rights, equity and social justice in sub-Saharan Africa.

Women's Health and Action Research Centre
Women’s Health and Action Research Centre, (WHARC). Women’s Reproductive Health

In 1999, Okonofua established the Owan Women Empowerment Project, a not-for-profit organisation headquartered in Afuze, Edo State. The organisation was handed to the local community in 2008, with a handover grant of $100,000 from the Ford Foundation.

Education and Career

Professor Okonofua attended the University of Ife (Obafemi Awolowo University) where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Health Science in 1978. He began his career in 1978 at University of Benin Teaching Hospital as a medical intern. After his internship in 1979, he was mobilised for the compulsory one year national youth service programme and was deployed to Ipokia District Hospital, Ogun State as a medical officer. He completed his youth service in 1980, the same year he became a senior house officer at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital. In 1983, he became a Senior Registrar in the department and in 1984 he was promoted as Chief Resident Officer.

In 1981, Okonofua enrolled for his fellowship at the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria and the West African College of Surgeons. He became a fellow of the West African College of Surgeons in 1984 and a fellow of the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria in 1985. Between 1984 and 1985, he was a clinical research fellow at the Department of Chemical pathology of Royal Free Hospital, the teaching hospital of the University of London. In 2005, he received his PhD in International Health from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

Professor Okonofua commenced his academic career as Lecturer 1 in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Obafemi Awolowo University in 1986. He served as the Acting Head of Department between 1987 and 1992, and rose to the post of Professor in 1992. He transferred his services to the University of Benin in 1996, where he served as the Head of Department, Dean, Provost, of the college of medicine and member of the University’s Governing Council.

Special recognitions:

Professor Okonofua is a recipient of several honours, including the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Special Achievers Award by the Nigerian Television Authority, Distinguished Services Award by the Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics of Nigeria.

Professor Okonofua was a Takemi Fellow in International health at School of Public Health, Harvard University between 1991 and 1992. In 2004, he became a fellow of the International College of Surgeons.  He is also a Fellow of both the Nigerian Academy of Science (FAS) as well as the New York Academy of Science. He has also authored and co-authored several books, scholarly articles, monographs and technical reports on women’s sexual and reproductive health.

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