GHAI Nigeria Coordinator Emmanuel Alhassan speaks at the first-ever #PreventEpidemicsNaija Journalism Award ceremony hosted by Nigeria Health Watch on January 30, 2021, in Abuja. Photo by: Nigeria Health Watch
Nigeria has taken important steps to improve epidemic preparedness in recent years. It assessed its capacity to prevent, detect and rapidly respond to public health threats; developed a national action plan to fill preparedness gaps; and designated one federal agency, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), to oversee preparedness and response.
Despite growing public and political awareness of the need for epidemic preparedness, efforts long went underfunded, perpetuating a reliance on support from international partners, such as the World Bank and U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and domestic donors such as the United Bank for Africa and wealthy philanthropists including Aliko Dangote.
The Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) has been supporting civil society organizations in Nigeria since 2018 to advocate for domestic investments in preparedness, including Nigeria Health Watch (NHW), the Legislative Initiative for Sustainable Development (LISDEL), and BudgIT – with success: NCDC’s federal appropriations more than doubled, from 1.4 billion Naira for fiscal 2019 to 2.93 billion in fiscal 2021, and the country’s second-most populous state, Kano, created a 300 million Naira budget line for epidemic preparedness and response (EPR) and increased EPR spending at the local level.
Emmanuel Alhassan has been coordinating GHAI’s efforts in Nigeria since 2018. We asked him about his work and advice for fellow advocates eager to prevent the spread of diseases and other health threats.
How have civil society organizations helped to pave the way for Nigeria’s historic recent investments in epidemic preparedness?
Civil society organizations have played a critical role in galvanizing the momentum needed for substantial investments in epidemic preparedness in Nigeria. GHAI has been supporting civil society in Nigeria since 2018, and they have succeeded in framing epidemic preparedness as a public health priority through a multifaceted campaign.
We have worked with our partners to organize roundtable discussions, field trips and other activities to educate political leaders and their staff about the importance of epidemic preparedness and generate their commitment to filling preparedness gaps. Our partners also leveraged public health coalitions and other stakeholders to cultivate and empower preparedness champions. Some of these champions were honored earlier this year at the first-ever #PreventEpidemicsNaija Journalism Award ceremony hosted by NHW, and the Health Security Champion Award ceremony hosted by LISDEL in collaboration with BudgIT and NHW.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected public health advocates in Nigeria?
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that we all share a common humanity and provided an opportunity for public health advocates to highlight the cost-benefits of preparedness. However, sustained advocacy is needed to ensure that long-term investments are made beyond immediate crises.
What advice would you give advocates who are pushing to overcome the pandemic and prevent the next disease spread?
I would like to highlight the importance of budget advocacy in the work done by advocates because domestic funding is critical to epidemic preparedness and response.
Our work in Nigeria suggests that:
- Leadership by local civil society is critical to developing effective coalitions and successful advocacy campaigns.
- Civil society advocates can maximize their potential when they are provided with financial and technical support.
- Advocates should engage high-level political decision-makers — such as ministers of health, budget and finance — as early as possible in a campaign.
- Political decision-makers are more likely to support funding proposals backed by evidence and can be effective policy champions among government peers.
- Sustained media coverage can help to frame epidemic preparedness as a national priority.
- Journalism workshops and webinars are effective tools to catalyze media coverage and generate support for epidemic preparedness funding.
You have worked in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. What’s one lesson you’ve learned that guides your work to this day?
Strive to be and do the best in whatever you do but more importantly, build, nurture and maintain good relationships.
You serve as a senior lecturer at Nasarawa State University in Abuja. What interests you in teaching?
It provides a unique opportunity to share and learn! To share knowledge, skills and experiences and learn new insights, particularly from the younger generation.
Emmanuel Alhassan will participate in a virtual event hosted by GHAI on May 25, 2021, titled “Public Health Advocacy After the Pandemic.” Please click here to find out how you can participate in the event.