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Chioma Ezenyimulu lifts healthcare with brilliance, elegance, hardwork

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ON THE base of brilliance, Chioma Nkemdirim Ezenyimulu stands out. In beauty she dazzles. She is also woman of virtue, wife, mother and lover of her husband. Mrs. Ezenyimulu,  a medical doctor, is the Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer, Anambra State Primary Healthcare Development Agency, (ASPHCDA). She believes that medicine is life while primary healthcare is the base. No nation is healthy  without having a strong foundation in primary healthcare .

She had always wanted to be a medical doctor, even as a kid. Her choice for medicine was born out of desire to help humanity. To help relieve pain associated with illness and improve the quality of lives. Her love for primary healthcare, which is the first port of call for healthcare, was to mitigate health challenges which can affect the majority of a person’s health throughout his or her life.       

Anambra State Primary Healthcare Development Agency was created in 2015. It serves to coordinate all primary healthcare activities in the state. Before now, primary healthcare in the state was in the purview of the local government administration. The agency is into programmes such as immunization, nutrition, integrated management of childhood illnesses, health education, maternal and child health and a host of other health programmes. Dr. Ezenyimulu has directed the affairs of the agency since its creation. Her vision for ASPHCDA is for the agency to be frontrunner in Nigeria in offering quality healthcare services, which will be accessible and affordable to ndi Anambra. Her dream of Anambra is for the state to have the best physical infrastructure and health facilities in Nigeria, where there will be no need for medical tourism abroad.

She attributes the university environment where she grew up as a factor to her rise, especially the impact of her late mother, the late Madam Gloria Ofo, former Deputy University Librarian in charge of University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, whom she described as the greatest influence in her life. “She was an epitome and embodiment of everything I would love to be in terms of professionalism: beauty, hard work, independence, charity and spirituality.

“She brought me up to all that I am today. I would always remember her. She was my first contact with the world. My mother was the first to nurture and taught me values. She kept guiding me all through the stages of my life. Even when I got married, my mother was still there. That selfless attitude of a mother is what I would want to emulate.”  

The late Prof. Dora Akunyili was another influence in her life. A role model for what she did at NAFDAC. “She was able to change the system at that time not minding whose ox is gored. I love what she did in the drug industry. That period was when the country had high prevalence of fake and adulterated drugs. It was a menace and people were dying from it. It really overwhelmed the system but she was able to change and get things done rightly.”

Dr. Ezenyimulu recalls her childhood as loving. As the only child of her mother, she just had to ask for anything and she would have it. “My mother made sure despite her income bracket that I was properly nurtured. I was able to travel abroad, even as a child, so it was something I loved. My good childhood experience was when I went to London. I think I was about six years old. It was lovely travelling abroad and seeing all those things we read in fairy tales. It was an experience I wouldn’t forget.”

But an aspect of her childhood resonates with laughter anytime she recalls it. It was in her primary school days, she remembered always practicing with her classmates for a dance group. “We had one of us who was our leader at that time. Every break period, she would gather us and we would keep on practicing. Up till now, we never presented the dance anywhere. We would always come to school with our wrappers to practice and rehearse during break periods but never got the opportunity to present the dance anywhere.

“I don’t even know whether the school had any idea that we had been rehearsing for a dance. It was something we religiously did every school day for a long time. We are all grown, and whenever we meet and remember it, we laugh over it.”

Dr. Ezenyimulu’s love for medicine started with her primary education at University School, University of Nigeria Nsukka. Federal Government Girl’s College, Owerri, was the destination for her secondary school education. She proceeded to University of Nigeria Nsukka, where she graduated with a degree in Medicine and Surgery. Thirst for further knowledge took her to the University of Lagos, where she obtained a master’s degree in Public Health and Certificate from Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, on  Healthcare Project Management.

Under the National Youths Service Corps programme, she did her youths service at 68 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital Yaba, Lagos, bagging NYSC Award for Outstanding Contribution Lagos Mainland LGA. Her first employment after her youth service was as Medical Officer at Agnes and Ephraim Medical Centre, Soluyi, Gbagada, Lagos. She left Agnes and Ephraim to join HYGEIA Health Management Organisation Ltd Worksite Clinics, overseeing NBC Ikeja, Airtel Call Centre Iganmu, and Chevron Oil Apapa, where she rose to Head, Provider Administration Department. She left HYGEIA Health Management Organisation to join Bank PHB (Keystone Bank) Healthcare Ltd. She resigned from Bank PHB Healthcare for her residency programme at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) as Resident Doctor (Registrar Radiology).

Recognising her drive to be outstanding in any assigned responsibility, Governor Obiano on 10th April, 2014, appointed her his Special Assistant on Primary Healthcare and was elevated to Senior Special Assistant on the same portfolio same year. The need for integrated and efficient primary healthcare service delivery came with the establishment of ASPHCDA on 17th February, 2015, she was made the Executive Secretary/CEO till date. She has been with Gov. Obiano administration since inception, buttressing how the state government values her contributions to the growth and development of the state.

Under her management of ASPHCDA, Anambra State came first in immunization nationwide in 2018. The state qualified for the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund, which is one percent of the consolidated revenue of the federation. “We were able to qualify because we met the criteria of primary healthcare under one roof, among other criteria. We have accessed the fund and it has come in. We are waiting to disburse the funds after we have trained the health facilities on how to budget and retire the funds.”

“We carry out our flagship programmes twice a year. We do the National Immunization Plus Days (NIPDs). We also do the Maternal Newborn and Child Health Week. We do it twice a year. This is an initiative from the federal government whereby we carry out primary healthcare intervention at the facility level for women and children, whereby we carry out immunization, Vitamin A supplementation, nutrition, antenatal care, we also do deworming, breast-feeding initiative hand washing. We have a lot that we have been doing.”

The agency has been able to renovate 63 primary healthcare centres in the state, three per local government in line with Governor Obiano’s vision to tackle infrastructure, equipment, and staffing in the health centres. “We have been able to equip these health centres. They were given their basic health equipment and furniture, including the Keke Ambulances, refrigerators, generating sets. We hope to achieve more by the time the health facilities begin to access the fund. We are happy that under the leadership of Governor Obiano, we were able to record success in a short time.”    

Every challenge and experience for Dr. Ezenyimulu is for a purpose, she wouldn’t have wished things were done differently. “I used to have such thoughts before but now with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t think there is anything I would have loved to do differently in the past. Because each experience was for a reason and at the end of the day, it was a blessing. So, I give thanks to God that right now, I don’t have any regrets.”

Supposing she is not serving the state, she would love to be practicing primary healthcare. But in this case, a primary health clinic facility where people can come in for treatment and get advice on health issues with touch of advocacy and sensitisation, because a lot of illnesses can be prevented if people know the right thing to do, the right things to eat and the right lifestyle to adopt. So these are the things I would want to be doing.

In her undertaking, her guiding principles is to depend on God and keep His commandments. “If you read Matthew 11:28, the Bible says “Come on to me, all you that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take upon me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. So, if we are able to keep God’s commandments, He will make things easy for us because that’s what he has promised and that’s what He will do . So, my philosophy about life is to hand over every aspect of my life to God and watch him take control of things for us.

Dr. Ezenyimulu’s work ethics anchors on punctuality, integrity, honesty, conscientiousness, and selflessness. She is put off by deceit; she would rather always want to deal with people who are truthful and forthright. She views her appointment as a call to service, a call to come home and contribute her own quota to the development of the state.

She described Gov. Obiano as a man that saw tomorrow. “With him, we have seen that it’s possible to have the best in the state, best in terms of security, where citizens are safe. I have some colleagues in other states that have to move around with armed security. These are not government officials but doctors working in private hospitals.”    

 “It is that bad where doctors can be kidnapped. I don’t take it for granted that we are enjoying security in Anambra State. This is a product of a visionary leader. A leader that is able to pay salary on time. This is not attainable in some states. I know some of my colleagues who are owned months of salary arrears. He has shown that it is possible to get Nigeria working again. He is a visionary, forthright and team leader, where everybody is at the same pace pushing towards the same goal. He is a leader that someone should emulate.”  

Dr. Ezenyimulu is an Associate Fellow of the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria (Radiology), Member, Radiological Society Of North America (RSNA). She was honoured with Award of Excellence by Orsumoghu Development Union, Ambassador’s Award by St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Orsumoghu. She is a recipient of ASA Women USA Award for Cancer Leadership: Cancer Care Award. Rotary Club of Awka Metropolis honoured her with Professional Excellence Service Award in recognition of her outstanding and selfless contributions to the development of healthcare delivery in Anambra State. While the Nigeria Red Cross Society, Anambra State, bestowed on her pillar of Solferino for Humanity

In her husband, Chief Chris Ezenyimulu (Odogwu Orsumoghu), she saw everything that complements her. “As an only child of my mother, my husband became an embodiment of my brother, father, adviser, everything; so, I just fell in love with him. He is considerate, gentle, kind and a wonderful person.” They are married with two children.

Dr. Ezenyimulu would want to be remembered as a woman who brought change to the system, made things better regarding healthcare in Anambra State and Nigeria, besides helping the less privileged.

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