Filled with a burning desire to help fellow Nigerians, and other Africans improve their health, Nnenna Kalu Makanjuola set out to publish Radiant Health magazine. But the journey to becoming a magazine publisher hasn’t been without its challenges for the Pharmacist and Public Health expert. She shares her insightful and inspiring story with us.
What got you interested in Health for Women?
You can say I fell into it. I didn’t quite set out to focus on women’s health but over the years, it’s been my observation that women tend to be more proactive about seeking health care and also seem to be in charge of health care decisions for their families. This is true in my own personal circles, community and even in my professional settings in healthcare. Interestingly, at least in the West, there are studies to actually back this up. At some point in my career, a turn of events led me to work in women’s health and that’s when it all started to come together.
Interesting! How did those turn of events change your perspective on health with Nigerian women?
From a young age, I’ve always been interested in population health though I didn’t have a name for it at the time. My father was diagnosed with a heart disease when I was quite young and when I was about 11 or so he needed a lifesaving surgery that couldn’t be done in Nigeria, which he eventually got it in the U.S. But when he came back to Nigeria, the follow-up care was very challenging for us — the drugs still had to come from the U.S. and he had to travel to a teaching hospital for labs and general care. It was during this period that I got interested in population health. The experience ultimately informed my career choices in pharmacy and later public health which have taken me to different countries and organizations but it wasn’t until I worked in women’s health (reducing teen and young adult unintended pregnancies) that I started to pay close attention to this idea of focusing on women’s health as a way to make a wider positive impact on everyone’s health.
So why did you choose to go into online publishing, and not print for example?
I’m more surprised than anyone to find myself in online publishing. I definitely didn’t see it coming. I was on a long run one early morning when I started thinking about Nigeria and our health challenges and how we can turn things around. By the way, I think of this often. Because of my public health training my thoughts on our health issues often go back to policies, infrastructure, programs, and so on; but on this particular morning the idea just popped into my head to start a health magazine. I actually laughed out loud because it sounded like such an absurd idea to me at the time. I wanted to have a health platform dedicated to providing credible health information to guide readers on their healthy living journey. It was also important to me to have a platform that Nigerians and Africans can relate to. Needless to say, ten miles later, with no publishing experience whatsoever, I had my mind made up to start a Nigerian health magazine.
How has the journey been? Tell us a little bit about the highs and lows?
(Laughs) One thing I can tell you is that ignorance is certainly bliss. If I had any inkling of what was ahead, I probably would have talked myself out of it. But I went in with childlike innocence and exuberance and what a journey it’s been! Radiant Health has been very well received by the Nigerian and African audience at large. In fact, the one thing people say to me most when they first hear about Radiant is along the lines of “finally”, “long overdue,” or “about time.” Nigerians have been searching for a health magazine tailored to them — one that speaks their “language” when it comes to healthy living and that tell health stories they can relate to.
In terms of challenge, I had a steep learning curve considering I knew nothing about publishing. I had to read a lot and knock on many doors. It’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re first starting out. Getting the word out to as many people as possible can be tough when you’re working with limited resources. It’s also been really challenging to find the right caliber of Nigerian/African health journalists or writers — I invite any of your qualified readers to reach out to us. On the bright side, I’m proud of the Nigerian health feature stories we’re telling including our breakdown of the Nigerian health bill, our 3-part series on medical negligence in Nigeria, Ogo Maduwesis’s vitiligo, Yemisi Ilo’s multiple sclerosis, Nike Osinowo and Millen Magase’s battle with endometriosis, and so many more. We tell the health stories you don’t read about in mainstream media and we tell it in a way that makes it easy to educate and inform at the same time. I’m also grateful to have featured some phenomenal women on our cover including CNN’s Zain Verjee and most recently Orange Is the New Black’s Uzo Aduba. I see their willingness to be associated with Radiant as a vote of confidence in the work we are doing.
What is the key purpose of Radiant Health Magazine?
My aim for radiant is to be Africa’s most authoritative source of credible, practical and actionable health information. I want Africans to be confident in their ability to live healthy, balanced lives within the context of our African culture. You don’t have to give up African food to be healthy; in fact we have some of the healthiest foods on the planet. You don’t have to give up your Nigerian essence to be healthy. Plus healthy isn’t just about the absence of disease and so we also focus on wellness (spiritual and mental), fitness, nutrition, style and beauty and expert medical advice to achieve health. One last thing I hope Radiant can achieve is to tell the remarkable stories of Nigerians who are doing incredible work against all odds to improve health care in Nigeria.
Your last cover features Emmy-Award winner Uzoamaka Aduba, what informed that choice?
Uzo Aduba is an admirable woman excelling at her craft and doing it so gracefully. She embodies the Radiant woman in every way, not the least of which is her commitment to service and healthy living. Many may not know this but Uzo is very athletic and has participated in sports through most of her years growing up. In fact we did our interview with her just weeks after she ran the Boston Marathon to raise funds for cancer treatment. I really wanted to show that aspect of her making healthy living and giving back a priority despite the busy demands of her flourishing career.
Let’s talk a little about your Nigerian roots; where were you born and how has this influenced you and your perspective on health?
I was born in London but I grew up in Aba. My formative years were in Nigeria including secondary school and one year of university at UNN. Besides my father’s story which I touched on earlier, one thing that really struck me as a child when I first learned that my father had to travel outside the country to receive this life-saving surgery was how ironic it was that there’s such a heavy emphasis on studying medicine yet no doctor to perform the surgery my father’s life hinged on. I clearly remember having this thought and being very confused by it. As I got older, I started to see it was a little more complicated. Anyone who grew up in Nigeria has no shortage of health stories (personal, friends’, family members’) to tell – those that were routine, those that miraculously ended well and those shrouded in mystery (good or bad). Collectively, they shaped my interest to pursue a health related career, my belief in preventive medicine and my continued curiosity in exploring paths to wellness.
Who are some of your health and fitness role models and why?
I admire Agnes Binagwaho, the health minister of Rwanda. I admire her leadership and how she’s transforming Rwandan health care system with her steadfast belief in the Rwandan people as the drivers of change in their country; she’s not just talking the talk. She’s walking it. Her transparency is refreshing.
When you wake up in the morning, what is the first health activity you do?
Meditate. Ghandi said it best, “I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.”
What drives you – the thing that keeps you going?
Belief in my mission.
What are your current fitness regimens you would recommend to us?
Before I started Radiant, I was really active working out 6 days a week (3 days cross-fit and 3-days running) but I eventually burnt out trying to do that while keeping up with the demands of a new venture and a family. It’s important to listen to your body so I’m slowly rebuilding a gentler routine now that involves restorative yoga 2 days a week and walking or 7-minute fitness videos 2-3 days a week.
At Radiant, we have these weekend fitness challenges that we put up weekly — it’s a fun way to mix up your exercise and not have to think about what to do (we do it for you). We also have this incredibly successful 30-day Body Reboot Challenge we offer for free that takes participants through 30-days of daily wellness and fitness challenges. The goal is that by the end of 30-days you would have taken simple steps to improve your total health, shed a few pounds or kilos, understand the basics of healthy living and form lasting healthy living habits. Interested readers can join our waiting list on www.radianthealthmag.com to be notified when we start our next round.
What should we look forward to with Radiant Health Magazine?
We have so much coming up! Our first men’s health issue is coming up in October. We’re also launching our digital subscription model in October. We’ll be offering our readers an incredible opportunity to a Founder’s lifetime subscription rate so I encourage everyone to get on our newsletter if they don’t want to miss when we announce and open up this opportunity.
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The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series that focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa; an initiative that seeks to effectively mentor and inspire women, with particular emphasis on the African continent.
Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to [email protected] and we just might feature her.