By Tina Ogbebor, Olufunmilayo Obadina,Wuraola Oloruneto, Michelle Ochonogor
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, Imo State. Today, Mrs Okwuosa has been relieved of her burden.
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 help his aunty who was very sick but could not find money to go for medical treatment. “You can see the joy on our faces. We are glad the NDDC has come to our rescue,” he said.
Of all the 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 efforts 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 three doses each of hepatitis B vaccination,” Arenyeka said.
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. 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.
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 gave kudos to the non-governmental organisations partnering with the NDDC in this critical intervention in the health sector. Giving an example, 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, Ibanga said that the medical team 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.
According to 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.”
Uzonwanne said that the mobile health care delivery system could not adequately meet the health care needs of the rural communities. This, he said, was evidence 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 gynecological surgeries, as well as eye and dental services.