It was one of those programmes promoting women empowerment. We went for a break and after we returned, we were to listen to her speak on nutrition and general healthy living. I listened to her with rapt attention and it was obvious she had been giving such lectures for long. Her mannerism, her delivery, everything showed she knew her onions, and I must say that she got us all thinking of better ways to live healthy.
She grew up in a close-knit family, the fourth of seven children. Her parents were hardworking and devout Catholics.
“While we did not have all the comfort imaginable, we certainly never lacked for anything,” she tells me. “My parents brought us up to fear God, work hard and treat everyone with respect. I find that that has instilled in me the propensity for hard work and the resilience required to succeed.”
While working as a medical doctor in Akwa Ibom State, she volunteered for an NGO called Child Development Trust, which increased her awareness of the gap existing in the medical sector in terms of access to basic healthcare by the general populace. The focus of their work was in the area of malnutrition and how it contributed to the under-5 mortality ratio. Their findings showed how health education and promotion, as well as micronutrient supplementation, radically improved the health and wellbeing of the children. The mothers (their primary caregivers) were also given financial support once they outlined what area of business they had interest in. This ensured that the health benefits from the programme were sustainable going forward, as the mothers/caregivers were better equipped both knowledge-wise and financially.
Angela Attah is my Leading Woman for this week. As a preventive medicine and public health practitioner with vast experience in the promotion and provision of quality health care, she is also the founder of Health Bridge Trust Limited, a medical consultancy firm engaged in delivering innovative solutions that increase community access to diagnostics, medicines and preventive health services. She has worked extensively in both the public and private health sector. She is a public speaker, mentor, and teacher at heart who actively volunteers with various organisations, especially those that work with women and children.
Speaking about the health and wellness programme her company is into, she says: “Our health and wellness programmes are tailored primarily towards women and children, as well as a segment focused on the corporate world. We carry out health fairs, workshops and seminars to various groups. I developed material for a radio programme on nutrition for growing children on behalf of a client and presented the same on-air. More recently we have embarked on school health clubs to bring health education in practical ways to children within the school system.”
One other area of specialty for Angela is the development and provision of medical content for corporate organisations as part of their CSR contribution. “CSR has been a bit of a tough sell to corporate organisations,” she says. “There are only a few of them that are consistent with the willingness to support projects. The major factor is convincing them of the need to continue with a programme long enough to achieve a real impact in the society. That said, however, I must commend those organisations that have been supportive, especially when it ties in with their own core values. Then, it becomes a win-win situation for all stakeholders.”
The Nigeria Health Innovation Marketplace is another project Angela is involved with. “It is a very exciting project to me as I have witnessed the gap that exists in the availability of quality healthcare and access to it by the community. The project seeks to bridge that gap through the use of technology and innovation. Various groups in the private and public sector have been selected to work on this project in order to radically enhance the healthcare of the future for all Nigerians. Anadach Group who I represent as a consultant is a member of the steering committee inaugurated to actualise the vision,” she tells me.
Corporate health and wellness is very important to achieving and sustaining productivity in the workplace. Angela agrees with this. In her words: “There is a well-known adage that says health is wealth. Unfortunately some people spend their health in the pursuit of wealth only to have to turn around and spend all the wealth to regain a fraction of their health. It is very common to experience burn-out in the fast-paced corporate world. Many stories abound of people ‘slumping’ at work, or on the way to work. Most times there would have been an underlying chronic health condition, which was not properly attended to, that eventually resulted in the incapacitation and eventual death of the individual.
“What we try to encourage employers to do is organise access to regular health education and screening tests for staff, rewarding those who continue in the programme. At the end of the day, you are left with a vibrant and healthy workforce that is productive, which is the desire of any business or corporate organization.”
Women are primarily caregivers in the society, in whatever position they find themselves, whether as sisters, mothers, wives, etc. They therefore have the tendency to put everyone else’s needs before theirs with sometimes grave consequences. While not saying that this is totally wrong, Angela says that whenever she has to speak to women groups on wellness and nutrition, she usually jokingly reminds them that even on the aircraft you are advised to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others in your care.
“In partnership with corporate organisations, we provide health education on the importance of good nutrition as the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle, in addition to wellness tips they can use to sustain change,” she adds.
Healthcare delivery in Nigeria is indeed going through tough times and Angela insists it can be improved upon by going back to the basics. “By this I mean ensuring that our primary health systems are in order, providing healthcare along the tenets of prevention through immunisation, regular screening and behavioural change in healthcare practice. I also see a situation where more private providers will fully embrace primary health as opposed to focusing solely on specialist health services,” she says.
Sharing on her professional and personal challenges, Angela tells me: “I can truly say that on the personal front I have had incredible support, especially when I prioritise. On the professional front, the only challenge has been explaining to others what I do and how it is not from their traditional idea of a doctor in the clinic/hospital. So after a while, I just did it and stopped explaining! Now they know.”
Concluding the interview, I ask Angela about her personal philosophy and she tells it all. “It is to live fully, love what I do and who I do it with and laugh and enjoy the journey,” she says. “It is not in the destination, but in the journey to that place that we learn and grow, contributing our quota to the development of self and others. Family is very important to me as it is both my launch pad as well as my resting place. I also enjoy volunteering and helping others. Volunteering with Idea Builders as a mentor for young women has broadened my horizons and helped me understand my role as an advocate for health and wellness better.”
By: KEMI AJUMOBI