Reading Nigerian newspapers, or browsing the plethora of social media platforms, it is easy to think that the country is doomed. On some days, this feels especially so in the health sector. There seems to be no end to the list of things that are not working for Nigerians when it comes to their health. Today, we have allowed ourselves to look beyond the headlines, to explore just a bit further, and what we have found are extraordinary stories of people that keep the country working, despite everything. They are everyday heroes, who insist that our country must survive and grow. They are working hard on small, and sometimes big challenges, quietly defining the society into the one that we desire.
We recently started a new series to tell some of these special stories of people working in the health sector, people who have chosen not to be defined by corruption scandals, and by poor services. We celebrate those among us that have chosen a path of integrity and service, those that have chosen to be the change, long before it became a buzzword. We seek out these colleagues, across Nigeria and beyond. Whether it’s the nurse in the desolate PHC in the creeks of the Niger Delta, the lone doctor serving millions of people on the edge of Lake Chad, the tech innovator with a new healthcare app, or the administrator that has the courage to stand up to his manager and resist the request to add a few zeroes to the hotel booking form… we will share their stories.
Today’s story on extraordinary humans serving the Nigerian health sector is about the group, “Hospitals for Humanity”. When we heard that there was a group of doctors and nurses carrying out open-heart surgery for children over a week at the National Hospital in Abuja, we knew that we had to visit. But nothing quite prepared us for the emotions of the day and the stories of the work that they were doing. These words of the self-effacing Dr. Yahaya Baba Adamu, Consultant Cardio-Thoracic Surgeon at the National Hospital Abuja, lingered in our hearts long after we left – “Can we look at these children, and let them die?”
We found an amazing confluence of people; Nigerians and foreigners, working together as the “Hospitals for Humanity” team, in a new, purpose-built children’s intensive care unit at the National Hospital in Abuja. They worked in tight shifts, and when they were not operating, they were nurturing the babies, teaching and mentoring colleagues and generally bringing this “unusual” experience of total commitment to the service that they are providing. We met them on a Friday, and they had been at it for a week, yet they still had a spring in their step. Despite coming from disparate backgrounds, you could easily assume they had worked together for years. “Effortless collaboration” is the phrase that comes to mind.
In between their missions and initiatives, the Hospitals For Humanity group is raising the funds for their next trip, writing letters, organizing events. Many of the group’s members use all of their annual leave from their regular jobs to make these important trips to Nigeria for pediatric surgery.
In the presence of such a dedicated team, physical space at the new trauma centre of National Hospital, a dedicated local cardiothoracic surgeon, we wondered to ourselves, and out loud, “What is keeping the National Hospital from investing the resources to create a truly special centre in Nigeria, open all the time, not just during the missions?” We hope the right answers will come, and the sooner, the better.
We could write so much more about each of the special people we got to meet. Some had been there all night working, others were prepping to enter the theatre for yet another life-saving surgery. Yet they found the time to sit and talk to us about this work, this movement, they so selflessly gave themselves to. We felt you should hear from them yourselves.
The words below are their stories. Watch these five short interviews. Listen to their words, yes, but also listen… to the heart behind their words.
“The itch started probably when I was 19 or 20. I came back home to Nigeria and the next thing I knew, I was vomiting, diarrhea… They took me to the hospital, supposedly one of the best hospitals in Lagos. And I was um, unpleasantly surprised, at the hospitals that we had in Nigeria. So it was at that moment that I decided that this was not going to be the story of Nigeria in healthcare… we have a better story to tell.”
~ Dr. Segun Ajayi,
CEO/Founder, Hospitals For Humanity
“I grew up in Nigeria. I went to medical school in Lagos, worked in LUTH as a house officer. It’s hard to work in those settings or to train in that setting and not be impressed upon by just how sick children get and how often children die in Nigeria. For me, that was the driving inspiration for all the work I did subsequently. It was why I became a pediatrician. It was why I became a pediatric intensivist. It was why I was doing the work that I was doing in the US… and at some point for me, it just… it became important for me to follow my inspiration, to follow the reason why I became a pediatric intensivist, which was that I didn’t like the fact that Nigerian children died so much… so I came back home.”
~Dr. Bunmi Ode,
Clinical Director for Pediatric Intensive Care Services, Hospitals For Humanity
“What Hospitals For Humanity is doing is very important because not only are we mentoring, we are educating, we are not just taking care of people, but we go beyond that. We mentor, we culture and we educate… and we want to bring up other healthcare professionals so that they are able to do this on their own… And that is my passion; the teaching, the mentoring, the nurturing. Over the last six years, we’ve done research and we’ve identified what the actual need is. So we’ve focused our program just to work in the cardio-thoracic area. So I think now we have a better understanding of what is needed and what we can provide for the people.
~ Myna Shegog, BSN, RN, SANE-A,
Executive Director, Hospitals For Humanity
“Apart from my desire to give back to Nigeria, I think this is very important because at least one percent of all newborns have actually got some sort of congenital heart disease. So if you take it that over a million children are born in Nigeria, you have that over 10,000 children are born with some kind of heart defect, if not more. And these children, most of them, have no access to any form of healthcare, yet alone advanced surgical treatment. And that is where we come in. So there are so many children who die before the age of 5 because they are not able to access any form of treatment, any form of surgery… and it’s the 21st century, I think it’s really a shame that there is no sustainable service in Nigeria, and this is the main reason why we came into Nigeria two years ago, and why we’ve stayed and we are working hard to ensure that Nigerian children actually have treatment of their congenital heart disease.”
~Dr. Ikenna Omeje,
Lead Pediatric Heart Surgeon, Hospitals For Humanity.
Anywhere in the world you go, you are sure that 1% of every live birth will come up with congenital cardiac defects. And if you take that and consider the population of Nigeria, then you can imagine how many children have this ailment. And this is not by their choice, but by birth. Most of them will not celebrate their 5th birthday, and many of them will not get to 18. So the question is, can we just keep looking at these children… and allow them to die? Each time I see these children, they are my great motivator, to see that this program remains on and running.
~ Dr. Yahaya Baba Adamu,
Senior Consultant Cardio-Thoracic Surgeon
National Hospital Abuja
These are our first set of “Extraordinary Humans” serving the Nigerian health sector. More to come…
If you know any person or group of people who you consider “extraordinary humans” doing great work in our health sector, please write and let us know by leaving a comment below.