The man with gifted fingers, The only Nigerian that can actually brag about having thousands of children both home and abroad, The brain behind In-Vitro-Fertilization IVF and the CEO of NISA Premier Hospital, Dr Idris Wada spoke with our Correspondent, Edoamaowo Udeme, on topical issues bordering on Youths, Health and how he didn’t budge to brain drain even when he had the opportunity to. Excerpts;
With the brain drain of young medical doctors leaving Nigeria for greener pastures, what on earth made you stay back in Nigeria?
I remember when I returned back home to Nigeria in 1994, my colleagues who were doctors and nurses thought there was grossly wrong with me because everybody was thinking of going abroad where I comfortably was. They were wondering what could be so wrong that would make me come back home, they thought it was a big mistake, even some members of my family thought so too because I was away for many years and was supposed to come back home with big cars and luxury but I didn’t, what I came back was the instrument to prove a point that all of you know now, but why would the people not want to come back home? That is the big question. Everybody wants to be in the so called greener pastures because there is no perfect place on earth, there is always a give and there is always a take. The predominant thing that made me come back home is a sense of duty to those in need that I saw and felt for them before I left the shores of this country to study abroad, The big question is, is it about me Dr Wada who has been fortunate to get a lot of skills and be among the top in the world in fertility practice in no other place than Cambridge or is it my community and country? Or is it about God who created me and gave me all those opportunities? I chose the first and the second. Now because I chose that with all the sense of purpose and courage, I was able to succeed, weather the difficulties that people meet at home and run back abroad. I had seen and enjoyed abroad but I had this link that I must do something at home, now it has turns out to my advantage because I have made a name, I have influenced other Nigerians, brought them up and some are working elsewhere now, it’s also part of the greater wealth that is not only for me as a person, but for the country.
Everyone has an early beginning, can we hear your grass to grace story?
My generation owns that history, even our children in their worst circumstances did not start where we started, We started from almost nothing, we came from a country where everybody around you was not really educated, we were in a world where there was no real expectation except to eat, live and die, but I was fortunate, my father was one of those that acquired early education so he knew the value and one thing he did was to give his children an opportunity to be educate, but the circumstances for me to get an education was absolutely there, because of the natural gift by the Almighty God, so at childhood, I knew I was going to influence human being. At age 8 – 10 I would cut out any health piece from the newspapers and paste on my mud wall in our house, but the good thing was even at that age in the village, I was competent to read. It was a talent, a gift, I don’t care how you describe it, but to the extent that I was identified by the headmaster of my school as someone living with my mum, a pious woman without a father influence, He felt I was a star and picked me up from my mum to live with him for a year and I think that that father influence also helped me see the balance of two things. Grass to grace? I think the whole thing about it is focus and godliness, as a young man, as a young Moslem, I didn’t play with God, I was focused on my religion, the good thing about me was I didn’t miss my fasting at a very tender age no matter where I was, I knew my Quran well but I was also in a Catholic Mission School and I took Christianity equally seriously so I grew up with a balanced religious views. To me, the stories were the same but it is the world’s view that differed. Even in my secondary school I had the same opportunity, I went to a Roman Catholic Secondary School, it consolidated my understanding of my religious knowledge and understanding the scriptures from both sides and I think that one with God is majority, so if you put God by your side so early, it might propel you and that has been the foundation of my life In my generation at that time, it didn’t matter if you were a Christian or a Muslim. My grass to grace is also of converting any small opportunity to a big one and the reason it happens is that you are not looking for a quick win, your sense of purpose is, why am I in this? What can I put into it and what can I get from it? So I got to medical school thanks to the Almighty God, l knew I would be a medical doctor because my academic performances in school were “Doctorish”. While in medical school, the mum of one of my childhood friends died during childbirth, It was as if my mum has died so at that moment I resolved that if I pass my medical school, I will become a gynecologists. It wasn’t an abstract thing that I would become one, but the events of my life led to it. So, one has to be focused. While I practiced in Jos, I became aware that there was something missing. Fertility. within the confines of our knowledge, we operated on women, we gave them drugs and then we knew there wasn’t much to be done then, so the pioneers had already discovered In- Vitro- Fertilization (IVF) in Cambridge as the solution to those impossible infertilities and I prayed to God to take me to Cambridge and help me link up to this new knowledge. God was faithful, He did. He opened the doors when I persisted. It wasn’t as if Cambridge was the grace but my professional progress was so rapid than any black man ever achieved there. Every institution I ever attended were breakthrough institutions, wherever I was, and my records made them to look for another Nigerian to replace me hoping they will be like me. I never suffered in terms of my progress. England is not a place where you get all the wealth in the world and I didn’t even come home to pursue wealth, so, definition of grace here had to do with academic, professional and other related successes. For the youths, let success be what you achieve in life but wealth should be something you wake up and discover and if you discover it the right way, wealth pursues you. These are words on the marble that we have to tell the youths, never pursue wealth. It’s not about the money, it’s what brings the money out, focus on that and pray that your sweat be rewarded. When I came home, if my target were how soon I will make my first millions, I wouldn’t have influenced so many lives. I wouldn’t have even been this big now because any man that pursues money is pursuing evil. God taught that money is the root of all evil, so youths should not measure their wealth with how much they have in their account because if that is their main purpose, they will do unholy things that will get them that money.
People hear of NISA Premier Hospital and become scared…
(Cuts in) That we are too expensive…
Exactly, what can you do for the less privileged that need your expertise but cannot afford the cheapest drug like Paracetamol?
I sympathize with them but I remember the song of Dolly Parton “One is only poor only if
he chose to be” (Coat of many colors). There are many units of what I am doing that creates wealth in the country, you cannot because we are all poor have nothing. What is happening in our public health sector is that it is grossly underfunded and peoples attitude are coarse to say the least, and the sense of progress is lost, it’s the sense of existence, in other words, we have the money to pay salaries of billions to workers but not enough to buy the instruments for them to work, because we are poor we get nothing out of our little wealth what is the sense of having so many people on the payroll if we can’t pay salary monthly, nobody is asking, are they efficient or productive? Are they helping the country or producing wealth for the country? Until we start addressing that argument, our people will continue to be poor and we will continue to fly to India to have the best of care. With the best sense of purpose, I tell you NISA is evolving to fill a gap in this nation whereby standards and quality of care and results are at par with international performances. This is our focus. By the grace of God we are inching there and at the same time we also have a large heart to accommodate within our limits, those who are less privileged. First, we have foundations, one of it is the baby Hannatu Foundation which has reduced the cost of infertility, In fact some have been treated free of charge within our limits and some at half price. That has been an ongoing thing. Second, even as a worker in the government establishment, I as a person because I was able to enjoy funding from other sources my salaries were always donated to the services of the poor. Check the records from Gwagwalada Specialists Hospital. Most of the places in Government that I have worked since I came to this country, I paid more than twice of what I earn from government, all dedicated to social welfare issues for the poor people. That was why when Garki Hospital was handed over to NISA Thought it was another level of philanthropy. While in Gwagwalada Specialists Hospital my salary was N25,000 monthly but I spent N50,000 every month supporting the poor and I upgraded to N1m yearly for in Gwagwalada. It still continues and I pray to God for continuous strength to do it. I think that is the source of wealth. Where is your community? Where are you? What are the positives that you can deliver that is not being done? The less privileged in your community how many have you touched? In my conscience I am grateful to God, I’m satisfied. NISA may have a name but let’s ask ourselves, don’t we need a place where one day other privileged or less privileged countries will fly in and get the best healthcare to their satisfaction? I am bringing my wealth, this is creation of wealth. Anything less means we are disorganized, we are all poor. NISA would promote our country. How long will people continue listening to us as poor when God has given us the same hands and brains he has given other countries that are wealthier than us? Let people create wealth, Let us erase this mentality that we are poor, we were not born poor. Listen to Dolly Parton.
Let’s talk about IVF, How many “Children” do you have now?
My life with IVF has a part one and two. Part one started in England, in Manchester and I ended up in Cambridge, these are pioneer units, in fact, the first time of doing IVF in Manchester, I was there, from 1989 – 1992 before I came home in 1994 I was in Cambridge. We were the first IVF centre in the universe. The number of children born in Cambridge and Manchester will be over 5,000. This practice was already flowing in my blood before l boarded a one-way ticket with my family back to Nigeria, so, here in Nigeria with my own personal involvement, I stopped counting at 2000 because I had several other things to do and they were direct from me, what about the indirect centers that sprang out from the fact that I brought the core knowledge to this country? We could number more than 5,000 in total for both direct and indirect so even in this country, I am satisfied that using my own systems, history has been made and I thank God for that, then you talk about those that are poor and can’t come to NISA, I feel for them more than you, and that is supported by the fact that when I came to Gwagwalada Specialists Hospital, there was nothing NISA in my brain, I just wanted to do it then, I bought the instruments with my money. I was looking for an enabling environment to exercise what is in my brain and that didn’t happen for 18 months, so for a young hyperactive man, that was prison for me because even if you can do it, the system will not permit it. 18 months after I returned, I knew that if I wasn’t going to die with my brain, I needed to use it. The only avenue was to start NISA. NISA is not a business venture; it’s not the dream that brought me to Nigeria. I had dreamt of setting up a public sector IVF so that other doctors can be trained with my help so that all parts of Nigeria will benefit two things needed to happen after 18 months, it’s either I “checked out” like Andrew abroad which was at most, the last of my potential choice, or I started NISA. I took the last option not knowing where it will go and I am thankful for the country and the people of the country who believed in it and has helped us to get as far as we’ve got. I never lost the sight that I must give rise to a public sector IVF system, That, I achieved at the National Hospital about 2006. After I established the IVF centre there, the 1st child was born 8 years later and I cried. What country is this that will take so long to achieve what other countries achieve in a jiffy? I wasn’t asking for payment, I even had to dig into my private purse to support it in millions. It’s still there. National hospital called me 10 years later to honor me after many babies have been born there. The thinking in this country is that there are people who pass this street and see the NISA signpost and automatically conclude that it will be too expensive even before the know the true cost, that is why we also put it in Garki Hospital which is mixed public and private, the idea is that the public sector, bureaucracy and other things, may delay patients and frustrate some of them, so we needed to create a buffer zone for private and public. I thank God that IVF is working. It’s cheap as you can get in public sector and it is working. We try to make it efficient, sensitive and responsible to the needs of our people. Looking back I never set out for a huge bank account, if it comes, it is secondary derivatives. It just goes on to show that Nigeria can stand where India can because God didn’t make a different color of brain for us.
The 2018 budget for health in Nigeria saw a 2% drop as against 2016, where do you think Nigeria is going if the public health is facing this neglect?
The Federal Governments responsibility to you and I is called Primary Health Care, When you have a headache you don’t have to look for transport to go far to get medication, there ought to be a system where you don’t have to pay money. 90% of the headaches we have in this country are simple causes, they can sort that out, the remaining 10 % needs to go to a higher level. That is what I call the funding gap. If the government can help us achieve not free but easy access primary care, the illness will be tackled before it escalates to a bigger one. If the government can help each one f us to have medical addresses so that when we are ill, we don’t have to worry about our pocket. We are paying a health insurance or maintenance fee monthly, if the federal government can do that, leave the rest to us. That gap will be bridged by philanthropic and individual effort where an appendicitis and caesarian section will be treated, but if the government thinks that it can take care of the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary healthcare, it’s impossible, no country in the world does that, this is a joke even Americans cannot do it.
So the focus should be on primary healthcare?
Yes, it can be done, what is happening is that the bulk of the budget is going to the tertiary institutions the University Teaching Hospitals and Federal Medical Centers, even that is not enough for them, so, I am saying is that something and needs to be done so that in the next ten years we can move from here, it’s a journey. We can’t do all at the same time and get nothing out of it because; Primary Healthcare is the key to anybody’s health. When you go to our General hospital you get the general emptiness. In teaching hospitals, there are doctors upon doctors nurses upon nurses but nothing is flowing to them, so productivity at that level cannot be compared to productivity in secondary and tertiary centers in relations with our population. There is problem at the tertiary level, I wouldn’t say over staffing but definitely productivity per person is low. At the secondary, is kind of midway between because instrumentation is poor and then, the primary has people but no medical personnel. So someone somewhere is going to draw a line, like the Honorable Minister of Health Professor Isaac Adewole is doing perfectly well as he is targeting the Primary Healthcare. Someone has to make it work. There shouldn’t be any complain that primary healthcare is being revamped. Yes, it needs to be. The Minister is saying and doing the right thing. In 1960 we were begging people to go to hospitals people would think that having a fever was that someone was jealous of their progress or that the grandmother that died was the cause, so they killed chicken to cure fever, nobody went to hospital until they were near dead. The world has evolved now, with internet, DSTV and all, we are seeing what is happening elsewhere so our expectations are higher that our pockets because we are not creating wealth. We are assuming poverty, yet this is one of the richest countries on earth. Something needs to be done to straighten our primary healthcare base, design a referral. It becomes a problem if you have appendicitis and you can’t afford treatment. But if there are philanthropists here and there, some Federal Government funding is there and some of the health pocket funding is there too. We cannot afford to do this where the system is overloaded and there is no productivity and where there should be productivity at the Primary Healthcare, there is nobody to do it. No instrument, nothing so the Minister is right.
Every year, thousand of graduates spill into the labor market, even the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) has introduced skill acquisition into its curriculum just so these youths could adopt a skill or two, but with the quest for quick money, our young ones seem not to be interested. What is your advice for the youths?
I think there is a disconnect between reality and today‘s society, I think that the advocacy and guidance they need is also lacking because everybody is pursuing survival one way or the other. Apart from individuals like me who labored to be where I am, it wasn’t an overnight success. I will tell youths, chose your destination in life, God created you for a purpose. What is that purpose? Define it, seek God’s help, go slow and steady towards it, life is seventy years from the time you are born, don’t be in a hurry because if the destination is like Abuja to Lagos, and I start now 120km per hour, I will crash and I would not get there. The major responsibility is not on the individuals but on the government. If I want to fault the government I will fault the so- called National Orientation Agency (NOA) they don’t seem to see that we are too much on the internet and DSTV. I see a world created by producers and we are consumers. This is the disconnect. That is why people kidnap, rob and cheat, so when will we bridge that gap in orientation? It is from the childhood, primary school, religious guidance. This world did not just come as an abstract thing, someone created it, someone created you, he has got a sense of purpose for you, and we start teaching them self reliance. Don’t have a certificate because you are a graduate but a certificate for a purpose in productive society weather in arts or sciences. It is only the government can bridge that gap, not icons not individuals. The flow within the system needs to change and it must be led by the National Orientation Agency (NOA). We are in deep trouble, our expectations have gone so high because we are living in a global village now we can see our next door neighbor living in California, we can see their houses, Limousines and swimming pools, but it took California lots of years to get there. My village, Dekina, cannot become California overnight, it will crash, the same thing with individual lives. How can we advice going forward in a system that says we all own this country? The system that immediately creates standard for any child born into it. Standard in Education, Housing, Health, right from youth, the kind of house you are supposed to stay, community standards. You can’t build that house overnight; this is a system that makes you access that house over the next 20- 30 years. It’s called mortgage. The basic human right is shelter and if you don’t know how to get one, you don’t care. So let it be in the agenda, we should know how many babies will be born the next year and create a housing policy that enfranchises every born citizen. We need secondary school certificate to become a politician in this country but there is no policy that says we need secondary schools certificate to vote and we need such policy. We are spending billions trying to create political offices that we don’t need. We need to draw that energy into reality, housing, education, health. Take the post of a senator or governor and look at how much they need waste to become one, how long can we then deceive ourselves? These are words that are supposed to be on marble. The world may say Universal Franchise but the reality of our existence today; you need to be qualified to vote. That will reduce this mass expenditure, even after the expenditure, how many Nigerians go out to vote as compared to our population? We need to think. Because I am a Christian and a northerner people will flock to vote me in? No! We are not appointing traditional rulers but people to influence our lives not necessarily by identity but by ability. Our youths need to grow up and know the essence of life.
Why is it that doctors and nurses are sometimes accused for neglecting patients….?
(Is it in public or private sector?)
Public, but why is it that the persons who are suppose to make you feel relieved are the ones escalating you illness?
My advice is that public hospitals should be taken out of civil service mentality because health touches our own very existence. This is my bold point. Productivity must be rewarded. The workers are comparing themselves with others who work in other sector and are richer. Doctors sometimes say “what is the salary of a senator as compared to what I do?”, these are wrong comparisons, politics and medicine are two different directions. If I had my way I will separate the two. Our health politics must be how to fund the best healthcare system on earth and be an example to humanity. For the past 50 years we are still on the same spot complaining about health workers attitude, how they go on strike, there is a disconnect that must be solved. Draw the funds to the Primary healthcare centre, strengthen that system and you will be shocked at how much our resources will churn out and how much industrial peace that will be.
Recently, the health Minister, Professor Adewole proposed that doctors in public sector shouldn’t run a private clinic, how possible will that work?
it is an innovation but it will be achieved overtime, it will not be a one day thing the reason being you even admitted that doctors are running abroad so the patients doctor ratio is wide, so, if a doctor is in public sector and is engaged in a private sector, it must be under rules.
But some doctors are known to directing patience to their own private hospitals and….?
(Cuts in) Most people do not have the kind of conscience that some of us have to separate the two and those personal hospitals I guarantee you, have never and will never progress. Any doctor that keeps sending his patients to their private clinic, that doctor will never progress, mark my word. Take a census of hospitals even in Abuja, any of it that is progressing, the person is disjointed from his hospital. I agree with the Minister only to the point that 80-90% of doctors don’t have that kind of conscience that says “I work in public so private does not exist in my mind, I work as if I own the public sector”. That is the missing link. God sent us doctors that work like the British do, you work at NHIS, but the hours in privates are known and you can’t cheat financially because the government regulatory systems are on you. Our people cannot adhere to that because of get rich quick attitude. So the Minister has vowed to do his best to separate the two, private and public.
As a Nigerian, insecurity is hitting people hard, where did we go wrong?
Words on marble! Nothing guarantees your security than your economy. If you wake up in the morning and there is a job that engages you, the last thing on your mind will be crime. When I was born, you could trek from Lagos to Kano and nobody will waylay you. The best time to travel was to start your car at 10 pm from Lokoja to Kano. You don’t think of security issues, you only worry about your car developing faults that was all. Now, you can’t even walk from one neighborhood to the other. Where did we lose it? Economy. In the 70s Nigeria had a more traditional approach to life. There was mutual respect and communal existence where nobody was Lord and master but it cracked in the 70s because civil servants woke up to get double salaries and allowances paid when they never expected it was called “Udoji awards” in a country that did not have industry, That meant importation so the ports became congested and there was a story of “My Mercedes Benz is bigger than yours” and “My television is color and yours is black and white” came in.
So that was the oil boom period?
Yes but now those we know the benefit of hindsight. That money ought not to have been in the pocket of the workers especially in terms of arrears, companies like Peugeot, Volkswagen, Television and all were supposed to be established in Nigeria and we were to fund them but it didn’t happen so we imported and words like port congestion became a word in Nigeria. So while the population was growing, our population base was weak. That was the problem so if there is an Economic boom, crime rate will drastically reduce
It was great meeting you Sir
Same here Edoamaowo Udeme