Diabetes In Uromi, Care From Atlanta Georgia, USA

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

Among the 30 people who had to pass the night on the bare floor at the Uromi Central Hospital, UCH, because they desperately needed to see a doctor was 15-year old Stanley Okowele. Okowele, a Chelsea football FC fan and a Senior Secondary school student, came with his mother, Remi. According to her, Stanley had suddenly taken ill, with him crying out in pains and clutching his abdomen. She didn’t know what to do because the only other hospital in Uromi apart from the UCH was a private hospital that charged very high fees. Incidentally, she heard from her neighbours that there were certain medical missionaries at the UCH made up of local and international volunteers. By the time she got to the UCH around 8:00am that Tuesday morning, there was already a mammoth crowd of people who had already collected cards to see the medical missionaries. She had no choice but to sleep over, on a bench, in the semi-dense rain forest where the hospital is located. As soon as it was daylight, she was on a queue, with Stanley, struggling to get a card which would admit her son to see the doctor. When she eventually did, after the struggle to keep her place, Stanley eventually saw Michael Bubu, one of the medical missionaries, who diagnosed him with a hernia that needed to be operated upon right away if Stanley was to stay alive. Five hours later, Stanley was operated upon by the team of volunteer surgeons. If you saw Stanley on that slab as he lay there after his surgery, you would want to express some gratitude to the missionaries, when he came to.

Mercy with volunteers

Others who passed the night in the dark, open field in the semi-dense forest where the Uromi Central Hospital is located, included Idahosa Omoibi, 41, father of three children, alongside his whole family for the medical attention they had waited a full year to receive. It was the same thing for Victoria Utomagie, 55-year old trader, who also decided to pass the night at the hospital because the pain in her leg was not what she could cope with in the early morning rush to get the cards that admitted patients to see the doctor. ‘’If I go home this night, who would bring me to the hospital as early as 5 am to take my place on the queue?’’, she asked. But Lady Ojezele, 60, mother of nine who had high blood pressure had no place on the queue. According her, ‘’ I couldn’t sleep on the bare floor, outside in the cold in my condition. I don’t want to die, waiting for help’’, she said. In the wee hours of Wednesday, 23rd August, those who slept on those benches were promptly screened by proHealth officials because there was word that there were mercenaries on the queues who came to join the sick with an intent to pick up cards and do brisk business with people like Lady Ojezele, who could not pass the night on the benches for the free medical attention. What was particularly worrisome was that everyone, young and old, men and women and children stayed on a single file, making it impossible for the aged and infirm to struggle with the young to maintain their places on the queue, a situation that Mike Shum, a volunteer, described as ‘’chaotic’’.

Every year now since 2004, Mercy Foundation, MF, an NGO based in the US, has collaborated with Pro Health International, PHI, based in Jos, Nigeria to bring local and international professionals together to provide free health care to rural dwellers, who most of the time lacked them. ‘’I’m doing this because I know that my people in Uromi are in dire need of medical attention’’, said Mercy Obeime, president of the Mercy Foundation. ‘’I saw some other people from other countries channel the vast resources that their immediate surrounding provide, for their people back home and I just wanted to do the same’’, Obeime said. She said she raises funds to carry out free medical projects through a number of ways: one of them is that she organises walks in the US to highlight the need to provide care for the underprivileged. This, she said, is sponsored by her students and friends who believe in what she is doing. ‘’Sometimes too, we cook Nigerian food, buy artifacts from Benin City and organise exhibitions which people pay for in the US to come and see. That’s how we raise some money’’, Obeime said.

Cases like this that seem to be very well known in the US where Obeime works attracted Jim Simmons,54, who volunteered to come back to Uromi after his first trip last year. Out of a bit of curiosity, but more from a desire to contribute his bit, he said he abandoned his love for calling the shots behind the camera as a film producer, to help with supervising ordinary folk. He bought a ticket for $1,900, hopped on a plane with 15 of his compatriots like Ann Gray, Jennifer Kerner, Courtney Gourman, Cynthia Renee, Jackson Solway and flew to Uromi, Edo State, home to some of Nigeria’s most influential and wealthy politicians like Augustus Aikhomu, second in command to former military president Ibrahim Babangida, Tony Anenih, former board of trustees chairman for the PDP; Tom Ikimi, former external affairs minister, Adams Oshiomhole, former Nigeria Labour Congress president and Anthony Enahoro, elder statesman. ‘’I want to make sense of it all whenever I come here, but it just refuses to add up’’, said a perplexed looking Simmons. ‘’In one of my trips down here, I saw a 90-year old man who had waited one full year to see a doctor for his arthritis. Does that make any sense to you?’’. This year too, he met another one man, and a woman in similar circumstances. Greg Udohowo, 70, had waited one full year to see Femi Obazee, an eye surgeon with PHI.

Iniobong Ettete, 38, one of the Nigerian surgeons who handled several cases of fibroid, hernia, appendicitis, asthma in young people and abdominal problems is worried. ‘’How do you operate on patients who are already anaemic, with very little blood?’’, he asked. A lot of these people hardly feed well. There were many patients here who needed to be operated upon but we discovered that they were also HIV positive. Well, what we did was that we had to counsel the HIV positive patients first by sending them to ‘’heart to heart’’ (another NGO)’’, he said. Eventually however, they were operated upon. But the Mercy Foundation and ProHealth International staff says they faced a problem of getting the drugs across from the US to Nigeria. Cynthia Renee Makeeba, an African American, said she would want a situation where the government should be involved in the activities of mercy foundation by providing some security and making it a little easy to bring the much needed medicines to those who really needed them. Louis Ebodaghe, 48, a volunteer from Uromi who works with St Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta Georgia, USA said that ‘’we had more than enough drugs to go round but we couldn’t bring them in because we faced many difficulties through customs. Our people have a certain level of confidence in the drugs brought in from abroad, probably because they suspect they are more efficacious and original, what with the incidence of fake and adulterated drugs that abound here in Nigeria. But we couldn’t bring in all of them eventually’’, he said.

In the course of five days, the medical team handed out 1,124 peadiatric, antibiotic, anti-diabetes drugs, screened 167 for HIV, gave out 310 glasses to patients that were treated with cataract cases, and carried out over 60 successful cases of general and eye surgeries. John Abode, chief medical officer at the UCH, Uromi, said that his hospital manages to handle only 70 cases daily. ‘’We have no equipment and the manpower to cope with such numbers. The local and international medical teams you see here imported their own equipment and manpower’’. He hoped that the government would do something about the vacuum that MF and PHI would create when they leave.

A lot of the patients like Margaret Okoafuda, 35, who received free treatment for her frequent urinary condition or had one form of surgery, like Clifford Ibhaihe, 20, or received drugs from MF and PHI, like Okwosi Vincent, 42, say they could never have been able to afford the cost of surgery for either fibroid, hernia or known their HIV status. Like Vincent and Ojezele, Cecelia Okosun, a trader, was among the hundreds treated for chest, waist and body pains. Anthony Ibhaghalobor, 32, who is self employed told me that even though he likes what MF and PHI did for him, the whole objective of the free treatment project will be meaningless if there are no structures in place to sustain the tempo introduced by both NGOs.

Goitre patient examined

Nearly all the volunteers like Jennifer Kerner, 22 Courtney Gorman, 32, Ann Gray, 63, Jackson Solway 23, Cynthia Renee, and Jim Simmons say that it is always a sad thing for them to leave because of the huge number of people who keep coming but could not be attended to. According to Ebodaghe, on the last they day they closed the project last year, they still had thousands of people to see. ‘’But if we stayed, there’s not much we could do, because we had to leave. It’s so painful that as you drive out of that gate, you realise there’s not much you can do, especially as they keep asking us, ‘when are you people coming back?’ According to the doctor, it is a shame that other people would have to come from across the oceans to treat simple ailments which could easily be handled if there was a sense of belonging by those on ground in Nigeria. But what would be the fate of those who had had surgery? Who would take care of their post operation recovery? ‘’ We have an arrangement with the management of the UCH. The patients will be well taken care of when we leave’’, Ebodaghe said.

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1 comment

julius September 13, 2007 - 5:41 pm

You can imagine the so-called power brokers that call this tiny village home and yet you see such abject desperation in the citizenry. This is definately a noteworthy venture by Nigerians in diaspora and all other volunteers. I hope Aikhomu, Ikimi, Anenih and others will bury their heads in shame with all their stolen wealth. May God grant more mercy to Mercy and her crew.


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