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Hospital heroes

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Hospital heroes

How do we judge the most influential Africans of 2014? Is it by personal success? The impact they have on people’s lives? Or whether they have shaped a generation of followers, who have been inspired by them and walked in their footsteps?

You have now read New African magazine’s selection of the most influential Africans of 2014. It is now time to think of the past so we can think of the future. How do the most influential of 2014 compare to their historical predecessors? How does a businessman like Aliko Dangote or Strive Masiyiwa compare to titans of the past like Alhassan Dantata or Sir Louis Ojukwu, both of whom ran huge businesses in the 1930s and 1940s? Ojukwu ran a family transport business that was in its heyday the equal of Tata, the Indian, family-run automotive business.Today Tata is a conglomerate with a market capitalisation of around $100 billion and owns steel and chemicals manufacturers and hotels, as well its core transport business, including global brands such as Land Rover and Jaguar. The company has been at the heart of India’s industrialisation drive.

Meanwhile, Ojukwu’s transport business did not play a similar role in the Nigerian economy and has virtually disappeared.Why? What legacy are our current influential Africans leaving? How can we understand their achievements without a nod to those on whose shoulders they are standing?

The distant past is one thing, but I would like to bring attention to some more recently deceased heroes. This group is the more than 200 nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers who have died defending us from the Ebola virus.

Many have been heroic beyond measure, such as Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor, Sheik Umar Khan, who treated over a hundred victims, before himself succumbing to the virus. But I wanted to use another doctor, Stella Adadevoh, to talk about the incredible and exemplary work of these healthcare workers, not because hers is the best or most courageous story of love and service in the time of Ebola – but because it is the story known most intimately by me. Nigeria’s success, so far, in containing the virus can be put down to how quickly Dr Adadevoh diagnosed the first case, Patrick Sawyer and the way she and her team dealt with the crisis. She ran a well-managed hospital and trained a cadre of other health workers, who continued the hard work, supported by the state and national governments, even after their leader had fallen. That is true leadership – influencing and equipping people with the tools and system to produce excellence, even in your absence.

Indeed the Nigerian healthcare system has proved more robust in managing early infected patients than either the Spanish or US systems, despite the backdrop of crumbling infrastructure and the fracturing of trust and community that breeds chronic corruption and ensures that nothing works. Her hospital maintained the discipline to monitor sensitive and delicate scientific equipment that is the cutting edge in healthcare delivery.

Nigerians are extremely lucky that Sawyer ended up in the hospital Adadevoh worked in. Had he come through one of the more fragile parts of the country where hospital systems are severely challenged then we might be staring at true disaster.

No wonder her death has so moved ordinary Nigerians. People are aware that she could have gone anywhere in the world with her skills and qualifications, like many of the other dead healthcare workers. Yet she and they stayed. On a daily basis ordinary Africans sacrifice themselves for others. When soldiers make this sort of sacrifice they are honoured in special ceremonies; perhaps we should find a way of honouring these ordinary citizens who fell in the line of duty, defending us all.

Interestingly, those who claim god-given healing powers through the laying on of hands haven’t tested their powers against Ebola. And yet, people pay these people weekly tithes, instead of using the monies to invest in research and healthcare systems that would enable real heroes like Dr Adadevoh to defend us against the diseases and ailments that actually kill us.

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Written by Onyekachi Wambu

Onyekachi was educated at the University of Essex and completed his M.Phil in International Relations at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He worked extensively as a journalist and television documentary. He edited The Voice Newspaper at the end of the 1980s and has made documentaries and programmes for the BBC, Channel 4 and PBS.

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