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Healing Niger Deltans: NDDC’s Free Medical Programme


Healing Niger Deltans: NDDC’s Free Medical Programme

  • Of all the development programmes which the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, 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, this very important health intervention programme, that provided healing and succour to Niger Deltans, was suspended since 2019. The good news, 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, Dr Samuel Ogbuku, 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, Sir 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.

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.

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.

The programme brought showers of blessing for Mrs. 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.

Mrs. 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 Mrs. 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.”

Mrs. 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.

Mr. 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.

The NDDC Director, Education, Health and Social Services, Dr. 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 Dr. 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 free medical outreach has been one of the flagship programmes of the Commission, serving to endear the Commission to the medically needy communities, with documented evidence and abounding testimonies of its beneficial impact in enhancing the quality of life of the rural poor in the region.”

The Chief Executive Officer of Pro-Health International, Dr. 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.

Dr. 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, Dr 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.”


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