Visiting The Biggest City in Africa

How far? (Naija slang for “What’s up?”)

It’s been a busy few weeks since I last blogged, but I’ve inadvertently created some time to write due to a technology meltdown. As a result, I’m currently sat at GSK in Lagos while the IT heroes do their thing to my laptop.

This is actually the second time I’ve been to Lagos since I’ve been on PULSE, but before I explain why I was here the first time, I’ll explain a bit more about the project I am working on.

Nutrition is one of the newer projects CHAI is looking at, with a specific focus on promoting optimal nutrition in the first 1000 days of life, from conception to when the child is 24 months old. The first part of this is ensuring the mother is well nourished during pregnancy, then promoting exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, then ensuring care givers are supplementing breast milk with high-quality complementary foods between 6 and 24 months. In Nigeria, high stunting rates indicate that this is not happening to the same levels as other nations.

Market in Lagos, Lagos State

Roadside Market in Lagos, Lagos State

Suitable complementary food products do exist in the Nigerian market, but these are often imported (not always to local tastes), expensive, and not widely distributed. Families cannot purchase them feed them to feed their children, and instead rely on carb-heavy porridge, lacking necessary proteins and micro-nutrients. CHAI want to improve access to complementary foods to ensure that the next generation is able to grow, thrive and fulfill their potential.

I have joined the project at a very early stage, scoping, which is all about assessing the potential to make an intervention to improve access and understand the best way to do that. My colleagues at CHAI before I joined spoke to the families to understand what they want and what are the barriers to demand, and now a big part of my role is to understand the complementary feeding market. What products are available, how much they cost, where they are available and how they are getting there. If we can understand this, we can understand what are causing the barriers to supply, for instance why they can’t get to rural areas, and then use this information to decide how to intervene if warranted.

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Apologies for the blurry photo, but I’d love to see the GSK Regs teams’ thoughts on the claims on these teas! My doctor has advised me I still need to take my Malaria pills though sadly.

That brings me to Lagos, where I visited with my colleague Mayowa, to understand the market for infant feeding in the South-West of the Country (and also the biggest city in Nigeria, and indeed Africa, with 21m people). I spent a week here, also taking in Ibadan in Oyo State, which is the 3rd biggest city (3.5m people) and only 3 hours drive from Lagos. It was great having Mayowa with me, as he is a born and bred Lagosian there were times when the fact he spoke Yoruba was really helpful.

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Agbini Market, Ibadan, Oyo State. Look in the background for how busy it was, I’d never Ag-bi-niwhere so busy (sorry).

It’s hard to explain how different Lagos is from Abuja. Lagos is an incredibly busy place, twice as dense as London, with no spare space that isn’t taken up with people, vehicles and if nothing else, rubbish. Abuja is spacious, clean and more laid back, reflecting its status as a new, planned city. I had a great time exploring both Lagos and Ibadan,  I got to see packed markets with people and goods everywhere, modern shopping malls just like Westfield in London (malls in Abuja tend to be half-vacant and quiet), and had a whistle-stop tour of the Lagos nightlife, courtesy of a GSK colleague on placement in Lagos, a friend of a colleague that I had met in Abuja, and an old University American Football teammate, Tobi, who I hadn’t seen in 7 years.

Nottingham Outlaws AFC 08/09 Reunion at Hard Rock Café, Lagos

Nottingham Outlaws AFC 08/09 Reunion at Hard Rock Café, Lagos. VI Beach in the background.

When we were in Lagos, as it is the commercial capital of Nigeria, we also met with a number of key nationwide retailers and distributors to understand their challenges, and it was really encouraging to see how happy people are to help and give up their time for the good of the health of the nation, from market traders trying to get by day to day, to very busy buyers of key retailers. It seems I am destined to spend my time in buyer meetings wherever I am in the world, although these ones were very different to what I am used to.

A tiring week of hard work, being on the road, and a late night on my last night in town, meant I was glad to get back to Abuja on Sunday, which, on my return, really felt like home.

Last week I attended a meeting to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, and I was enamored with my new breastfeeding hat and t-shirt. Brilliantly modeled below by my colleagues at CHAI, Deborah and Paulette.

World Breastfeeding Week Launch, Abuja (L-R) Me, Paulette, Deborah

World Breastfeeding Week conference, Abuja
(L-R) Me, Paulette, Deborah

I’m acquiring quite the collection of T-shirts now, the breastfeeding one acompanies my Goal Initiative (a charity aiming to help Nigerian kids through sport) T-shirt, that I won in the easiest penalty competition of all time at a community BBQ event in Abuja.

Kevin from Village Reach and I with our Goal Initiative swag

Kevin from Village Reach and I with our Goal Initiative swag

I’ve got to go and catch a plane back to Abuja now, as Akinbode from GSK Lagos has fixed my laptop, so I’ll leave it there. Thank you Akinbode for fixing my laptop and thank you all for reading.

Speak soon,

Alex