BY JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
The myriad of issues besetting healthcare delivery and accessibility in Nigeria have become hymns, particularly on the lips of medical practitioners themselves, with unaffordability topping the list. Sudden and avoidable deaths have consequently turned normal while everyone waits for a messiah even as life expectancy wavers at 47. But like Mahatma Gandhi once said, you must be the change you wish to see in the world. That’s why one Nigerian, Mrs.Bisi Bright, Executive Director of LiveWell Initiative, has taken on herself the responsibility of delivering pro bono healthcare services, especially to the poor majority, since her retirement from the Nigerian Ports Authority in 2006, where she was Head of Pharmacy.
Tell us about yourself…
I had my first degree in Clinical Pharmacy from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, and did a Fellowship Programme at the West African Post Graduate College of Pharmacy. I, thereafter, did a Masters in Public Health at the University of Zimbabwe. I also did a Diploma in Psychology. So, it’s really easy for me to understand the psyche of people when I’m on community work. I’m able to identify distressed persons and give them counselling in addition to the services we render, which includes comprehensive health screening such as body mass index, high-blood pressure, blood sugar, stress level, breast and cervical cancer amongst other. After my first degree, I worked for many years with the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, until I retired voluntarily as Head of Pharmacy in 2006. I thereafter set up LiveWell Initiative in 2007. Now, I combine my public health experience with my experience in pharmacy and that’s why you see us give drugs where necessary each time we go out. I always tell people I’m a missionary. I believe I was destined to do this because it came out of the blues; unplanned.
At what point was LiveWell Initiative conceived?
I was a lecturer at the West African Post Graduate College of Pharmacy and I was their Secretary-General. So, when I went for the 2004 Washington Health Congress, I met, Professor Yunus, the man delivering healthcare to the poor in Bangladesh, who started a world-wide micro-credit initiative. He said who would like me to help them set up a branch in Nigeria. So, I began the processing and also designed a project called ‘The Illness Poverty Alleviation Programme’ when I returned, for them. This was targeted at people in the bottom of the pyramid, who are prone to losing their lives or becoming permanently disabled due to certain illnesses which they are unable to tackle because of poverty. I had designed this programme for them and was ready to get an office for its take-off when my son inspired me to set up my own organisation since I designed the programme, instead of leaving it for another organisation to run. That was how LiveWell came about. Anyway, I had made it clear to Prof from the onset that the Illness Poverty Alleviation Programme would remain my intellectual property. We were in the process of ironing that out when my son inspired me. That was how I started LiveWell with five programmes: Executive Health Enlightenment Programme, Malaria Eradication, Hiv/Aids Enlightenment, Drug Use and Abuse Scheme and then the Illness Poverty Alleviation Programme.
Apart from your son’s inspiration, didn’t you nurse passion for it?
Yes I’ve had passion for humanity, and I’ve therefore always wanted to do something for the poorer population. In the past, I usually carry-out health outreaches in my church. Even while doing my Masters in Public Health, I did engage in a few health missions. I also worked voluntarily for the Diabetic Association of Zimbabwe. I really saw how desperate the people were and that gave me the motivation. I never thought it would culminate in a non-profit organisation, anyway.
How many lives would you say you’ve touched?
We go to Togo and Ghana also. We reached out to over 3,000 people in the one week we worked in Ghana. We have over 30 medical doctors in our service, and a good number of nurses. From our records, we’ve reached out to over 1.5 million lives. Now, we have doctors who are specialists because we are particular about not breaching ethical boundaries.
What was your ambition as a child?
I never really had a particular profession in mind. However, my mum always said I would end up being a humanitarian because I had this habit of going to carry little kids. I actually got infected with primary tuberculosis because I had a very privileged childhood in which we always had cooks, stewards, and all. So, our cook had a baby that was infected with tuberculosis, and because I was always going to carry the baby whenever she was busy, I got infected and could not go to school for three months. As I grew up, however, I knew I would venture into humanitarianism; though I wasn’t sure of the scope or magnitude. When it was time to go to university, I opted to study either medicine or pharmacy. But my father’s bias towards medicine made me settle for dentistry or pharmacy. I was in my preliminary year in dentistry at the University of Ibadan when I got my admission letter to study pharmacy in Ife. I actually resumed a day to their matriculation. My friends and course mates mocked me for leaving dentistry to read pharmacy, calling me a fool. But I’ve never regretted my decision for half a day! I believe that’s what I was cut out to do. I also think I was cut out for humanitarian work, because even my husband complains that I could give him out.