Eko Free Health Mission Programme to Promote Primary Health Care System in Lagos State

A neighbour told Mrs Omotayo Lola, who is in her fifties, that there was a free medical test and treatment being offered to people in Ayobo, a community in Lagos, where she resides. The following morning, she woke up early in order to seek treatment for her eyesight.

“I have been here since about seven,” she says in Yoruba, the second official language in the State.

She says she was given priority attention due to her elderly status. However, upon arriving at the medical unit, instead of just checking her eyes, her blood pressure was measured. The doctors discovered that she had high blood pressure.

“I came for eye check-up but they said my blood pressure is high,” she says in Yoruba. “The doctors gave me drugs. They attended to me very well. I am very happy.”

Mrs Omotayo advocates for more frequent free medical services. ”If they can do this every three months, it would be good,” she says, adding, “There are many people who die as a result of not having money to access medical treatment.”  She says she would not have known she had high blood pressure if she had not come to take advantage of the blindness prevention programme offered in the community.

According to 2010 data from the National Bureau of Statistics, Lagos has a a growing population of over seven million and an unemployment rate of about twenty-eight percent. Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, remains a melting pot for many people seeking greener pasture in the country.

“Over the years, the challenge for government has been to continuously find ways of improving the health status of the ever increasing population, based on the popular maxim that the wealth of a nation lies in the health and well being of the people,” says Honorable Yusus Sakiru Adisa, the chairman of Ayobo-Ipaja local council development area, during a press briefing at the Ipaja Mini stadium where the free health mission took place.

“The programme is symbolic as it represents the essence of government in meeting the needs of the governed thus celebrating the notions of accessibility, equity, quality and affordability in health care services,” says Honorable Adisa.

The Eko free health mission kicked of February 25 to March 1, 2013 at Ayobo-Ipaja local council development area, Lagos.

“We give immunization to children between 0 and 5 years old. We do dental procedures- polishing, extractions. We give medications too,” says Olajumoke Adeoye, a team member of Lagos state ministry of health.

She says there is also a surgery department, made up of a team of professionals performing simple surgical procedures such as appendices and removal of lumps.

In addition, the free health mission team provides blindness prevention programme where they give glasses to those with eye ailment.

“For those that need special order, we ask them to come back the next day,” she says.

Adeoye says many people in the community are benefitting from the free medical mission programme which kicks off at eight every morning and ends about 5PM. “We make sure everyone that comes there we attend to them. We usually attend to 3,000 and above,” she says.

It is expected that over 20,000 people from the local council development area will have benefitted from the different medical services provided at the end of the programme.

“Even if we give out 3,000 cards we still have some mothers with 2 children, three children who come in. It is one card that admit mother and children.” Adeoye says.

“Our procedure is that when they come they take their numbers,” she says describing how the medical team manages the crowd.

“It makes it easier for us to sort them out,” she says.

Everyone who comes is given a number, irrespective of their medical condition.

“When we bring them in a queue, we sort them to their various department. We don’t allow pregnant women to queue. They are always the first we attend to,” she says.

Adeoye says one of the reasons for the free medical mission is to create awareness about the primary Healthcare Centres in Lagos state.

“A lot of people don’t like using the primary healthcare centre,” she says. “But when we visit a locality we create awareness about the primary healthcare centres. And we let the people know they can access Medicare in their primary healthcare centre.For example, in the antenatal department we have here, it is discovered that a lot of women have not been to the primary healthcare. They don’t register when they are pregnant. They prefer to go to traditional birth attendants. But when they come here we counsel them.”

Adeoye says the pregnant women are counselled to utilize their primary healthcare centres for safe delivery.

“I heard about this programme through a friend,” says Mrs Oluwatoyin Adelusi, a resident of the community who also benefitted from the programme.

She says the community people are praying for the State governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, to keep ameliorating the health condition in their community.

“We really enjoy it and we are praying for Fashola, that he should keep it up,” Adelusi says.

“My advice to the organizers is that they should try and be bring this sort of thing probably once in a year or twice in a year,” she says.

Like Adelusi, Moses Adegbola says the programme impresses him.

“I’m pretty surprise getting here and seeing everything put in place. Virtually all the aspects of health are being taken care of,” says Adegbola, who brought his daughter for nutrition check-up.

“I give kudos to the government for doing this. I believe they should do more of this. This is a very good step in the right direction. I believe the government should do more of this in all the other areas,“ Adegbola says.

Mrs Oluwatoyin Adams, chief nutrition officer Lagos state Ministry of Health, says the purpose of the exercise is to take medical services to the grassroots level.

“It is a grassroots exercise. We take medical services to the grassroots,” she says.

“The turnout and the acceptance by the people is very good.”

The nutrition stand was one of the most visited stands within the mini stadium where Lagosians in the community trooped out in thousands to access the free medical services.

Mrs Adams says they provide nutrition counselling to mothers who come with their infants as well as adults. “We counsel them on breastfeeding,” she says.

The mothers with infants are counselled on adequate complimentary feeding. “That is, graduating from exclusive breastfeeding to family food,” says Adams.

According to her, during their malnutrition assessment, the medical team discovered many malnourished children. “We have ready-to-use therapeutic food that we use in managing these children,” she says. Adding, ”After that, we refer them to the nearest health centre where they are residing for continuity. They will be managed for about four weeks,”

“We encourage people to seek medical services in the nearest health centres to them,” says, Mrs Adams.

She says the medical services at the primary healthcare are free.

“The people are there to serve them. They should stop self-medication,” she advised, adding that people should try as much as possible to go for regular assessment at least twice a year.

“Seek for medical assessment and also visit your nutritionist regularly,” Adams says.

Mrs Peace Ugorji, a beneficiary of the programme says she has been longing for an opportunity to access medical treatment for her one-year old malnourished son.

“I have been longing for this,” says Mrs Ugorji.

She says her son, Samuel, first became ill at about three months of age.

“I have been going for immunization. They will look at him and ask what food are you giving him,” Ugorji says. Then the nurse at the health centre advised her to take Samuel to the General Hospital.

“I took him to general hospital Ikeja, we spent 2 weeks there,” she says.

Although the medical services at the general hospital were free, Ugorji says that she could not afford the drugs the doctors prescribed for her son.

“After two weeks I had to leave there because I was running out of money,” she says.

Ugorji heard about the free medical mission and decided to bring her son there. He was diagnosed with server malnutrition. “They say the baby needs to be admitted,” she says, while waiting for an Ambulance that would take them to the general hospital.

The Eko Free health mission programme is the first in Ayobo community. The last medical mission, which took place in October 2012, was done collaboration with Eko Club International, a US based organisation of Lagosians living in diaspora.

Adeoye says Lagosians who live outside the shores of Lagos came together to raise funds, and approached the Lagos state government for partnership to carryout the grassroots outreach in different communities in Lagos. Unlike the outreach in Ayobo, which was solely funded by the government, theirs was spread across different communities within the State in one week.

“People have been responding. And they’ve been coming out to get healthcare for themselves and their children,” says Doctor Amire Adetutu, one of the medical professionals at the programme.

She says people in the state often do not seek medical services as a result of the high rate of poverty in Nigeria.

“People are poor in the country,” she says.

“They don’t see healthcare as a necessity. But programmes like this are awareness programmes that help them by bring healthcare to their doorstep. It is not a luxury, it is something everyone should have access to,” She says.

Doctor Amire says health awareness programmes are very important because it helps people understand the importance of healthcare.

“The structure of the healthcare system is such that there is a tertiary healthcare system, then it comes to secondary and it comes to primary healthcare system,” she says.

Tertiary healthcare system refers to the teaching hospitals, while the secondary healthcare refers to the general hospitals. However, the primary healthcare system reaches grassroots communities in the country.

Doctor Amire advises those who are unable to attend the free medical mission to visit their primary healthcare centres for medical services. “There are good health professionals there that can take care of them and the populace at large,” she says.

Note: This report was gathered on the second day of the exercise. It does not represent the full details of the programme.

Jennifer Ehidiamen founded RuralReporters.com in 2014. She is actively exploring the intersection between storytelling, tech and development. She has reported on global health and development issues in Africa for Voice of America (VOA News), Global Press Institute, Ventures Africa, The Nation etc. A 2016 Foreign Press Scholarship award recipient, 2013 Innovative Young Journalist Award recipient, 2013 New Media Fellow for International Reporting Project, and 2010 LEAP Africa Award recipient, Jennifer runs the Rural Reports project with a team spread across different regions in Africa. The news portal is dedicated to covering issues around rural development. Jennifer graduated from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism with a degree in Mass Communication and earned a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University. She has published three books: "In Days to Come" (2004), "Preserve my Saltiness" (2011) and "Half A Loaf And A Bakery" (2013). Jennifer currently serves as a full-time writer and communications consultant. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @Disgeneration

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