The Chairman of board and executive members of the Christian Association of Nigerian Americans, CANAN has expressed their heartfelt condolence over the passing of eminent Nigerian public health practitioner, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.
Osotimehin, a Nigerian-born doctor who led the United Nations’ population agency, where he promoted public health and sexual and reproductive rights and services for women and girls, died June 4 at his home in West Harrison, New York, He was 68.
In a statement signed by the Executive Director of CANAN, Dr. Ade Oyesile, the association stated that the passing of the health professor is a big loss not only to Nigeria, but also to Africa and the global community.
The association described the late Osotimehin as one who, “strived to enhance global leadership for public health, youth empowerment and gender equality.”
According to CANAN, Osotimehin’s conviction that access to quality health care should be an integral part of what we define as human rights, is a thread that ran throughout his professional career, from his academic contributions to various prestigious institutions, to his service as Minister of Health in Nigeria, and in particular during his rich tenure as Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA.”
In particular, the association pointed out that through his foray in global health, Osotimehin drew international attention to Africa’s potential demographic dividend and worked closely with high-level government officials all over the continent to ensure that the opportunity for economic and social advancement was seized by their respective countries. He served as Co-Chair of the Family Planning 2020, a global partnership that works with governments, civil society, donors, the private sector, and the research and development community to enable 120 million more women and girls to use contraceptives by 2020 as well as the Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Population Dynamics, the CANAN statement added.
Describing his achievements as unparalleled, the CANAN Executive Director regretted the sudden loss of a man “greatly respected among his peers, a visionary leader and champion for the most marginalized.”
The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, the last place he was serving as Executive Director until his death called his death “a devastating loss” for the agency “and for the people, especially women, girls and youth, he dedicated his life to serving.”
Born on February 6, 1949, in Ogun State, Nigeria, Osotimehin attended Igbobi College between 1966 and 1971. After his medical studies at University of Ibadan, he received a doctorate in medicine from the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, in 1979.
Prior to his appointment at the United Nations Population Fund, the late Osotimehin served as the Minister of Health of Nigeria. Before that, he was the Director-General of the Nigerian National Agency for the Control of AIDS, an agency that coordinates all HIV and AIDS work in a country with more than 150 million people.
As chairman of the National Action Committee on AIDS (NACA) he oversaw the development of systems that manages over US$1billion. During his tenure as Project Manager for the World-Bank assisted HIV/AIDS Program Development Project from 2002–2008, he achieved great success.
Among others, a key outcome during the period Osotimehin served as Minister of Health included the dramatic reduction in the number of reported cases of wild polio virus in Nigeria. The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledged that 90 percent of the progress made in the effort to eradicate polio worldwide in 2009 was attributable to Nigeria’s achievements alone.
Additionally, a major landmark programme that was spearheaded by the Ministry of Health under his leadership and guidance was the National Malaria Control Programme. At the time, Nigeria had the largest burden of disease for malaria in Africa that immediately prompted the late Osotimehin to prioritize the urgent mobilization of resources to address this major public health issue.
These advocacy efforts led to the raising of approximately $1 billion from different sources to devote to this critical issue. He proposed that part of these funds be used to distribute two insecticide-treated bed nets per Nigerian household (equalling 63 million nets). By the time he left office, the Ministry of Health had distributed 22 million nets and the process remains actively ongoing. In addition to the nets, the raised funds were used to provide free medication to pregnant women and children suffering from malaria and the implementation of other preventative measures.
Commenting on his death, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said that “the world has lost a great champion of health and well-being for all.”
He was married with five children.