Mark Naison



INTERVIEWER: Jane Kani Edwards

INTERVIEWEE: Carmelle Norice

SUMMARY BY: Patrick O’Donnell

Keywords: Columbia School of Nursing, National Institute of Health, Redeemed Christian Church of God, Nigerian “brain drain,” health care infrastructure in West Africa, Build AfReCa, Nigerians in the Bronx, Nigerian diaspora, international pharmaceutical companies, charitable organizations

Carmelle Norice is an African-American graduate student at Columbia University School of Nursing who is involved in a number of projects to improve African health care. She is originally from Los Angeles, CA. Her parents are of Southern stock (her mother’s side is from Arkansas and her father’s is from Texas), and they met in the ‘70’s as first-generation college students in LA. Upon graduating from UCLA, Carmelle went to DC for a year to take a medical research position at the National Institute of Health. There she began attending a mixed African/African-American church in Silver Spring, MD, and she first became interested in West Africa. After her year in DC, she enrolled at Columbia and began attending the Redeemed Christian Church of God, another African/African-American church in the Bronx. During this time, she became especially interested in Nigeria. Many of the members of the church are Yoruba, so the services are in a combination of English and Yoruba.

Norice says that there are a number of problems plaguing healthcare in Nigeria. First is the “brain drain” phenomenon: Nigeria’s best minds frequently leave in order to pursue better health care jobs in the US or in other countries. Second, many of the efforts dedicated to improving Nigerian healthcare, such as ensuring better access to medicine and eliminating deadly viruses, turn out to be charity campaigns which merely give Nigerians supplies without doing any real work to foster a autonomous health care infrastructure in the country. Correspondingly, Carmelle is involved with a number of projects dedicated to building up Nigerian health care in such a way that both problems are solved. One of her projects, eHealth Global, is an initiative dedicated to facilitating contact between Nigerian Diasporans involved in healthcare and their countrymen and women back home. Norice’s goal is to allow health care professionals to interact with their patients through videoconferencing. She hopes to test the system out at two Nigerian hospitals. Her second project is called “Build AfReCa,” which is a pseudo-acronym for “AFrican Research Capacity.” Build AfReCa is committed to training Africans to do the research necessary to synthesize, market, and distribute drugs to those who need them. Right now, Africa must rely on charitable organizations or major pharmaceutical companies to either give or sell them the drugs. The problem, of course, is that frequently the drugs are too expensive, or the charitable organizations are unable to give Africans what they need when they need it. Build AfReCa’s goal is to recruit and train enough professionals until the enterprise becomes self-sustaining: by training local professionals, perhaps the organization will become large and successful enough so that some of the professionals who left Africa will be motivated to return to the continent.