Stakeholders Task PUTOR On High Impact Public Healthcare Research

Health experts and other stakeholders have charged the newly-launched Africa Centre of Excellence in Public Health and Toxicological Research (PUTOR) to brace up to fill the yawning skills gap for effective healthcare delivery. They also described the establishment of PUTOR as a bold and welcome step by the World Bank to further boost research aimed at tackling public health challenges in Nigeria and neighbouring African countries. They spoke at the formal launch of PUTOR at the Ebitimi Banigo Auditorium on Friday, May 17, 2019.

Delivering the keynote address entitled, Public Health and Environmental Sustainability: A Right Step on the Journey Back to Eden, Regional Community Health Manager of the Shell Petroleum Development Company, Nigeria, Dr Akinwumi Fajola, decried Nigeria's parlous health profile, calling for urgent measures to reverse the rot. He hailed PUTOR as a major initiative to address the myriad of challenges militating against effective primary healthcare delivery and high impact research in primary healthcare.

“The World Health Organisation measured the overall health system performance of all its member states and ranked Nigeria as 187th out of 191 countries in health system efficiency with respect to health expenditure per capita. Nigeria beats only four countries to the 'coveted bottom position'—the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, and Myanmar. Of these four, three are fragile countries struggling with or recovering from conflicts and this can be partially causative of their poor health indices,” the keynote speaker disclosed. Dr Fajola, however, noted that the Federal Government has initiated some steps through the Basic Health Care Provision Fund with emphasis on primary health care aimed at changing the narrative.

On how PUTOR could become successful in a resource-poor operational environment, Dr Fajola enjoined the Management of the new Centre to embrace the five pillars of sustainability consisting of co-ownership, capacity building, collaboration, monitoring and evaluation, commercial mind-set and zero-tolerance for corruption.

“PUTOR gives us the audacity to dream for a cleaner, healthier and safer environment, supported by public health experts and toxicologists who are committed to using science for public safety. Early in my career, I learned that making a difference in our world is not always about resources but resourcefulness. Resourcefulness is key because one will not always have all the funding needed. It is of utmost importance that we learn to use available resources wisely—do more with less. This requires new thinking,” he said.

In his goodwill message, Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, who was represented by Dr Peter Olufemi, said the launch of PUTOR would strengthen the health sector to deliver quality healthcare services to the people.

“The Federal Ministry of Health is striving to stamp out the bleak health indicators for which sub-Sahara African countries are known. Additional sources of funding, other than the budget lines such as the Basic Health Care Provision Fund are welcome innovations. There is full commitment to programmes and strategic policies geared towards securing the critical segments of the population,” the Minister's representative stated, commending the World Bank for the PUTOR initiative.

In his address, the Vice Chancellor, Professor Ndowa Lale, expressed joy for the opportunity to host two Africa Centres of Excellence. “I am immensely proud that the University of Port Harcourt was adjudged fit and proper to benefit from a second Centre of Excellence. Before our very eyes, we have become one of only three universities in Nigeria to simultaneously host two Africa Centres of Excellence. We missed a third Centre of Excellence in Economics Research, not because we did not make a good presentation, but because we were stopped from taking everything on offer! This is what defines our uniqueness as a University,” Professor Lale noted.

Emeritus Professor Nimi Briggs who chaired the event, expressed happiness that the University had, once again, benefitted from another World Bank Centre of Excellence. “We are glad to be part of the beneficiaries of these World Bank Centres and those of us in the College of Health Sciences are particularly happy at this cheering news. Effective healthcare delivery is critical to society's wellbeing and productivity, so PUTOR, no doubt, will impact positively on our people,” Emeritus Professor Briggs said.

Centre Leader, Dr Daprim Ogaji, who gave a background to the emergence of the Centre, said: “PUTOR is a platform for providing inter-disciplinary academic stream of postgraduate programmes and rapidly bridge the current paucity of adequately trained personnel with terminal degrees in environmental health and toxicology in sub-Saharan Africa.” He recalled that the Centre came into existence in November 2018, pledging quality leadership to realise the dream. 

Guests who presented goodwill messages at the launch included: Vice Chancellor of Bayelsa Medical University, Professor Ebitimi Etebu, representative of the Vice Chancellor of Covenant University, Ogun State, Professor Emeka Iwela, Chief Medical Director of Rivers State Hospital Management Board, Dr Kenneth Okagya, Director of Medical Services, Rivers State Primary Health Care Department, Dr Nduye Briggs, Centre Leader of the Africa Centre of Excellence for Technology Enhanced Learning at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Professor Mohammed Abdullahi and  Deputy Centre Leader, ACEPHEM, University of Malawi, John Mponda.

Others were the Permanent Secretary, Rivers State Ministry of Environment, Dr Emmanuel Urang; Chairman, Rivers State House of Assembly Committee on Environment, Hon Christian Ahiakwo; Zonal Head, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Cyrus Nkangwung, representatives of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, Dr Omolara Okunlola and NAFDAC, Dr Abimbola Adegboye, including ACE-CEFOR Centre Leader, Professor Ogbonna Joel.

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