This Day (Lagos)

23 February 2013

Nigeria: Bringing Healthcare to the Grassroots

analysis

TO THE PEOPLE OF AKAMKPA/BIASE, TANGIBLE DIVIDEND OF DEMOCRACY IS THE FREE HEALTH CARE INITIATIVE OF THEIR REPRESENTATIVE, HON. DANIEL ASUQUO, WRITES JUDE OKWE

From hamlets, villages and suburbs they came on a common mission-medical attention. Racked by a cocktail of ailments ranging from malaria/typhoid fever, spasm of hypertension, high blood pressure to a string of diabetes, eye, dental, cough/tuberculosis, pneumonia amongst other, they were in desperate need of a cure. Poverty and inability to access the relevant health institution had compounded their plight.

For the people Akamkpa/Biase Federal Constituency of Cross River State, the opportunity to get over their health challenges came last week when their representative at the National Assembly, Hon. Daniel Asuquo sponsored a five-day free medical care for them. The exercise took place simultaneously at Akamkpa Local Government Area and Adim in Biase Local Government Area.

It was one exercise that brought to the fore diseases that have made life unbearable for some people especially rural folks. Both the young and old came with various ailments that baffled the team of medical volunteers after clinical analysis. This showed clearly that most people die out of ignorance, poverty or inability to get the right treatment at the right place.

As long as humans continue to live on earth, there will be ailments challenging their existence. It's unfortunate but true. And while we cannot prevent diseases entirely, there is much we can do. Going for regular medical check up and treating any disease/illness diagnosed promptly will do us a lot of good. But in Nigeria, only the well heeled bother about their health by going for check up.

Medicine is dynamic. The dynamic nature of science has made it so. Daily researches have continued to discover new diseases and other infections that trouble our health. Their causes are also identified. Some have no cure yet but scientists have not given up. It is hoped that diseases that are incurable today would tomorrow become curable to the relief of mankind.

Clinical tests conducted by doctors and other health personnel have in no small measure prevented many deaths. Patients once diagnosed are treated accordingly. Yet, despite the availability of modern medicine, some still prefer spiritual healing homes to hospitals. No one doubts the healing power of God except that much attention is today paid to miracle workers in God's vineyard who blame every sickness on the devil. They feast mostly on those ignorant of orthodox medication.

But medical treatment is changing almost everyday. Methodical dynamics have proved to be life-saving value in emergency cases and others. Research is at the heart of all this and has contributed immeasurably to the overall safety of lives. Nevertheless, death prevention is still preferable to resignation to fate. The Akamkpa/Biase example has shown that access to medical care prevents death and saves the society the trouble of infectious diseases. But how many can afford it and where?

A prime example of this interventionist approach in medical care is Pro-Health International (PHI), a non-governmental organisation that has assigned itself the task of saving lives in Africa. This is the organisation whose services Hon. Asuquo secured to deliver free health care to his constituents. Executive director of PHI, Dr. Iko Ibanga told THISDAY that Asuquo paid N10million for the exercise. When this amount is added to the cost of drugs and other items donated by sponsors, it brings the total to N20million.

The organisation has a full complement of medical staff otherwise known as volunteers. Once on duty, PHI assigns medics according to their areas of specialisation (consultancy). Each follows medical procedures to ascertain the nature and cause of the ailment before treatment commences. For want of time, complicated cases are referred to tertiary health institutions for further attention.

Health challenges remain, but the commitment to solve them has not waned. This is what prompted the Akamkpa/Biase Member of Parliament to float the Daniel Asuquo Foundation. This foundation has a three prone focus-health, education and skill acquisition (empowerment). The health arm is in charge of free health care delivery; education for scholarship award while skill acquisition pursues self-reliance.

According to Dr. Ibanga, this was the second time in 13 years that PHI will be in Akamkpa on the same mission. In 2000, Asuquo as chairman of Akamkpa Local Government Council sponsored the first ever free medical care in the area. The success of that medical outreach made him to again go for the services of the organisation. The recent project for the duration of the exercise carried out general consultancy, HIV/AIDS test, eye, dental treatment and surgery amongst others.

The two main collaborators were PHI and Adim Workers in USA. Sponsors include Jason Foundation (JF) and Dorcas Foundation. Ibanga revealed that the common ailments ravaging the people of Akamkpa and Biase include malaria/typhoid fever, diabetes, arthritis (in old people) hypertension, hernia, cancer, HIV/AIDS, hypertension, cough/TB, dental infection, eye problem and fibroid among women amongst others. Common diseases identified in children include malaria, vomiting, pneumonia, worms and other childhood killer diseases.

"Under eye treatment, the main surgery was cataract and ptyrium removal. We were also into refraction and general treatment of the eye. We gave out glasses to some of the patients. The dental team was into dental retraction, polishing and scaling. We had cases of epilepsy, which we referred. We had a well-stocked pharmacy, which enabled us to give out drugs as prescribed by doctors.

"This project can only work with the full support and cooperation of staff of any hospital hosting us. The management of Akamkpa General Hospital has shown us goodwill by providing the facilities and staff to work with. There are some places we went to, but denied access to public health facilities for reasons of politics. Hon. Asuquo did a lot of background work for this project to be executed in Akamkpa and Biase.

"It would be recalled that NAFDAC had seized the drugs brought in from USA until Hon. Asuquo intervened. The drugs passed through the normal process and were later released free of charge. We had over 70 volunteers for the project. All of them are professionals. Hon. Asuquo is doing what is meaningful and helpful to his people. I call on other politicians to emulate him. People think politicians are evil but Asuquo has demonstrated that he has milk of kindness in his veins," Ibanga said.

The Vice Chairman of Akamkpa Local Government Council had in her speech at the flag off of the exercise, described the law maker as a worthy son of Akamkpa who has decided to give back to the constituency that made him, stressing that his generosity has brought relief to the sick in urban and rural areas. Wife of the state chairman of the PDP, Mrs. John Okon said the project touched on the lives of the people and would remain indelible in their minds. She advised Asuquo to do more for the people as he was on the right track.

Deputy speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly, Hon. Itaya Asuquo Nyong commended the initiative saying it was a welcome relief to those suffering from different ailments in Akamkpa and Biase. "About 13 years ago, nobody except Daniel Asuquo had this idea but 13 years later everybody is talking about it. It is not true that politicians care only about their pockets. Politicians crave for a platform to make things happen. Asuquo is using his opportunity effectively. We wish him well," he added.

Sponsor of the programme, Hon. Asuquo could not thank PHI enough for coming to his aid. "This is what we give back to the public. This is also a way of servicing our structures. We undertook this project 13 years ago. We have now decided to float a foundation so that it can be sustained even after office. We have laid a proper foundation for this initiative. We are into partnership with similar organizations to sustain it", he added.

Why free health care? Asuquo intoned that free medical care for his people was one of things his foundation was out to do. Education is power we all know but how many can afford qualitative education in our country today? "We need to award scholarship to those who are indigent. Many out there need a job but can't find any. It's important we make our young people acquire vocational skills to become self-reliant. This foundation seeks to empower our people.

"Health is wealth, we all know. Without good health we can go nowhere or do little or nothing. The free health care under this foundation fulfills my life's ambition. I feel satisfied. I hereby call on the private sector to complement government by sponsoring free medical treatment for members of the public from the profit they make. Most of the sick in our society cannot foot the bill for their treatment for reason of poverty.

"This is a Christian medical mission driven by a passion to serve and propelled by the gospel of Jesus Christ to reach out to the sick, poor and needy. This foundation will this year venture into entrepreneurial skill development to empower the youths and thus take them out of hopelessness and social vices," Asuquo said.

The total number of patients attended to were 4, 227. A break down of this figure shows that general out patient department handled 2, 688, general surgery 103, eye surgery 45, dental care 213, general eye care 1, 178, laboratory test 877 and HIV\AIDS counseling and test.

Some of the patients were full of praises for Asuquo for sponsoring the free medical care that has once again given them hope and life. They said this gesture has assured them that they will live for a long time as the ailment they suffered from before now was gone even as they promised to henceforth imbibe the culture of regular medical check up. For Akamkpa/Biase Federal Constituency, the Daniel Asuquo Foundation has certainly come to the rescue. Its three focus areas certainly meet their needs.

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