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‘Accidental Journalist’ Takes on Noncommunicable Diseases
March 4, 2015

Woman holding microphone before another woman (Courtesy of Adanma Odefa)
Adanma Odefa, left, interviews the head of the health center in Okondi, Nigeria.

Adanma Odefa considers herself an “accidental journalist.”

She looked forward to a career in law. But when she was 26 and just starting out as a lawyer, her father died. “My whole world shifted,” she said, when she realized he died because neither he nor his doctors recognized the symptoms of diabetes and hypertension. Later, “when I learned my dad could have lived for decades on end, I was angry. Then I turned my anger about his death into resolve,” she said.

Odefa said her father was a major influence on her life. “I became a lawyer because he wanted me to be one. I founded my public health nonprofit with primary focus on diabetes because he died of diabetes. I am in TV broadcasting … my dad studied mass communications in university,” she recalled.

“My father felt that a good education as best as he could afford was the biggest debt he owed me as a father.”

Man cutting tape as others look on (Courtesy of Adanma Odefa)
Odefa, right, looks on as a representative of Nigeria’s government cuts a ribbon signaling the opening of a secondary school building outside Abuja.

The exposure Odefa received after starting her nonprofit brought her to the attention of producers at Africa Independent Television, who asked her to join a morning talk show. The show helped her reach a wide audience with public health messages. “When I saw how effective the media was in sending out my message, I became a broadcaster,” the “accidental journalist” continued.

“Part of my message is to go and have a checkup,” she said, adding that her nonprofit provides, at no cost, checkups, body mass evaluations and counseling. “We talk to people about prevention, prevention, prevention,” through changes in diet, hygiene practices and lifestyle, she said. “It’s a lot cheaper to prevent than to treat.”

Nigeria’s ministry of health invited her to become part of a committee charged with drafting a national policy on noncommunicable diseases. From there, she was appointed to a working group for the 2011 United Nations high-level meeting on the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases, which include diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases.

Chronic noncommunicable diseases are steadily increasing around the world, and 80 percent of deaths attributed to them occur in developing countries, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

“We used to think that public health was a wealthy population problem,” Odefa said. “But it’s not. It is becoming a bigger problem, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where people are not necessarily wealthy but are becoming diabetic. … Hypertension is a big killer and is on the increase.”

With access to television messaging, Odefa wanted to go after another problem — that of a lack of secondary education for orphans. In 2013 she organized an on-air fundraising drive that brought in enough money to build a secondary school building on the outskirts of Abuja.

And with her television station’s backing, she raised funds to upgrade a children’s clinic in Kaduna. That led to an ongoing relationship between the station and the clinic, she said.

“I almost forget I’m a lawyer,” she said. “This life of community service is so exciting.”

The YALI Network, Odefa said, “has proven to be a good virtual meeting point for young Africans with bright ideas. It gives me … the feeling that I am not alone in my efforts and can always find support in others like me who are keen on promoting the common good.”

“My advice to other YALI members and potential members is to be consistent, put others first, be passionate and be true to your efforts.”

Interested in Odefa’s work? Learn how you can stop, reflect, and verify on our YALIChecks page. And find out more about promoting a healthier Africa on our YALICares page.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.