Jan 21, 2015
It was my first time serving as a volunteer with Bridge of Life Missions Incorporated (BLMI), an indigenous Nigerian Gospel Ministry that conducts gospel and free medical outreaches in unevangelized and unreached areas of Africa. This organization is amazing as their focus is not only about meeting spiritual needs and offering free medical services but also provision of educational assistance to rural public schools. This particular medical outreach was slated for Ungwan Makama in Zango Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna. The journey took about 2 Hours and 40 Minutes. Much of the time was spent meandering though a wooded terrain, which was made worse by the rain soaked and slippery laterite road that could pass for a track. By the time we arrived the community at 9.20 a.m., the people were already assembled at the scheduled venue, a local community church. Most of them were women (young/older mothers, pregnant women, and the aged), girls and children. No prejudice meant, but men were in the minority.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the whole town had besieged the scheduled venue, as it was filled to capacity; such that there were still hundreds more outside. Maintaining order became a herculean task for our Team! The free medical service provided by BLMI, I found out, had become the only lifeline the people had when it came to accessing health care services in their community. It is unthinkable that a community designated as a political ward had no single primary health care facility within its proximity. The closest one was about 40Km away. Little wonder then why it seemed the whole village had been waiting for that day to come. People shoved and jostled to get their vital statistics recorded; after which each person took their turns to be attended to by BLMI’s health professionals, then to counseling before they could collect their prescribed medicament. We were, however, short of hands as there were just two health experts striving to attend to the over 2000 people that were awaiting health check(s) and prescription. At some point the collection of the vital statistics had to be discontinued as it was obvious that additional people could not be attended to, given the time that was set for us to return to our base. The aid clothes which we brought along, but could no longer distribute were thus handed over to the community’s religious leaders, who were present.
By 4.00 p.m. when we began packing up to leave, only 63 people, comprising mainly women and children, had received full attention. The people were obviously in opposition of our decision to call it a day. Interestingly though, the men were easier to pacify, as they walked away in optimism of our envisaged return in the nearest instance. Not the women! In company of their children, they refused to budge as they kept appealing for consideration. The women who were yet to be attended to appeared to speak at the same time. One could, barely pick out and piece together some of the grievances, whimpering and whisperings. To pacify the women, the Outreach Team decided to dole out pre-packed children’s chewable vitamin tablets to those who had their children with them. Other women were given complimentary food supplements. Another consolation the team had for the women was the charity clothes. They were advised to return to the same venue by the next day so as to partake in the distribution of the clothing already handed down.
Our effort to leave was however stalled when a woman who said she had been waiting for hours with her children made her way to the front; persuasively pleading for her baby to be attended to. As she got an unbending response that the team was done and that she would have to wait for another time or find her way to the nearest health care centre, tears streamed down her face which all of a sudden graduated into intense weeping. Even a heart of steel would have been melted by the tears of the frail looking one eyed woman, the sight of her obviously unwell baby girl who had bloated feet and stomach, and daughter of about 2 years who appeared highly miasmic. The trio came across as worrisomely pale and gloomy. Of course, they broke through our resolve! Their pathetic conditions did not even create room for their vital statistics to be recorded.
All through our journey back, the discussion centered on the threesome, and their peculiar conditions were all we could hold unto in making reference to each of them. The thoughts of the one-eyed woman, her children, all the other resolute women and their helpless children who could not be attended to, have continued to bother my mind. Can a mother ever be in a state of good health when her baby’s health is on the line? How long more would medically unreached mothers and children have to endure the ever burdensome and negative effects of the lack of quality, accessible and or affordable health care services/facilities?
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 90% of all disease burden occurs in developing countries, where less than one-tenth of all health care dollars is spent. This has resulted in devastating impacts of communicable but preventable diseases which are known to be responsible for about one third of all disease related fatalities; killing about 11 million children under age five every year in the developing world. In related findings, it is estimated that women in Sub-Saharan Africa, suffer six times the disease burden per 1,000 populations of women in European countries. In Nigeria alone, pregnant women and nursing mothers as well as children make up a significant portion of those who are susceptible to and saddled by diseases that account for alarming morbidity and mortality figures recorded. World Bank’s (2007-2011) data on mortality ration in Nigeria showed that under-5 and infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births) were 143 and 88 respectively. On the other hand, maternal mortality (modeled estimate, per 100,000 live births) was put at an average rate of 630, which accounts for 10% of all maternal deaths worldwide.
The thrust of reducing child mortality and improving maternal health are programmed as the fourth (4th) and fifth (5th) Millennium Development Goals, respectively. Going by World Bank’s and Nigeria’s in-country’s overall facts and figures on maternal and under-5 morbidity and mortality rates, however, the dream of achieving that milestone by 2015 may well remain a mirage. Maternal morbidity and mortality rates in the country are still at an alarming high. Because of the lack of accessible primary health care services, local women are devastated by the harmful and debilitating effects of all forms of diseases which affect the generality of people, in addition to reproductive (antenatal, postnatal and family planning), child, family and environmental health challenges they grapple with. This has confined many to the deep hole of deprivation that continues to engender and reinforce poverty and gender inequality. Women and children remain the most vulnerable to the problems associated with poor health care systems and they deserve improved and increased access to health services (physicians, essential drugs and care) that will enable them experience and enjoy physically, psychologically, socially and economically productive, rewarding and satisfying lives. Women's health rights must be respected and the delivery of effective, good-quality, affordable and accessible maternal and child care services is unarguably a must for women’s general well being.