by Sr. Prisca Ovat MMM Kenya/Nigeria 29.10.2022
The time at home on holiday brought me a brand-new experience. For the first time, I noticed a different pattern of living amongst my people; wrongs were made right out of ignorance. In Nigeria, especially in some small towns and villages, the doctors and nurses known and trusted are often without former education but are trainees of pharmacists and general practitioners. They, in turn, train others who litter pharmaceutical shops around the villages, posing as health care experts. Some medical institutions in these said localities are often unwilling to employ qualified personnel for pecuniary gains. So, they enroll young persons to carry out certain procedures reserved for healthcare experts.
Once, I had the opportunity to interview one of them. The revelations were not amusing. “We learn to set and give infusions, injections and conduct appendectomy,” she said. She continued: “Most of us are secondary school graduates and dropouts. Some do not even have secondary education.” Listening to her, it became obvious to me that the above-described clinics thrive due to proximity and lack of proper health institutions.
This reckless culture of healthcare provision nearly claimed my father’s life twice within the space of a year. After a ghastly road accident, several hours passed before the “doctor” pulled himself to the clinic to attend to a severe bleeding patient. As expected, it was followed by a misdiagnosis. Moreover, an only child of a parent died from 3rd-degree burns because the quack nurses did not know what to do while the doctor was away for two days. A young man died from a brain hemorrhage following an auto accident because they thought he was drunk. Awkwardly, they repeatedly slapped him to remain quiet. Another young man had a septic shock from a mismanaged appendectomy. There was also another who received an “IM only” injection intravenously. He collapsed immediately. It is annoying that the very moment an ill person (young or old) presents themselves at these chemist shops, they immediately receive prescriptions for typhoid and malaria, accompanied by a certain number of injections and infusions to exaggerate its severity, satisfy the minds of the sick and their family, and extort exorbitant money. Such unprofessional practices have led to several avoidable deaths.
I had visited a chemist for paracetamol. While I waited, a woman walked in and requested five capsules of Amoxil. The dosage on demand kept my mind wondering. What condition required five capsules? I thought it was no longer her business alone, so I asked. Surprisingly, the medication was for a one-year-old low weight baby, and his mother intended to split the capsule into halves to be administered in the morning and evening. I then turned to the chemist and asked whose interest he had in mind: the money or the people. Wouldn’t he have educated the woman and suggested the syrup form with the right doses? If only he knew the right thing. In effect, for every acute condition, a person receives what is described as the “one dose” magic – one capsule of Amoxil, two tablets of paracetamol, two tablets of vitamin C, one tablet of ibuprofen, one tablet of vitamin B complex, all to be swallowed at once. My people are in trouble! I concluded.
The firsthand experience of this great ignorance incites the idea of health promotion. It became obvious that a health awareness seminar was absolutely necessary. I immediately engaged the parish priest in a dialogue, expressing my concerns. He immediately convoked a seminar and obliged that announcement be made across the Parish outstations. Soon they gathered. About a hundred and twenty persons were in attendance, of whose ninety percent were within the age bracket of the 50s. The youths were heard saying their health is no one’s business and requires no external information for self-care. Such ignorance!
Now, my people are predominantly farmers, so when a disease sets in, it becomes a financial burden for the family and the community. On the morning of the seminar, one of our MMM aspirants came to join me. Together with another volunteer, we administered free blood pressure check. Amidst the attendees, those with high blood pressure (unknown to them) outnumbered those with normal blood pressure. Appropriate referrals were made. Throughout the seminar, I repeatedly admonished saying: “only a healthy person goes to the farm or market.” Following the general talk, the participants were split into four groups to discuss issues on health, domestic violence, pastoral responsibilities, and the importance of the mother tongue. A few experts amongst them served as moderators. They practically proffered solutions to their issues.
A crucial point raised by those in the health group resonated with the reality of poverty. An argument broke out in the group. A few boldly confronted the only professional medical doctor at the seminar noting that he has no regard for emergencies. The allegation stated that for lack of a 50,000 Naira deposit (approx. 118 USD), patients die at his clinic’s door while he walks away, cursing his trainees for calling him without first receiving a deposit. What is $118 in exchange for life? I ruminated. As a response, the doctor cited the danger of compromising for lack of money. My intervention in calming the situation was based on our MMM charism: going in haste in response to a human need, with lives at the heart of our missions.
The people were made to see that in their quest for immediate survival – visiting chemist shops to receive their usual one-dose magic medication for 200 Naira (0.3 USD) so that life may go on for a week or two before the next dose, they contribute to complications ensued from delayed proper medical attention, thus upsurging their economic burden. Likewise, the people were brought to realize that the last demons to contend with are certain unnecessary but overwhelmingly embraced cultural practices such as the “Aso Ebi” custom – a Yoruba term generally used to describe a set of uniforms worn at ceremonies. Sometimes, people send more money to celebrate the deceased’s funeral rites than to save the latter’s life when needed or invest the money in the education of the deceased orphans.
In conclusion, this initiative was the first of its kind, as expressed by the assembly. It also occurred to me (a missionary) that being fully present to a people or culture has so little to do with solving all their problems, to which we may have no appropriate answers. Instead, it has everything to do with helping them discover their hidden treasures and continually purify their culture, traditions, perceptions, and attitude to life in response to the sign of times through proper orientation and awareness.