Photograph — DFID

Nigeria and the international medical world mourn the passing of Professor Babatunde Osotimehin, the internationally renowned advocate for health, youth, gender, and human rights. Professor Osotimehin was also the former Minister of Health for Nigeria. The renowned physician reportedly died in New York in the early hours of Monday. He was the Executive Director for the United Nations Population Fund Agency (UNFPA) as at the time of his passing.

The late physician was respected and admired in his field because of his dedication and commitment to helping women, men, and children live the healthiest lives they could. One of his most prominent achievements was in his contribution to fighting HIV/AIDS.

During his lifetime, Prof. Osotimehin also served as the Director-General and Chairman of the Nigerian National Agency for the Control of AIDS (formerly the National Action Committee on AIDS, NACA), amongst other similar and distinct positions. In 2005, he was made an Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON)

Local and foreign colleagues to Prof. Osotimehin continue to laud him for his impressive exhibitions of humanity and leadership. Here are three of his key efforts in health and advocacy that would immortalise him in the hearts of many.

Women and children’s health and wellbeing

In January, the UNFPA and the Kano state government embarked on a partnership to end early marriages for girls and tackle the Vesico Vaginal Fistula disease (VVF). According to Prof. Osotimehin, the fact that girls and women in Nigeria still suffer from VVF and get married off early without acquiring any education highlighted a failed system. This was one of the many advocacies with regards to women and children led by the late professor.

Others include the improvement of  maternal health care, sexual and reproductive rights, access to family planning, youth planning, and ending female gender mutilation. Mrs. Ifeyinwa Omowole, the National President of the National Association of Women Journalists terms his death “a colossal loss to women and children.”

Improvement of welfare for health practitioners

The implementation of the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) and the Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) was made possible under the late professor’s administration as health minister of Nigeria between 2008 and 2010. These structures were created in response to the intransparency that previously existed within the health sector with regards to payment of salaries. CONMESS AND CONHESS provide health practitioners with improved salary breakdowns and allowances.

War against HIV/AIDS

The fight against HIV/AIDS in Nigeria was transfigured between 2002 and 2007 when Prof. Osotimehin was in office. In alignment with his three-step programme, he achieved feats such as working closely with religious groups to change the perceptions around the deadly disease, and improving awareness for testing and prevention.

In 2005, he announced that victims of the deadly disease would no longer have to pay for treatment. Efforts such as the aforementioned set the tone for the improvement of health conditions for AIDS victims in Nigeria.

Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin will certainly be missed for his genuine efforts in the Nigerian and global health sector. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) promises to work with the UNFPA to ensure that the latest five-year health plan structured by the late professor achieves actualisation.  

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