Dr Tijani Oseni is the National Coordinator of Shifaah Foundation, a faith based nongovernmental organization based in Auchi, Edo state. In this interview, he says simple hygiene is key to staying healthy. He adds that Nigeria's leaders do themselves and their followers a disservice by not making the country's health system work and laments growing incidence of deaths from preventable diseases.
What is the Shifaah Foundation about?
Its motto is 'Towards a Healthier Society'. It is about making the society a healthy one through health promoting activities such as health education, free medical services to rural communities among others.
NGOs aren't common sights in locations as Auchi. Why did Shifaah come about here?
What prompted the establishment of the foundation were the negative health indices of the country, the rising maternal and child morbidity and mortality, and the fact that these growing health challenges were worse in the rural areas. We therefore decided to establish Shifaah to improve the health status of the people of Edo North and contribute in its quota towards the Federal Government's aim of achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The foundation has been in operation for four and half years having been established in June 2008.
What are the basic health routines to keeping healthy?
Simple. Live healthy, stay clean, particularly wash your hands regularly as most infections are spread through the hands. Abstain from casual sex, be faithful to your partner and eat natural food rich in fibre and fluids as opposed to refined and junk food.
How many communities and individuals has the foundation impacted so far?
The foundation has impacted on the life of all the communities in the northern part of Edo and some communities in Edo Central Senatorial districts through its media outreach and free medical services. Over 10,000 persons have benefitted from our free medical services and our media outreach has impacted on hundreds of thousands of persons as evident from the regular feedback we get from these persons.
In the course of your medical outreach, what are your findings in terms of the health need of the people, especially the locals?
We realized that what our people need is basic health services such as prevention and control of malaria through health education, provision of insecticide treated nets and ready availability of anti-malarials. Health education is a major need of the people, as they still suffer and die from common preventable ailments out of ignorance and bad practices. Educating these people has greatly impacted on their health lives.
What health condition did you find prevalent among the people and how have you been able to adjust your budget to suit them?
The most common health condition is malaria. Others are helminthiasis, diarrhoea diseases and other infectious diseases. We also noted that noncommunicable diseases particularly hypertension and diabetes were on the increase. Particularly worrisome is the fact that most of them are either not aware of the disease or ignorant of the disease severity. To address this, we concentrate more on health education as it is cheaper and provide more benefit to the people. But even that has not been easy financially using the electronic media to reach out to the people.
Medical tourism by Nigerians to other climes especially the elites has quadrupled in recent years and there is no end in sight. The poor folks who cannot afford this are left to suffer the brunt. How do you think this could be addressed?
It is very simple. Those places the elites run to are run by people. Let our leaders put facilities in place in our health facilities from the primary health care centres to the teaching hospitals. By the time they make our system work like the systems abroad, our health care system will be for the better and there will be no need for medical tourism abroad. Rather, the reverse will be the case; people will come to Nigeria for treatment.
Although, poor facilities are the bane of Nigeria hospitals and health care system but even when available capacities can handle some situation, the money bags, particularly the politicians, have a penchant for not using local hospitals. What do you make of this lack of confidence and how can it be addressed?
Like I said, if they make the system work by creating the enabling environment and putting the necessary facilities in place, our health system will take its rightful place and our leaders will have no option than to seek medical help here.
How do you fund your medical outreach programmes?
Funding is mainly out of our pocket. We the members of the Foundation contribute money monthly to the account of the foundation. We also make donations where necessary. Occasionally, we get financial assistance from well meaning individuals in the society. This we also use for our programmes. However, the main source of funding is from us. This has greatly limited our scope. We continue to solicit for funds to enable us continue to reach out and affect more lives positively.