Professor John Alechenu Idoko

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One name that has become synonymous with Nigeria’s fight against the HIV/AIDS scourge since the 1990s is that of Idoma born Professor John Alechenu Idoko.

Bright Oglewu Boy

Born in Aigaji-Oglewu on 28th August 1950, Idoko attended St. Mary’s Primary School Otukpo and Idoma Native Authority (Idoma NA) Primary School Otobi (now LGEA Primary School Otobi) between 1957 and 1963. 

In 1964, he got into St. Francis College, Otukpo, graduating in 1968 with Grade 1 with Distinction in the West African School Certificate (WASC) Ordinary Level (O-Level) examination. His WASC performance won him the award for best graduating student of 1968 class, justifying the confidence imposed in him by late Mr. Regis Kanagasuntherie (1937 - 2019), his mathematics tutor, who spent time providing Idoko with extra lessons in mathematics and physics. 

In the 1960s, a Higher School Certificate (HSC) was a prerequisite for University education; therefore Idoko proceeded to Inter-Regional Secondary School, Sokoto (now Federal Government College Sokoto) from 1969 to 1970 for his Advanced Level (A-Level). At Sokoto, Idoko once again excelled, winning physics prize for his excellent A-Level result.

After his A-Level, there was only one course Idoko was going to read in University and that was Medicine, as his dream from the age of 7 was to become a doctor.  So in 1971, Idoko accepted an offer of admission from Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU) Zaria and would realise his childhood dream in 1976 when he graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree, winning the Glaxo prize for best graduating student in Paediatrics and taking the Hippocratic Oath. At ABU, he was taught by authorities such as Prof Sir Eldryd Hugh Owen Parry, Prof Sir Brian Mellor Greenwood and Prof G. M. Edington. He was mentored by two renowned experts in infectious diseases, Prof Hilton Carter Whittle and Prof Sir Brian Mellor Greenwood and it was no surprise that he would later choose to specialise in Infectious Diseases/Immunology of Infections.

The Lure of Academic Medicine

After a one-year internship (housemanship) at Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Zaria and another year completing his NYSC programme in Anambra State, Idoko could have easily picked a job in a government or private hospital but the lure of academic medicine and the flare of research were too much for him to ignore. 

In 1978, Idoko became a Resident Doctor, carrying out a Residency (postgraduate training to become a Consultant) in Internal Medicine of the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, graduating in 1983 with the Fellowship of the National Postgraduate College in Physic (FMCP). He would later have further postgraduate training from 1986 to 1987 as a Commonwealth Research Fellow at the prestigious London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where he studied under Professor Keith Adams, world renowned physician and clinical immunologist. His choice of specialisation in Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease was informed by a desire to help reduce scourge of infectious diseases from developing countries like Nigeria and also since 70% of diseases in the world are from infectious diseases contracted from animals.

Following the successful completion of his residency programme, Idoko was appointed Consultant Physician / Lecturer at ABUTH in 1984 rising to Consultant Physician / Senior Lecturer in 1987. In 1989, he transferred his service from ABUTH to Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) as a Consultant Physician. In 1990, he became the Head of Department (HOD) of Medicine at University of Jos, a position he held until 1993, making him the first Idoma person to head a Department of Medicine in a Nigerian University. It was during his time as HOD, that he was made a Professor of Medicine in 1992 and in the process setting another record as the second Professor of Medicine from Idoma land.

In 1994, he was appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) Administration at University of Jos and some of the leadership skills he picked up from being a member of the Debating Society and Science Club at St Francis College and Inter-Regional Secondary School respectively would help him succeed during his time as DVC, where his efforts led to improved provision of key services to not just academic staff and students but to the University community as a whole.

HIV/AIDS Fighter

After his tenure as DVC ended in 1998, Prof Idoko who had been a HIV Infection Consultant since 1995, returned to research work, which he loved very much because in his words, “you can harvest the result of research, translate it into action to solve the health problem called translational research”.  His key areas of research were Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), Hepatitis Co-Infection, Tuberculosis, and Social/Behavioural Issues in HIV. These research works and his involvement with AIDS Prevention Initiative (APIN), of which he is a Director, brought Prof Idoko to the attention national and international bodies and governments.

Prof Idoko was Special Consultant to the Petroleum Special Trust Fund (PTF) and from 2001 to 2009; he was Chairman Nigerian National Antiretroviral Committee. In April 2009, he was appointed Director General, National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), the co-ordinating body for all activities relating to the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. He held this position until July 2016 and during his time as Director General, the profile of NACA grew tremendously as the agency under his leadership carried out numerous programmes and initiatives. Some of NACA’s achievements with him at the helm include:

  1. Successfully campaigning for the de-stigmatisation of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, which culminated in the signing into law in February 2015 of the “HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Act” by the then president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan
  2. Making anti-retroviral drugs easily accessible to people living with HIV/Aids by doubling the numbers of sites providing these drugs
  3. Increasing the number of HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) centres by more than 500
  4. Development of a digital data collection and reporting platform for all HIV service delivery facilities in the country, in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Health
  5. Strengthening the capacity of NACA to carry-out its activities by creating the right organisational structure within the agency and recruiting competent and qualified staff
  6. Partnering with some telecoms companies and  banks to set up National Call Centre for HIV and Related Diseases in Abuja
  7. Increasing the number of Youth Friendly Centres in Nigerian universities thereby bringing preventive education closer to undergraduates, again in partnership with a bank and telecoms company
  8. Bringing the national prevalence of HIV from 4.8% in 2008 to 1.4% in 2016

Other Prof Idoko’s career highlights include being Co-Chair, West African Infectious Diseases Institute (WAIDI); Principal Investigator, Nigerian Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Research Program (2012 to 2018, a programme supported by George Town University and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation); Member, WHO Core Team of the Adult Guidelines for the Antiretroviral Treatment Committee (2011); Member, Governing Council of the International AIDS Society (IAS) (2012 to 2016); President, Society for AIDS in Africa (elected in 2018 on a 4-year term); Adjunct Professor, Northwestern University Chicago, USA; Chairman, Board of KNCV Nigeria 2020 and Member of Governing Council, Federal University of Health Sciences, Otukpo.

Prof Idoko who believes so much in the power of mentorship, has provided guidance to many young doctors in service and academics including research, because he sees mentoring as a responsibility that senior and more experienced people in all fields should undertake to help young professionals realise their full potentials. His advice to young doctors is that they should be disciplined, dedicated and committed to the medicine so that they can make a difference as they set out to serve humanity.

Prof Idoko, who has more than 100 publications to his name was the President of Nigerian AIDS Research Network, from 2002 to 2008; is a Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Sciences and Nigerian Academy of Medicine. He is also a member of Nigeria Medical Association, NMA and Idoma Medical Doctors Foundation. In June 2019, Prof Idoko was a recipient of the 2019 US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Heroes award, in recognition of his continued efforts and contributions to control the spread of HIV in Nigeria.

Giving Back to the Community

Football loving Prof Idoko, who has a passion for the development of the education, health and economy of Idoma land, always identifies with the Idoma community anywhere he finds himself and is actively involved in many community activities; chief among them is the Apa Educational Foundation, which has been at the forefront of the push behind the establishment of the Federal University of Health Sciences, Otukpo.

Prof Idoko is married to Dr Lucy Idoko, a public health physician and their union is blessed with four (4) children.

References
  1. National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) Scorecard under Prof John Idoko, African Leadership Magazine. Available from https://www.africanleadershipmagazine.co.uk/national-agency-for-the-control-of-aids-naca-score-card-under-prof-john-idoko/. [Accessed 29 June 2020]
  2. Idoko, J. A., 2020. Written interview. Interviewed by Ijachi Odeh. [email] contact@idomaland.org, 28 June 2020
  3. Professor John Idoko, Strategies for Improving Diabetes Care in Nigeria (SIDCAIN). Available from http://sidcain.org/index.php/2010/10/21/professor-john-idoko/  [Accessed 04 February 2020]
  4. Executive Members, Society for AIDS in Africa. Available from https://saafrica.org/new/executive-members/. [Accessed 04 February 2020]
  5. HIV and AIDS Anti-Discrimination Bill signed by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR, Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH). Available from https://arfh-ng.org/hiv-aids-anti-discrimination-bill-signed-president-goodluck-ebele-jonathan-gcfr/. [Accessed 04 February 2020]
  6. History of NACA, National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA). Available from https://naca.gov.ng/history-of-naca/. [Accessed 04 February 2020]
  7. PEPFAR Heroes Awards, U.S. Embassy & Consulate in Nigeria. Available from https://ng.usembassy.gov/pepfar-heroes-awards/. [Accessed 04 February 2020]
  8. John Alechenu Idoko, Nigeria, The International AIDS Society (IAS). Available from http://www.iasociety.org/Web/WebContent/File/Bios/John_Idoko.pdf. [Accessed 28 March 2013]