For the sake of humanity: How a centre is offering geriatric care in Epe

In recent years the plight of the elderly in Nigeria has risen to the fore. There has been increased clamour for the government to reappraise its efforts for the aged in the country.

Currently, Nigeria has no functional national policy on the care and welfare of older persons.

According to the Population Reference Bureau and National Council on Aging, just like any other country in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria’s elderly population is also increasing rapidly.

Records from the centre show that in Nigeria, those aged 65 years and above make up 3.1 percent or 5.9 million of the total population, which in crude numbers represents an increase of 600,000 during the 5-year period 2012–2020.

Experts say that the rising numbers of the elderly in Nigeria are among others attributed to the decreasing mortality rate.

Ageing in Nigeria is occurring against the background of socioeconomic hardship, widespread poverty, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the rapid transformation of the traditional extended family structure among other issues.

Experts also say that the changing demographics in Nigeria, in addition to the breakdown of the family structure and absence of a social security system, present unique challenges to the elderly in Nigeria.

Indeed, one of such gestures aimed to give succour to the elderly in the country was initiated by a philanthropist six months ago.

The Thani Oladunjoye Old People’s Centre, Epe, Lagos State, founded by communication and advertising expert, Tunde Thani is changing the narrative in welfare service delivery to the elderly.

The centre’s primary responsibility is to care for the welfare of the elderly in the town and beyond, including their health, recreation, and social needs amongst other social security benefits.

Built in memorial of his late parents, the centre is perhaps, the first privately owned and financed old people’s home in the nation’s commercial nerve centre and indeed in the ancient town of Epe, synonymous with its aquatic potentials which had benefitted Lagos and neighbouring states of Ogun and Osun.

In the last six months since the centre was established, more than 1,000 elderly within Lagos State and beyond have successfully been treated for various health conditions by the centre.

The centre which is open throughout the day holds consultation every Tuesday and Thursday, where no fewer than 50 aged people often come for various forms of medical care.

The centre is staffed with medical personnel, including medical doctors.

It also has a pharmacy where drugs are given free to the elderly after prescription from the doctor and equipped with the latest medical facilities.

Recently, as part of its services, no fewer than 20 elderly with cataract and other health challenges benefited from free cataract eyes surgery, glasses and drugs from the centre.

The beneficiaries were selected after a test by an ophthalmologist in the centre to check their health condition before they embarked on the surgery.

It was all smiles of relief on the faces of the beneficiaries, as the centre presented grasses to the elderly, some of which had lose their eyes sight for up to four years, after completing the cataract eyes surgery, which was facilitated by the centre for free

A beneficiary, Rita Okonkwo , 60, a retired nurse, said she had not been able to see with her two eyes in the last three years and could not afford to buy recommended glasses to aid her vision.

According to Okonkwo, Two year ago I was sleeping when I woke up. I could not see with either of my eyes. It was like a harmattan was blocking my vision. I managed to contribute money to do the left eye, but there has been no money again.

“When I close my left eyes I can’t see, it is like cotton wood is covering me.

“So, later I came here, I can see after the surgery, I can also read. When I wanted to work, I bought a glass. When I am walking I think I will fall inside water”.

Another, beneficiary, Salisu Titilayo said she started having issues with her eyes about two years ago and had an operation at that time, but had no money for the recommended glass.

“I started having an issue with my two years ago, I had an operation in Lagos State hospital two years ago and now I am getting the recommended glass free,” Salisu said.

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The Old People’s Centre, which was set up at the beginning of the year 2022, is located at Oke-Owode, Oke-Oyinbo axis of Epe town.

The launching of the centre early this year was greeted with jubilation by indigenes across the town and beyond, and was attended by the founder’s friends, associates, political leaders and tradition rulers in the Epe town and across Lagos State and beyond.

Most of the leaders were full of praise for the founder for his thoughtfulness, which led him to establish the centre to immortalise his parents, impact on humanity and improve the living condition of elderly in Nigeria.

Speaking on the essence and motivation behind establishing the centre, Thani, who is the chief executive of Explicit Communications, said the centre had become paramount in present-day society, considering the plight of many elderly people, especially at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to cater for their needs.

The philanthropist said the centre had made tremendous progress since it was established six months ago, adding that beneficiaries cut across several local government areas in Lagos State.

“It’s been a period of fulfilment, and we are quite happy because we’ve seen these people being treated, we see them happy, dancing, we see them getting healed, believing and having the confidence that they will be treated and they are getting all of these free of charge in their community by their people, by someone that is theirs”.

According to him, “Some of them come they don’t believe it because they only just heard that there is a place where they take care of the aging people. There, they treat them, give them medication, consult for them, allow them to have fun, play games, and relax.

“They have an optometrist that comes to see them for their vision issues and we give them free glasses. Some of them come with surprises but they go home satisfied, so what can I say but glory be to God.

“We planned to have two clinic days in a week and we had assumed that we would be treating thirty aging people per clinic day.

“That’s why we have two doctors always attending to them because we do not want them to stay too long, we also do not want them to experience what they experience in other places because of their situation.

“So, we have two pharmacists on the ground to attend to them. I can tell you we have over one thousand patients that are registered and treated by this center.

“When I say one thousand, we have some of their cards, apart from treating them. We follow up, and the doctors give them referrals and review dates. We have their contacts, we know their houses and we follow them up.

“These people are being treated for all manners of ailments. I wouldn’t place one ailment above the other but I can tell you that we discovered that quite a number of them had high blood pressure and they didn’t even know they did.

Some of them have a heavy load of diabetes.

“For some of them, we discovered that due to their untreated diabetes and high blood pressure, they had vision problems. Some of them are malnourished but we treated all of these areas.

“We never imagined that we would treat such divergent illnesses but God has been helping us. Some of them have heavy loads of malaria, they are weak and in pain. Some of them have arthritis but we give glory to God, He has been helping us.

Speaking further on the services rendered at the centre, Thani stressed that several of the patients have been getting relieved from their health challenges.

He added that some of the aged people were surprised that the centre could operate for over six months, while non Epe indigenes, initially assumed they would not receive service because they do not hail from the town.

“Epe is a little bit complex and you get to hear a lot of things. One of the days, I just came around, nobody knew me. I was going downstairs and then I heard one woman say that we only treat Eko Epe people and that we don’t allow Ijebu Epe people.

“I asked her where she is from and she said she is an Ijebu Epe local. I also asked her when she came in and she answered 9:30 am, and I asked her what they were doing around that time.

“She said they were taking classes, having lifestyle talks, doing exercises and cleaning, etc. I asked her what time she was told to come and she said 7am. I responded by saying that she was late and took her into one of the classes.

“I asked everyone how many Ijebu Epe people are there? Some people raised their hands. Surprisingly that day more people came from Pokia Majoda than the people coming from this side. Those are some of the challenges.

“And of course we have administrative challenges. I don’t live here, I live and work in Lagos and we had to employ people here. Those challenges came and they were quite enormous.

“The person we took as the head of administration here is not an indigene of Epe and the Epe people did not accept that. Those were the administrative issues we faced but God is helping us.

“At some point, we’ve come to ground with the quantity of medications we need because we have come to understand the peculiar nature of our people.

“Many of them have hypertension, diabetes or/and arthritis. With time and through studies we’ve been able to tackle these challenges as they come. So far so good.

“Of note, I usually don’t want to mention names for confidentiality but I was shocked when I got a call from the former governor of Lagos state. He said he was passing by one of the mornings that we had our health talk and he saw about one hundred and twenty aging people outside the facility.

“They were struggling to get transport back to their homes; some of them took Okada and all manner of public transport despite their frail nature.

“He said he heard about the old people’s home and he asked what he could do to help with transport, and I responded that it is a great honour to have him offer some assistance and that he could do anything within his power to help”.

“The second week, we got a coaster bus donated by the former governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode.

“I also have a friend, the managing director of Greenlife Pharmaceutical Ltd, he is my client. He has donated huge supplies of medications to us twice”.