Awele Vivien Elumelu, the Chairperson of Avon Healthcare Limited and CEO of Avon Medical Services Limited, in this interview with Caleb Ojewale, speaks about her vision for quality, yet affordable healthcare and access to Nigerians through her investments in Avon. Vivien, a medical doctor by training is also the African ambassador for the Gavi vaccine alliance. Excerpts:
As they say, beside every successful man, there is a woman. It is no longer behind, but beside. How has it been supporting your husband Tony Elumelu and the journey so far?
It has been a journey, it has been a ride, and it has not been easy but he is someone who believes strongly in whatever (goals and dreams) he believes in. This makes it easy for you to believe along with him because he does not give up, he does not get tired, and he is tireless. It has been one hell of a ride as they say.
It has been how many years?
Since 1993, that’s 26 this year! You know you stop counting (laughs). It was 25 last year.
In your own right, you’re a medical doctor and you have Avon, which one could say is turning into a conglomerate of its own now [cuts in]…
We are working towards that
So, what was the vision behind setting up Avon and the brands underneath it?
You know, it was simple. It was just healthcare. Being able to provide affordable healthcare of what I believe should be of global standards. That was the simple vision. We know we need healthcare in Nigeria. We know there are issues with healthcare. We just felt this was somewhere we could come in and play our own part in helping to improve the economy, because whether we like it or not we need a healthy workforce. We need a healthy nation to be a wealthy nation.
So, that was basically it. And we know there are so many issues; we want to look at child cases, we want to look at immunization, we want to look at health facilities, there’s so much that needs to be to be done in the healthcare space. So, we just felt if we would come in here both in providing healthcare, as well as in providing access to healthcare. This we were looking to do through the HMO and then even providing healthcare through the hospitals and the clinics. So as I said, it was pretty simple; just wanting to be able to help provide affordable, quality healthcare to Nigerians.
Looking at this part of access, you know, in terms of universal health coverage, Nigeria ranks among the lowest in the world with coverage of less than 5 per cent. What are your strategies, in expanding this in the next say 5-10 years?
One of the ways we try to play our own role is through advocacy. We know that we need the government to support the health sector. We need the government to support even the healthcare act. The government has a large role to play. We want them to be able to provide the system and infrastructure for people to be able to access healthcare.
In insurance, they need to make it such that people understand the importance of it. I think for now, as you said it is just 5 per cent coverage. The government needs to step in and do something about it to ensure that more people are enrolled in insurance, more companies take part in insurance, and make sure that more staff are insured for proper health coverage.
Even as health insurance companies, we continue to have meetings to see how we can improve in things we do. Again, this goes back to the advocacy in getting government to do more and even amongst us. Also in relating with the providers, because there is health insurance and there are the providers. We need to be able to work together to be able to deliver healthcare at the level that we would all like it to be.
Going to immunization, again, we are notoriously poor in terms of immunization, and there was a time GAVI was saying they were going to withdraw funding for Nigeria [cuts in]…
Thankfully they did not
As African ambassador for GAVI, what are you championing right now, and what should we be expecting from you in terms of saving the lives of children that need vaccination in Nigeria and Africa at large.
There is a lot of work going on. You know GAVI does not actually have offices in any country, so they work with the government. The organisation that we work through here is the Nigerian Primary Health Care Development Authority (NPHCDA). They are doing a lot of work so we keep working with them, having regular meetings with them and they are getting the word out there. So, it is just about doing more work with them to ensure proper coverage, that’s basically it. We also need to continue to get the message out; we need more companies to come in and support, we need the parents to be enlightened as to the importance of vaccines, we also need the government to provide more support.
Going to what I’ll probably call the fun part, I’m sure many young women want to be like you, since they want to be successful. What would you describe as the secret to your success so far and how can they be like you or better if possible.
Actually, better, because we always want them to be better. I think first of all, you should be genuinely interested in improving yourself and improving the society around you. A bit of selfless interest, I would say. I wanted to talk about contentment but then, I would say even though you should be content with what you have, at the same time, don’t be content. This is especially when you see that things are not going the way they should, with mediocrity or with things that you feel could be better. Also, persevere and do not give up. I know we have a lot of challenges in our society, in our country, but persevere. It is only through persevering that we will all get there. If we all fold our arms and say there are too many challenges and there is nothing we can do, we will not make any progress.
Is there any peculiar issue you think is affecting Nigerian women at the moment that you would want to say something about it and you would want something done about it?
Well, I would have to go back to healthcare, back to child brides, and back to Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF), which is still a problem in our society. We need to get the message out there. The habit is not good enough and we can’t have 10,11,12 year old children getting pregnant, going into labour, having difficulties, living with this stigma, and then being abandoned at the end of the day, because they put them in this situation and then abandon them. That is one big problem I do not like.
Are you doing anything about it at the moment or any suggestions?
At the moment, No. But we are looking into seeing what we can do right now. Soon, we will hopefully be able to do more. But we are looking into it right now to see where we can come in to help address this issue.
Any other last words you want to add?
I want to encourage women to continue to do what we can, support our men, support our children, and believe in ourselves that we too can do it.
QUOTE: Be content with what you have, at the same time, don’t be content, especially when you see that things are not going the way they should, with mediocrity or with things that you feel could be better.