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*Nigeria: Free Healthcare Programme in Niger Delta
By Ifeatu Agbu
Like the Biblical woman with the issue of blood, who probably had a fibroid, Mrs Azuka Okwuosa endured the pains and shame of carrying a 20 kilogramme tumour for twelve years. Respite came for the poor widow when the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, in conjunction with Pro-Health International recently moved its free medical mission to Oguta in Imo State. Today, Mrs Okwuosa has been relieved of her 20 kg burden and the public ridicule that came with it. As she recuperates, she now hopes to live a normal life and naturally, she could not find enough adjectives to qualify the benefits of the NDDC’s heath mission. In summary, she said: “NDDC is the hand of Jesus Christ, the saviour in my life.”
Mrs. Okwuosa is only one out of many poor people in the remote communities of the Niger Delta who have been rescued through the intervention of the NDDC’s free medical missions. For five days, the Oguta General Hospital was a beehive of activities as the sick and their caring relatives thronged the place for medical attention from the visiting volunteer medical team.
Mr. Gilbert Ikeagu, who brought a relative for treatment said he was delighted that the free healthcare programme came to Oguta at a time he was almost giving up hope on how to save his aunty who was very sick but could not find money to go for medical treatment. “You can see the joy in our faces. We are glad the NDDC has come to our rescue,” he said.
Of all the development programmes which the NDDC has undertaken in the Niger Delta, the one that brings tremendous relief and makes immediate impact on the lives of the rural people is the free health care programme. The free health missions have gone round virtually all corners of the Niger Delta, healing the sick and giving hope to the medically challenged.
At Oguta, the free medical train did not only provide medical services, it also gave a tremendous boost to the facilities of the General Hospital. The commission donated a mammogram for the benefit of breast cancer patients, an ambulance, a 30KVA generator and other important equipment to the General Hospital, as part of its effort to provide good health care service delivery in the Niger Delta region, Obviously happy with the gesture, the Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Mrs. Osato Arenyeka, said the equipment will help improve mother and child healthcare. She said the free health care programme was a combination of many activities, which include carrying out of HIV/AIDS awareness campaign, healthcare promotion and malaria roll-back campaign. “Other health programmes include vaccination of 10,000 children against typhoid fever and 3,500 children received 3 doses each of hepatitis B vaccination,” she said. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria's Niger Delta Region showing Port Harcourt
For the roll back malaria programme, insecticide-treated mosquito nets were given to children, pregnant women and nursing mothers in all the nine states covered by the NDDC. In 2010, 141,500 mosquito treated nets were distributed through the free rural healthcare programme. This has continued as the free health programme moves from one community to another.
The NDDC boss commended the Imo State Government, Imo Foundation, Pro-Health International and the Imo State Ministry of Health for their support in making the mission at Oguta a success. Speaking in the same vein, Professor Anthony Gozie Onwuka, the Secretary to the Imo State government, commended the NDDC for the equipment especially the Mammogram, which he said was the first of its kind in the state. “I thank the NDDC .We appreciate the much you have done so far with the human capital development programme. We appreciate what you are doing, and please continue to remember us and come again,” he said. Professor Onwuka who hails from Oguta said that the NDDC deserves to be given the title of “Ozo Igbo Ndu”, meaning saviour of Igbo people, for its efforts.
Also expressing satisfaction on behalf of the Imo State government, Dr. Obi Njoku, the commissioner for health, urged the people to show appreciation to NDDC for partnering with the state government to bring quality health services to them at the grassroots. He said that with the kind of equipment provided by the commission the status of the general hospital has been enhanced.
What happened in Oguta has been replicated in several other communities in the Niger Delta. According to Dr. George Uzonwanne, who is coordinating the NDDC free medical missions, there is virtually no community in the region that has not benefited from the free Health programme. He said that so far, 2.5 million people of Niger Delta have benefited from the free health care delivery by the commission since its inception.
He gave kudos to the Non Governmental Organisations that have been partnering with the NDDC in this critical intervention in the health sector. Giving an example, Dr. Uzonwanne said that Nelpan korea Medical Centre, one of the key partners, provided free healthcare services to 15 communities of the Niger Delta, last year alone. During this period, he said, they attended to over 60,000 cases, carried out a total of 863 general surgeries, 112 gynaecological surgeries, 3281 dental surgeries, 640 eye surgeries, distributed over 5000 reading glasses and over 12,000 insecticide treated nets.
Dr. Iko Ibanga, the coordinator of Pro-Health International, which started the free health mission with the NDDC in Odi, Bayelsa State, ten years ago, said that its medical team from the US volunteer their services and indeed pay their bill to come to Nigeria. Two days into the mission in Oguta, Dr. Ibanga said that the medical team had already attended to 800 patients and performed over 40 surgeries. The Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan, facilitated by the NDDC, had underlined the fact that Niger Deltans live in very difficult conditions. The very comprehensive document clearly showed that the people are trapped in a web of environmental problems. It stated that their fishing activities are inhibited because the waters are polluted. According to the document, frequent oil spills and pipeline fires ensure that their farmland does not yield much. It identifies illiteracy, ignorance and unemployment as factors inflicting poverty and deprivation on the people. The extreme poverty combined with the absence of potable water has also induced the widespread of preventable diseases.
Gas flaring, which has been going on in the region for about 50 years, is another challenge identified as having very harmful effects on the people. The gas flares release a cocktail of toxic and green house gases into the atmosphere, endangering the lives of the people. Health workers say without equivocation that gas flares could cause respiratory diseases, cancer, acute leukemia and a variety of other blood-related disorders. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria showing some major cities, including the Federal capital (Abuja or FCT)
This dismal outlook must have caught the attention of the international community, as the World Bank warned in a study it conducted on the Niger Delta region that “an urgent need exists to implement a mechanism to protect the life and health of the region’s inhabitants and its ecological systems from further deterioration”. Other environmental experts agree with this finding, and note that the region is the least developed in Nigeria. This is also evident in the fact that health indicators in the region are way behind the national average.
Flowing from the regional development Master Plan, some quick impact programmes were identified. Of course health was high on the list of priority programmes to be tackled. Thus, the NDDC swung into action to redress the situation. The commission launched awareness campaigns in the local government areas, through public advocacy. Similarly, it adopted several strategies in the effort to provide healthcare services for the people of the Niger Delta. It has for ten years sustained the very popular regional free health care programme in partnership with Pro-Health International and other Non Governmental Organizations.
In the words of a former Managing Director of the NDDC, Mr. Timi Alaibe, “the free healthcare missions, which has taken us to the nooks and crannies of the Niger Delta, has indeed opened our eyes to the incredible level of poverty and diseases we hitherto never imagined existed.”
Dr. Uzonwanne, who drives the free healthcare programme, said that the mobile health care delivery system could not adequately meet the health care needs of the rural communities. This, he said, was evident from the large number of patients that swarm the centres for the free healthcare programme. “In almost all the cases, the benefiting communities pleaded with the health teams to stay with them for a longer period to be able to attend to their various medical problems,” he said.
The high demand for the healthcare services is understandable given the poverty-induced desperation of the people. The comprehensive health missions provide all forms of medical services, ranging from general consultation, laboratory services, general and gynaecological surgeries, as well as eye and dental services. Apart from the free medical missions, the NDDC has committed substantial resources to providing physical infrastructure in the health sector across the Niger Delta. In addition to building health centres, hospitals and residential quarters for medical personnel, the commission is also equipping these medical facilities. According to dr. Uzonwanne, the commission supplied medical equipment to 19 hospitals and health centres spread across the region last year.
The beneficiaries included Umunneochie Health Centre in Abia State; Ikot Udo Primary Health Centre in Akwa Ibom, Otuabagi Primary Health Centre in Bayelsa; Ukem-Odukpani General Hospital in Cross River; Ugbomoro Primary Health Centre in Delta; Ughotun Primary Health Centre in Edo; Eziorsu Primary Health Centre in Imo; Imoluma Comprehensive Health Centre in Ondo and Bodo General Hospital in Rivers State. It is no secret that the bane of our rural healthcare delivery is the lack of basic medical infrastructure and equipment. Thus, the intervention of the NDDC in this regard is like rubbing the much-needed soothing balm on our ailing healthcare delivery system. What is more, these health facilities give the necessary backbone to the free medical missions that have been sustained for one decade uninterrupted.
Mr. Ifeatu Agbu ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
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