Dr. Betta Edu is a medical doctor from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The amiable young lady is the first Director General, Cross River State Primary Health Care Development Agency and she was appointed the Special Adviser to the Governor of Cross River State on Community Health. Edu who is married with kids and in her 30s, in this interview shared with us how she has been able to attain so much at a relatively young age.
It’s so sad that infant and maternal mortality rates are quite high in Nigeria unlike in many developed countries. What do you think is responsible for this?
Achieving significant reduction in infant mortality is a major challenge facing the health sector in developing countries. Every single day, Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-fives, making Nigeria the second largest contributor to under-five deaths in the world (UNICEF). Our infant mortality rate is 71.2 deaths/ 1000 live births. These figures are completely unacceptable for us as a nation and something urgent must be done by relevant stakeholders to stop the ugly trend. As a country, we must end insurgency and terrorism, which is leading to more infant deaths than epidemics. Several factors are responsible for the sustained high rates of maternal mortality in our country Nigeria, from poor political will on the part of governments to tackle the issue, to poor strategies and implementation of plans; the delays pregnant women face; our cultural practices and religious inclinations that prevent women from access to skilled birth attendants. For instance, a majority of pregnant women prefer to deliver in churches rather than hospitals.
What’s the state government doing to combat these?
At the Cross River State Primary Healthcare Development Agency, we are taking a systematic approach to significantly reduce infant mortality by 15 per cent in the next two years. We have started with revitalizing our primary healthcare centers which are located in almost every community in our state, hiring more staff and providing essential drugs to ensure availability of quality health services. The newly enacted State Health Insurance Scheme Law (Ayade Care) will enable more infants access to healthcare, as healthcare for under-fives is free. We are working hard at getting more women to deliver with the assistance of skilled birth attendants after attending Anti-natal Care, ANC, as this will improve the chances of survival of newborns. Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia and other vaccine-preventable diseases through immunization are our objectives.
A report shows that hundred children die of malnutrition every day. What are you doing to tackle malnutrition in Cross River State?
On malnutrition and according to our maternal, newborn and child health week programmes held twice annually, we have stepped-up nutrient supplementation for children with emphasis on children in hard to reach areas, IDP camps and rural areas. Furthermore, Cross River State has started routine clinical examination at health centers and during community outreaches to pick up cases of malnutrition for immediate intervention. We also offer nutrition classes for mothers during antenatal clinics and postnatal clinics where mothers are taught how to use locally available food to prepare nutritious meals for their kids. Beyond this, working with the Ministry of Agriculture, we are encouraging farmers to plant yellow cassava, yams, potatoes etc, which are rich in vitamin A and rice enriched with zinc. So, our children and indeed everyone can just eat and benefit from these micronutrients in their meals directly.
Let’s talk about family planning and the attitudes of many Nigerians to it. Some Nigerians still believe that family planning should be discouraged, what is your take on this?
Family planning is a potent remedy against maternal mortality. It’s unfortunate that contraceptive use is as low as 13 per cent, while our fertility rate is as high as 5.7 in Nigeria. If we can prevent pregnancy from occurring in girls and women, then we can significantly reduce the number of women who die from pregnancy-related issues. It’s sad to note that our men (who in most cases are the decision makers) religion, culture and other issues including poor access to information and family planning commodities have prevented our women from accessing family planning services. We will continue to encourage families to key into available family planning interventions especially at this time where our country is in recession. If you don’t think you should use family planning to keep the woman alive and space your children, please use it, because of the economic situation, so you can be able to provide for your family.
Do you think government is doing enough for the health sector?
The Federal Government is not doing enough for the health sector. They have not adequately complied with the Abuja Declaration, which stipulates 15% of the total budget should be allocated to healthcare. Unfortunately, this may be because healthcare doesn’t generate revenue for the government as such. At the beginning of the year, the Federal Government said it would revitalize primary healthcare and make 10,000 primary health centers functional across the nation. By mid-year, they said there is no money for that. Basic healthcare development fund provided in the National Healthcare Act was left out of the 2016 budget, our hospitals are a shadow of themselves. No government-owned radiotherapy equipment for the treatment of cancer is functional in the country, medical tourism is on the increase and health workers strikes are the order of the day in our country making many healthcare professionals to migrate to greener pastures. I must commend Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State for his proactive commitment to healthcare, while I call on government at all levels to invest in healthcare because health is wealth!
Feminism seems to be everywhere now, what’s your take on this as a young and goal-oriented woman?
I am a feminist, a strong advocate of women’s rights, and economic and political empowerment for women. However, I strongly believe that women must work hard to earn these and not just available for them, because they are women. I like to be judged by the quality of substance I bring to the table and not just because I am a woman. This said, I respect our male counterparts and believe they must at all times see women as great contributors to nation building. You know the popular saying; “if you want it done give it to a man, but if you want it perfectly done with finesse give it to a woman”. Women are achievers and goal getters when given the right incentives and support. Also women should learn to support other women to grow.
What are your challenges in office?
There would always be challenges at work but these challenges become like bread in water when you have God. But we have, a digital-savvy governor whose priority is healthcare as well as his wife, Dr. Linda Ayade who is a Medical Doctor and passionate about maternal and child health. When I was appointed special adviser, we had no state primary healthcare development agency but within 8 months, we got the Primary Healthcare Bill signed into law, organized a board and an agency and the state has been able to begin implementation of one functional PHC/Ward with five already fully completed. Our challenge now is healthcare workers. The governor has graciously approved primary healthcare staff audit and approved express employment of staff where needed. Also, he has facilitated movement of PHC staff to the agency, which is one of the requirements for PHC under one roof. We are positive that following the staff audit, this process will begin. Other challenges border on resources for various healthcare interventions in the rural communities. However, we are confident that with the new healthcare insurance law, which will provide a smarter and more sustainable healthcare financing, we will achieve better results.
Was there a time you were so overwhelmed with the challenges you wanted to quit?
I’m a die-hard professional! I just never quit! When there is a will backed up with determination and commitment, God always makes a way. There has never been a time I was overwhelmed with challenges that would make me quit. Remember, my help comes from God and when I’m at my wits end, He opens new doors. I handle my family requirements and my very tasking job well purely by God’s grace. When you have an understanding family, everything flows seamlessly.
You are young and have achieved so much. How did you do it?
I’m very young but I am very old in my mind (laughs). I have accomplished so much at a very young age, because I have always had God at the center of my life. There is nothing I need, that I have asked for in the sincerity of my heart that He has not done. Furthermore, I have a father who believes so much in the girl-child. He has pushed and supported me even to do things I thought were far above my limits and as a pastor and missionary, he would back you up with prayers and fasting. My family too has been superb! Moreover I am very optimistic; I believe everything is possible; I can do all things through Christ. So, I keep pushing with my eyes on the goal!
Are you of the school of thought that women should be defined as a success story only if they are happily married?
I do not belong to that school of thought. Marriage is a beautiful thing ordained by God. While I agree that women should be happily married to gain some form of balance in society and their personal lives, I do not agree that it should be a yard stick to define their success.
Can you share your beauty routine?
(Laughs) I really do not have a beauty routine. There are just a few things I do religiously every day and which keep me going and glowing. I empty my worries to God every morning in prayers and I forgive people. I exercise for an hour daily and I don’t sleep with make-up. I drink a lot of water, eat plenty of fruits, sleep for 6 hours in 24hrs and use moisturizers on my skin. I smile and laugh a lot.
How do you unwind?
Unwinding does not exist in my dictionary for now. I will let you know when I bring it back. However, I like to listen to music and dance (even though I am a very bad dancer) I look for every opportunity to sing and dance, in church, in the shower, with women in the rural areas when I meet them during community outreaches (we always start with songs and dancing), the children in our villages and indeed at any opportunity. As good as that might sound, I have never been to a club before. I’m a Jesus girl! I love to travel, but my job has limited all that now.
In most cases, some men feel intimidated by successful women. How have you been able to walk through the murky waters and come this far as a woman?
It’s true some men feel intimidated by successful women, but when you respect them and do not rub it in their faces that you are in charge, they cooperate. Furthermore, when they know you know your onions and you have substance that you are contributing to progress they respect you and support you. I have had few frictions with men, but I handled them calmly and with respect for the male folk letting them know that it is not about age, gender or ego, but rather about us working together as a team to get the job done.
What was your childhood like?
I will just say I grew up in church and school. My parents gave us all we needed but kept my siblings and I under very close check, so there was no time to goof around. However, I had a lot of exposure at a young age, because my father traveled a lot and brought his family along. By God’s design, I have always been in position of leadership. If I list all the leadership positions I have held from primary school till date, it might just take your entire publication. My family has always supported me. As a child, I was very intelligent and popular with a high sense of humor.