• Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

NDDC launches ‘Healing the Niger Delta’ scheme to rescue victims of oil exploitation

20240512_082623_0000

…Over 2.5m receive health interventions

Angela Okwu, 32, works in a supermarket Oguta local council area of Imo State as a cashier has gone to two hospitals where fibroid was diagnosed. Doctors recommended a major surgery which required a minimum of N250,000, an amount the newly married lady said her young family could not afford. She thus resorted to herbal remedies.

Even when she learnt that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was bringing medical intervention, she squeezed her mouth because the NDDC did not connote hope for any reasonable person. Friends however persuaded her to ‘try your luck’ and she did at the General Hospital Oguta.

Today, Okwu, like many others, are raising their hands in the air in praise of the intervention in their health.

Flagging off the scheme in Imo State, the Managing Director of the NDDC, Samuel Ogbuku, said: “In the coming weeks, the Commission will be visiting all the nine mandate states of the Niger Delta region, to take this free health programme to our people. In this first phase, we will also be visiting Owaza in Abia State, Otuasega in Ogbia, and Yenagoa, both in Bayelsa State, Akamkpa in Cross River State, Otujeremi in Ughelli North, in Delta State, Auchi in Edo State, Igbokoda in Ondo State and Ogu in Rivers State.”

Ogbuku observed that the Commission was providing a platform through which God would continue to work miracles in the lives of the people and through which the needs of Niger Deltans could begin to be realised and their dreams of a better Niger Delta region fulfilled.

It was the day over 3,000 patients were expected to benefit from the Free Health Care Medical Programme of the NDDC that took place at the General Hospital Oguta in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State.

The NDDC boss said that the week-long free healthcare programme, which the NDDC organised in partnership with the Arit Walden Free Healthcare Mission, was in compliance with the Commission’s mandate to intervene in the health needs of the people

The representative of Imo State on the NDDC Board, Kirean Uchegbu, applauded the leadership of the Commission for providing a platform through which the healthcare needs of the people could be addressed. He urged the people of Oguta LGA and other neighbouring communities to avail themselves of the medical services.

The traditional ruler of Oguta, Eze Nnani Chinedu Nzeribe. lauded the NDDC for the free health programme, which he described as life-saving and impactful. “We are grateful that God is using the NDDC to help our people,” he said.

The Administrator of Arthur Nzeribe General Hospital, Oguta, a reverend father, Anthony Emereonyeokwe, commended the NDDC for bringing the free medical programme to Oguta and using the facilities of the general hospital.

BusinessDay gathered that the medical interventions ranged from consultations for things such as malaria or upper respiratory tract infections or children who had cuts, to cogent cases such as fibroid surgeries, eye surgeries with intraocular lens implantation and dental surgeries.

What touched the life of Okwu in Oguta in Imo State did not stop there. It touched many more lives in Akwa Ibom State.

At a week-long medical mission at the Ukana Cottage Hospital, the sick and infirm from several communities in the local government area and beyond trouped out in search of healing.

The programme brought showers of blessing for Happiness Idiok Francis, who was delivered of twins, two boys. The lucky woman, who hails from Abia State, was full of praises to God and the NDDC for making it possible for her to carry her children.

Francis is only one out of many poor people in the remote communities of the Niger Delta who have been rescued through the intervention of the NDDC’s free medical missions. For seven days, the Cottage Hospital Ukana, was swarming with activities as the sick and their caring relatives thronged the place for medical attention from the visiting medical team.

The motley crowd of the old and the young waited patiently as they took turns to be attended to by the medical personnel. They were met by an equally patient medical team put together by the NDDC in conjunction with Pro-Health International.

For Ndianaobong Bassey, it was time to say goodbye to disconcerting abdominal pains caused by fibroid. It took a major surgery from the medical team to relieve her of the tumour and the accompanying pains which she had endured for many years. As she recuperates, she now hopes to live a normal life free from nagging pains. Even in her weak state in the hospital bed, she struggled to find the right adjectives to qualify the benefits of the NDDC’s heath mission. In summary, she said: “NDDC came to our place with the healing hand of God.”

Afaha Ikot Ibok, who lives with her husband in Ukana, could not agree more. She too was delivered through caesarian section. It was a big relief for the family because they did not know where to turn to for help before the free health programme came to their door-steps.

Monday Akpan, who brought his mother for treatment, said he was delighted that the free healthcare programme came to Essien Udim at a time he was almost giving up hope on how to save his sick mother but could not find money to take her to a private clinic for medical treatment. “You can see the joy in our faces. We are glad the NDDC has come to our rescue,” he said.

“I thank the NDDC. We appreciate this life-saving programme. We appreciate what the doctors are doing, and please continue to remember us and come again,” he said.

Criticality of health intervention:

Top officials of the NDDC said of all the development programmes which the Commission has undertaken in the Niger Delta region, the one that brings tremendous relief and makes immediate impact on the lives of the rural people is the free health care programme. The free health missions have gone round virtually all corners of the Niger Delta, healing the sick and giving hope to the medically challenged.

Unfortunately, they said, this very important health intervention programme that provided healing and succour to Niger Deltans was suspended since 2019. The good news, they say, however, is that the free medical outreach is back and has been flagged off to take the healing mission across the nine states of the Niger Delta region.

In a ceremony to re-launch the programme at the Ukana Cottage Hospital in Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, the NDDC Managing Director spoke of the resolve of the Commission to take healthcare to the door-steps of rural dwellers and communities.

The NDDC boss, who was represented by the NDDC Executive Director, Projects, Victor Antai, said that the Commission through the free medical mission had provided health solutions to over two million Niger Deltans across almost all communities in the region, emphasizing its determination to make a difference in the health sector through the engagement of relevant partners such as Pro-Health International, Arit Walden Free Healthcare Mission and others.

Through the free medical outreach, the NDDC appears to be waging a two-pronged war on building human capacity and restoring the health of the people in communities across Nigeria’s oil-bearing region. By the rate the programme is going and the coverage it is achieving, insiders believe that over 40,000 patients may receive health and life again.

History of the health intervention:

There is no doubt that the activities of the oil companies impact negatively on the lives of the people. Pollution of water, land and air is rampant and prevalent. A study of the region by the World Bank warned that “an urgent need exists to implement a mechanism to protect the life and health of the regions inhabitants and its ecological systems from further deterioration.”

Other studies showed that health indicators in the Niger Delta were far below the national average.

This prompted the NDDC to swing into action in 2004, when it embarked on its first free medical mission in Odi, in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. Then, Odi was confronted with a dire situation, following a special military operation, and the attendant health challenges which faced the people.

A typical free medical mission uses volunteer medical personnel who set up a field hospital in the premises of a medical facility. The health programme usually includes general consultations, and laboratory tests, surgical interventions in gynecological cases, obstetrics, ophthalmic among others.

The programme also offers general health education and counseling especially for communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS. Those with serious ailments that cannot be treated at the field offices are referred to tertiary health institutions for more comprehensive care.

The NDDC Director, Education, Health and Social Services, (Geordge Uzonwanne), said that the goal of the commission was to provide medical services to the people of the Niger Delta region, as part of its mandate. He noted that the commission had always put a special focus on healthcare delivery, adding that it had extended health facilities and services to many communities across the region.

According to Uzonwanne, there was hardly any community in the region that has not benefited from the free health programme. He gave kudos to the Non-Governmental Organisations that have been partnering with the NDDC in this critical intervention in the health sector, noting that the partners provided free healthcare services to several communities on a regular basis.

He said: “We have successfully treated over 1,200 cases, including performing 50 successful eye surgeries. Additionally, 280 corrective eyeglasses have been distributed to aid patients in reading small prints and improving their vision. Each pair of these eyeglasses, provided free of charge by NDDC, is valued at N35,000 and above.

“Furthermore, the programme has facilitated the safe delivery of seven babies through Caesarean sections, including a set of twins. Patients have also received various medications for conditions such as malaria, hypertension, diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), gastrointestinal disorders, dental care, eye care, surgeries for conditions like hydrocele and appendicitis, as well as diagnostic services including tests like packed cell volume (PCV) and random blood sugar.”

Dr Uzonwanne affirmed that the Free Medical Outreach was conducted in collaboration with Pro-Health International Africa, Excellence Community Education Scheme, and Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria.

According to NDDC: “This programme, which provides healthcare services to medically underserved rural communities in the region, is one of several health programmes of the Commission, targeted at changing the health situation and narrative of our people in the region. It is in line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, No. 3 which aspires to achieve universal health coverage and ensure health and well-being for all.

The Chief Executive Officer of Pro-Health International, Iko Ibanga, said that he was very impressed by the massive turn-out of the people to take advantage of the free health care. According to him, hundreds of patients were attended to within the first 3 days. “We have performed many major surgeries for fibroid, ovarian cyst, hernia, as well as caesarean sections. We have also performed cataract extraction for some patients with impaired vision,” he said.

Ibanga highlighted the benefits of the NDDC free medical programme, noting that it was very useful for the poor and less privileged people. He said that many people in the rural areas found it difficult to access medical services on account of poverty, citing the case of two women whose delivery were delayed because they could not raise the money for a caesarian section in a private clinic.

He said: “The people complain that medical services in their communities are very expensive because they are seen as coming from oil-producing areas. The private clinics here are very expensive for the people. So, without the free health programme of the NDDC, most of them are more or less helpless.”

For the Consultant Obsterician and gynaecologist, head of the operating room for Pro-Health International, Nsikak Nyoyoko, the turnout of people from Ukana and the neighbouring communities was massive. “I am very happy with the set up and the people have testified that they were well treated by the doctors, nurses and other medical personnel,” he said.

“With the free health programme, our people can say farewell to all the endemic health problems that have long plagued them. It is expedient to mention here that the health partners are expected to hand over substantial quantities of drugs to the hospital management for the treatment of those who had some major operations.”

A typical free medical mission uses volunteer medical personnel who set up a field hospital in the premises of a medical facility. The health programme usually includes general consultations, and laboratory tests, surgical interventions in gynecological cases, obstetrics, ophthalmic among others.

The programme also offers general health education and counseling especially for communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS. Those with serious ailments that cannot be treated at the field offices are referred to tertiary health institutions for more comprehensive care.

At the week-long medical mission at the Ukana Cottage Hospital, the sick and infirm from several communities in the local government area and beyond trouped out in search of healing.

Moving train:

The health scheme seems to move big and fast to all the nine states. It was relaunched at Ukana Cottage Hospital, in Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State recently on the way to the nine states in about the end of June.

Speaking in an interview with newsmen at the NDDC headquarters in Port Harcourt, the Commission’s Director for Education Health and Social Services (Uzonwanne), said that after the flag off in Akwa Ibom State, the medical outreach had been conducted at the Oguta General Hospital in Imo State.

He said that NDDC’s efforts to transform healthcare access within the Niger Delta region was in tandem with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3; Good Health and Well-being and ensuring equitable health services for all.

Uzonwanne stated: “The NDDC understands that a healthy population is the cornerstone of a prosperous Niger Delta. The free healthcare mission reflects our commitment to not only address immediate health needs but also invest in the long-term well-being of our communities.”

He said that over 7,000 patients benefited from the medical outreach in Imo and Akwa Ibom states in the last three weeks, noting that 2.5 million people in the Niger Delta region had benefited from the free health care delivery by the Commission since its inception.

Uzonwanne assured: “What happened in Ukana and Oguta will be replicated in other communities in the Niger Delta region.

“In Ukana, we successfully treated over 1200 cases, including performing 50 eye surgeries, resulting in 50 formerly partially blind individuals regaining their sight. Additionally, 280 corrective eyeglasses were distributed to aid patients in reading small prints and improving their vision. Each pair of these eyeglasses, provided free of charge by NDDC, is valued at N35,000 and above. We also gave out Nutritional High Energy Products and supplements for malnourished children under the age of five.”

“In Oguta we attended to 3,927 patients, including 93 eye surgeries, 67 other surgery cases, 162 dental cases and 1,251 patients treated in general medicine.”

The NDDC Director explained: “The 2024 Free Medical Mission Phase 1 offers a wide array of services, free of charge, including: general consultations and preventative screenings; surgical interventions for critical conditions; specialised care for complex health issues, as well as provision of medications and essential medical supplies.

He declared: “The NDDC is coming to your doorsteps with qualified doctors and medical personnel to give you good health. Money will no longer stand between you and good health.”

Uzonwanne gave details of the up-coming medical missions, stating: “Our next stop is at the General Hospital, Otu Jeremi in Ughelli South LGA of Delta State from May 5-11; the mission moves to Otuasega in Ogbia LGA of Bayelsa from May 12-18; then it goes to Auchi General Hospital in Etsako West LGA of Edo State from May 12-18; followed by Ondo State from May 26-June1 at Igbokoda General Hospital, Ilaje LGA; while Bayelsa State gets another chance from June 2-8 at Diete Koki Memorial Hospital, Yenagoa; Rivers State follows from June 2-8 at Ogu General Hospital in Ogu/Bolo LGA; while it goes to Abia State from June 16-22 at the Community Health Centre, Owaza in Ukwa West LGA and finally births at the General Hospital, Akamkpa in Cross River State from June 16-22.”

Fibroid made easy:

Many women these days seem scared of fibroid which seems to attack at epidemic proportion. Now, a total of 48 patients have undergone surgeries for fibroid in the on-going NDDC Free Health Medical Outreach holding at the General Hospital Otu Jeremi, in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State, alone.

Speaking at the week-long free healthcare programme, the NDDC Managing Director said that the programme would bring healthcare to the door-steps of rural dwellers and communities, noting that over 6,000 patients have benefited from the health missions in Akwa Ibom and Imo states.

He was represented by Patience Ezugu who said that the Commission had, over the years, provided health solutions to over two million Niger Deltans across almost all communities in the region.

“The positive impact of this mission is set to continue across the nine states of the Niger Delta region, as President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has given the Commission the mandate to extend the healthcare initiative to as many communities as possible.”

The NDDC boss said that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had agreed to collaborate with the NDDC to implement a Health Insurance Project, as well as other health programmes that would benefit the people of the Niger Delta region, such as the free medical outreaches.

Ogbuku re-stated the Commission’s resolve to leverage on its policy of Transiting from Transaction to Transformation, so as to ensure transparency and accountability in its activities and programmes. In this wise, he said, the Commission was making progress with its youth development and empowerment scheme, known as Holistic Opportunities, Projects and Engagement, HOPE, which was building a comprehensive database of the youth population of the Niger Delta region.

According to a schedule released by the NDDC, the Free Medical Outreach will move to Otuasega in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa from May 12-18.