• Saturday, April 20, 2024
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How Abdu Mukhtar is driving the health value chain initiative to make Nigerians healthier

How Abdu Mukhtar is driving the health value chain initiative to make Nigerians healthier

Abdu Mukhtar, who was last November appointed by President Ahmed Bola Tinubu as the National Coordinator of the Presidential Unlocking Healthcare Value-Chain initiative, is, by every criterion considered, eminently qualified for the position.

He holds a doctorate in Pathology from Boston University (USA); a master’s in Business Administration from Harvard Business School (USA); a master’s in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; and a medical degree from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

However, he must have one of the most daunting assignments among the lot of Tinubu’s appointees because the Unlocking Healthcare Value Chain is close to the President’s heart. It is not only an ambitious initiative, but one that seeks to touch everyone in Nigeria’s estimated 230 million population. But the point can also be made that Mukhtar is one of the luckiest political appointees, to the extent that, as part of Tinubu’s Renewed Hope Agenda, the initiative underlines very specific actions, which are:

-raising billions of dollars in new investment into the nation’s healthcare delivery system;

-inspiring cross-ministerial collaboration to restructure the ecosystem of health product manufacturing;

-making health logistics services more efficient by being more technology-driven, more client-driven, and more friendly to health insurers and other service providers.

Furthermore, the initiative seeks the following very specific outcomes:

-more measurable increase in the domestic manufacturing of generic pharmaceuticals, vaccines, biologics, and devices;

-perceived reduction of outbound medical tourism by enhancing service quality in Nigeria while catalysing alternative health ecosystems in the country;

-a quantum increase in the quantity of quality jobs across the value chain through enhanced FDI and local capital mobilisation.

Read also: Experts outline ways to address healthcare challenges in Nigeria

Dr. Mukhtar comes to the task from the position of the immediate past Director of Industrial and Trade Development at the African Development Bank (AfDB). Prior to joining the AfDB, Dr. Mukhtar served as the Group Chief Strategy Officer of the Dangote Group of Industries, where he supported the conglomerate’s key projects, including the expansion of its cement production footprint into fourteen African countries, in addition to important joint ventures in the power, oil and gas, and agriculture sectors. This followed a four-year tenure as the Chief Executive Officer of the FCTA’s Abuja Investment Company Limited from 2007 to 2011.

The initiative is domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, where it is benefiting from the intellect and vast global experience of the minister, Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate. It will entail collaboration with several MDAs, the organised private sector, and other stakeholders.

Mukhtar is expected to leverage his international connections and familiarity with the business terrain in Nigeria to deliver on the president’s promise to the people. Working with the Africa Development Bank, he covered 54 African countries, travelled to other countries, and saw how they emerged from specific challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, in addition to ferreting out different countries to attract investment attention to Nigeria, the initiative has to constantly engage the public and “communicate what we are trying to do and be transparent in everything that we are doing so that people will understand that we are doing it for the benefit of the country.”

Central to this is the imperative of raising awareness through engagement with the media “so they understand what we are doing. You are the voice of the public, and you should make sure you let Nigerians know what is happening. We appreciate and thank BusinessDay for coming to speak with us.”

Read also: Health unions urge FG to urgently implement sector salary structure, CONHESS

The second success factor is effective communication with critical stakeholders in the private sector, including manufacturers, who need to know the range of investment opportunities on offer. “When we do a good job of building solid business cases and attracting investment and the private sector is happy, the word will quickly go out.” We will also be having stakeholder engagement in different states, and we have already done so in Lagos and Kano.

Not surprisingly, the man is aware of the demographics involved. “With 230 million people and the largest pharmaceutical market in West Africa, we still import over 70 percent of the essential medicines and drugs that we use,” he reels off. “We still import all of the vaccines that we use in this country and about 99 percent of medical devices. Every year, we also spend over $1 billion on medical tourism because we don’t have enough well-equipped hospitals. The essence of this initiative is therefore to create an enabling environment for the private sector to increase local manufacturing of medical products and reduce medical tourism.”

He continues:

What are his strategies and plans? He readily explains: “It requires several things, which is why my job title is “National Coordinator.” The task is to bring everyone together. This is a government-wide effort, structured as a council. It is chaired by the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare and has other ministers—Finance, Trade and Industry, Budget and Planning—as members, as well as other relevant agencies like NAFDAC, NIPRD, Customs, the Bank of Industry, the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, MOFI, representatives of the private sector, the Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, etc. We’ll address policies and regulations that are anti-business in the health sector and make sure that they are in sync with global best practices.”

He’s been to Brussels to meet with potential investors and has also identified a big company in Europe that produces rapid diagnostic kits, has operations in North America and Asia, and plans to set up its first African facility in Nigeria. He says that many international players in the health sector welcome the initiative and are keen to partner with it. “There are tons of promising opportunities,” he added.

He’s also a part of the team preparing an executive order for the president to address policy issues under the initiative. “Once the president signs, everybody will line up and execute. Given the commitment that we are seeing from the president, there is excitement in the investment community.”

What drives the man? “My motivation is simple. I know the potential that this country has, with several qualified people and the brains that we have across the world, and there is no reason why international companies are setting up vaccine manufacturing plants in other African countries instead of setting them up in Nigeria, for example. I have travelled extensively and worked in many places, and I know what Nigerians can do. I am not happy with the status quo. So, my motivation is to try to change this for the benefit of the country and future generations.”