A hero is a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his/her brave deeds and noble qualities.
A health system is incomplete without the people who toil daily to provide care and ensure reduction in illnesses and deaths. We call them health workers, and they are the single most important component of any health system. With all the challenges facing our health sector, health workers often bear the brunt. Most of them strive to provide the best quality of care they can with often poor external motivation, an absence of essential equipment and supplies and few opportunities for continuous professional development. In very dire situations, they are often the first to die in the line of duty.
Every sector has its share of good and bad people, and the health sector is not exempt from this dichotomy. We know that the negative attitudes and practices of some health workers hamper the quality of care in our hospitals and worsen the already damning health statistics. There are many examples of these.
The current Ebola outbreak in Nigeria has again thrown up this dichotomy in the health sector. One doctor, reportedly, acted unethically and endangered the lives of millions of people in Port Harcourt by treating a diplomat infected with the Ebola virus in a hotel. In contrast, Dr. Adadevoh, who headed the medical team that treated Mr. Sawyer, the Liberian who was the first case in Nigeria, displayed exemplary leadership in stopping him from leaving the hospital and, thus, halting further exposure of others to the virus. This singular heroic act displayed by Dr. Adadevoh significantly reduced the impact of Ebola virus disease in Lagos State in particular and Nigeria in general. Unfortunately, both doctors died; one a villain another a hero.
We salute the other doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, medical laboratory scientists, logisticians, pharmacists, cleaners, drivers, web designers and others actively involved in halting the spread of Ebola in Nigeria. We carry on knowing that some of these heroes risk their lives to ensure our wellbeing.
Knowing that about 36,000 women die in childbirth each year in Nigeria, several heroes work tirelessly to save the lives of potential mothers and their babies. They toil on, despite a dearth of resources. One can only imagine the impact they could make if provided with the best of conditions and resources.
Another hero is Angeline Nchedo, a SURE-P midwife whose devotion to her job has taken her from her home town Enugu to far-away Sokoto State in the North-West. She stayed back even when some of her colleagues resigned due to the hardship that comes with the placement.
Heroism in the health sector isn’t just confined to individuals. Sometimes, governments display behavior that can be termed heroic – like those that have taken leadership to provide the right environment for health workers to excel. For instance, the government of Sokoto State, northwest Nigeria in partnership with TSHIP Nigeria has provided midwives and community health extension workers with chlorhexidine gel, a measure that has resulted in the saved lives of thousands of newborns in Sokoto State. The chlorhexidine gel is applied to a newly cut baby’s umbilical cord and prevents infections that routinely kill babies. As simple as this may sound, the evidence for it is quite robust. Community randomized trials in three Asian countries showed that applying 7.1% chlorhexidine digluconate (delivering 4% chlorhexidine) to the umbilical cord prevents infection and saves newborn lives.
At Nigeria Health Watch, we want to emphasize the importance of recognizing these individuals and organizations and the work that they do, these people whom we call “Heroes in Health”.
We will soon bring some of these people together to highlight the dedication and innovative approaches that are being used, even in the midst of all the challenges in our health sector. We want to share the stories of some of the inspiring people who are responding to some of the toughest challenges facing the Nigerian health sector. We hope to encourage reflection and inspire a unique generation of thinkers and leaders in the health sector by presenting theses stories to an audience committed to and actively involved in bringing progress to the Nigerian health sector.
Our “Heroes in Health” are people who strive to provide the best care they can within their spheres of influence, often with limited resources. These heroes cut across government, for-profit and not-for-profit sectors of the economy. From the midwife, who works at the frontlines to ensure no woman dies while giving life, to the parasitologist working tirelessly to prevent blindness and other debilitating illnesses that arise from infections with neglected tropical disease. These heroes work tirelessly to reduce the burden of diseases in Nigeria.
Watch this space and follow @healthheroesng on Twitter!