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Leadership in maternal and newborn health: Dr Yashua Alkali Hamza, Nigeria


published 2 August 2013

Dr Yashua Alkali Hamza is a leader for change in newborn and child health in Nigeria. As Head of Paediatrics in the country’s busiest hospital, the Murtala Muhammed, Yashua fought through stigma against HIV and conservative attitudes towards female leaders to set up one of the first Centres for the care of families with HIV/AIDS.

Since then, she has gained multiple awards for her work in improving the health of children, including the Pediatric Association of Nigeria award, and has become a driving force for leadership development as the Maternal Health Young Champions Programme in Nigeria Programme Director.

“A good leader can’t realise change on their own. Open your mind up to ideas from others and you will be surprised what you can achieve.”

Dr Yashua Alkali Hamza

The secret of her leadership success? Maximising the potential of those around her.

“We had a lot of cases of children coming in middle of night but we didn’t have any medicines in emergency room. We had to give prescriptions to the parents to take to the pharmacy. By the time they had gone to get the medicines and come back, it could be too late. So a staff member of hospital said why don’t we (the department) put some money together and buy some [medicines] and once everything is settled they can buy it back so we can replace it? I thought, that’s not a bad idea! So with very little money we put some supplies in a box and used it for years. After a while the government heard about it and it’s now in all hospitals and has been for the last 8 years. It saves lives and I’m very proud of that.“

Passion for improving health

Yashua’s passion for improving the health and survival of children started as a medical student when she volunteered as an intern at the Murtala Muhammad specialist hospital located in the populous northern Nigerian town of Kano. “I was exposed to the local communities and saw what preventative medicine could do. It was a turning point in my life.”

Overcoming gender issues

Despite being a woman in a conservative society Yashua’s hard work and dogged determination saw her rise to a Consultant and Head of the Department of Pediatrics at the Murtala Muhammad hospital. “I was the only female Head of Department. It wasn’t easy but if you work very hard and achieve results, people don’t seem to mind that you are female…people just look at the hard work.”

Never giving up

It was during this time that she fought the stigma against HIV to successfully set up one of the first Family Centers for the care of families with HIV/AIDS.  “Getting staff was hard. People didn’t want to be involved…we had problems getting in touch with other hospital departments as they wouldn’t have our patients.”

Through support from the government and Non-Governmental Organisations (Global HIV/AIDs Initiative and Clinton Foundation), Yashua managed to get staff for the Centre through the Association of people living with HIV and AIDS, a vibrant support group of people living with HIV. New staff were trained to be counselors, undertake HIV tests and do outreach work. “I had to keep my eyes on the end goal to get through these barriers. It takes determination, stubbornness and never giving up.”

We all have the capacity to make change happen

As Director for the Maternal Health Young Champions Programme, Yashua mentors young Nigerians working to improve the health of mothers and children. Yashua’s abilities to mentor and encourage those around her have clearly helped her achieve such inspirational success in family health care.

“We all have leadership qualities. You have to believe in yourself and believe you can do it. Do not get discouraged. You will meet hurdles but keep moving on. Whatever your passion, keep going.”