Medical Missions to Africa: the human face of inhumanity

They were greeted like heroes as they alighted from the aircraft in Nigeria via the Abuja international airport as though they just returned from a battled field with bandaged torsos, limbs and heads. These legendary missionaries were instead armed with stethoscopes, thousands of medications and state of the art diagnostic equipments.

They were Medical practitioners who had arrived Nigeria to render free Health care services to the citizens of Imo State. With startled looks in there eyes, the team of human missionaries could not believe the level of support and hospitality they experienced as they arrived. The atmosphere was ecstatic especially with the welcome delegation of top officials of the Imo State Government led by its Chief Executive. I may sound like a helicopter without a full view of a helipad but the objective of this piece is just to encourage others who plan to render the same service.

I was on this mission and hereby recount my experience of the human face of inhumanity which glaringly stared at my face on several occasions. For as long as the necessary input towards improving the health sector in Africa is neglected, thousands of humans will continue to perish from treatable ailments. We have continued to give excuses of poverty, lack of resources, lack of infrastructure and proper management. For how long will this continue in the era of supersonic super highway of information? The era of interactive transfer of knowledge, training and treatment as well as that of numerous poverty alleviation schemes spearheaded by Super powers in conjunction with the less developed? Well, enough of the questions. It’s time to open our eyes to the reality of the issues.

The current trend is channeling mega funds towards the research into the cure for the dreaded disease, AIDS, and now Bird flu as well as provision of drugs to victims, sometimes free. True, its now a world pandemic but guess what, malaria amongst some other recurring health problems is probably as bad for certain sub sectors of the African continent. We no more see documentaries of these reoccurring ailments on world wide news networks. Acute malnutrition, endodermic infections, prostrate issues and entomological dysfunctions were some of the areas the team dealt on with quick dispatch.

In other instances, the use of proper heath care procedures with existing infrastructure also saved some lives. In my view, it’s a wake up call. I will not underestimate the level of training the local physicians have undergone, but the updating of procedures and infrastructure comes to question. With the level of wealth that is reportedly been generated in Nigeria for instance, ensuring stability of infrastructure, ensuring retention of personnel and updating equipment should be paramount in context with ensuring the endowment of its vast human resource base.

The American trained physicians who have been exposed to the most modern techniques of rendering health care services have visited Nigeria on several occasions and have interestingly been overwhelmed by cases. It got to a stage were patients literally stormed the hotel in which the Mission members had been accommodated with the hope of receiving medical attention either out of anxiety or fear of losing out of the scheme. Interestingly, the physicians who at times worked all night like true missionaries still took time out to attend to the anxious patients.

While preparing for the days procedures, the Physicians during breakfast exchanged notes about their experiences as well as worked out logistics on the day’s expedition. As we arrived some sub units, the sight of patients whom had formed a guard of honor while waiting for the arrival of the medical team reminded one of scenes from prison camps where inmates line up for their meals. So, what if there was no medical mission? Would this folks ever get treated? Would they just drop one day out of lack of no option for treatments?

A look into the eyes of some patient’s revealed total hopelessness and in some cases desperation as witnessed in some instances. At this particular sub sector, I witnessed a mix of personal sacrifice, with a mix of pure love rendered by the visiting physicians. The pharmacists on the mission had ensured the availability of basic drugs such as multi vitamins and analgesics. Some of the indigenes were probably cured of their ailments for the simple fact that they were in the midst of selfless service to humanity in the face of inhumanity.

Children thronged the makeshift building used as the temporal hospital by the physicians. Severe cases were eventually referred to other major facilities in the adjoining cities. At some point, the Mission had no option but to adopt an abandoned child who had been picked up by a Good Samaritan and brought to the attention of the visiting physicians. According to undisclosed sources, the 15 year old mother of this child had absconded leaving the child with the father in his thirty’s who apparently disputed the paternity because of his obvious inability to cater for himself talk less of the child.

He in turn eventually abandoned the child and absconded. By the time this child was discovered, she was already suffering from acute malnutrition. With tears in her eyes, the Good Samaritan summoned courage, walked up to the doctors and unwrapped what was considered as a picture of a starving child in a country plagued by drought. I

n this case, this child is in a country flowing with milk and honey. I could not reconcile this situation for a minute (see photos on Maybe it was the insensitivity of the local health system or the lack of basic assess to communication that created such a situation. Whatever it was, the Missionaries had come to the rescue of one more life.

A young girl came in with a set of twins. The babies were saved from illnesses that could have led to blindness just by the team rendering basic information. An old man with severe abdominal pain walked in with stories of how he had used local herbs to no avail. A surgery later, he was free of pain for life. Another woman had complained of Chest pains. Using updated diagnostic procedures, a tumor was discovered and a referral was put in place. Others were on the blink of blindness due to cataracts at advanced stages.

Most patients complained of the lack of availability of health workers in their communities as well as lack of means to reach the cities for better medical care. Even where basic equipments had been installed, there was lack of support systems to effective run such facilities. It’s time we begin to pull away the wools over our eyes and wake up to reality. There are really millions of us who do not just have access to basic health care in a country that boasts of the best brains in the medical field.

The long hours of consultation wait time at the General Hospitals should not be especially with the statistics of qualified medical personnel that abound in the society. It is time to look into the plight of Physicians and set up structures to encourage them to stay back and get some work done locally. The era of strikes by Doctors should be something for the history books. In India, the Government has bent back so much as even replicating communities to suite their indigenous doctors needs.

In trying to woe their own from the USA, one of the Doctors complained that India does not have the facilities the children are used to in their community in USA and therefore would not be advisable to relocate to India for the sake of the kids. This excuse led to the development of a community to suite the Doctors needs who eventually relocated.

When the Imo state Government Liaison official in the United States presented the idea of a visit to the State by American based Medical Doctors, the Executive Governor did not hesitate to give a go ahead. The impact of the visits by a team of Doctors periodically has left an indomitable mark of success and achievement on the States leadership and also redefined the greatest gift to humanity; LIFE!

The Imo State international Medical Mission is an initiative that supports the health care institution in Imo State Nigeria by the provision of periodic free health care. The mission, supported and coordinated in conjunction with the International Health Service Center of the Howard University Hospital Washington DC under the distinguished Directorship is considered as highly successful.

The American trained physicians went all out to support and render their skills to the people of Imo State. It was all about serious business. Surgical and Clinical procedures were carried out with the highest possible professional input considering the sometimes inadequate infrastructural support. I observed the unrestricted and unflinching support rendered by American and American trained Nigerian Doctors.

It has been reported that some of the Doctors sacrificed thousands of Dollars of personal incomes from their regular beats in the USA just to render free services to HUMANITY. With support from the State Ministry of Health, over 20,000 people have been treated while over 600 surgeries have been performed.

The Mission has also distributed thousands of eyeglasses and medications valued at Millions of Dollars. Mission Members which included Emergency Medical Physicians and Technicians, trained and certified Emergency Medical personnel drawn from the teaching Hospital, from different parts of the State as well as helped to set up Emergency Medical Department at the new State University Teaching Hospital, Orlu and other health centers in different parts of the State.

The People of the state through the Ruling council of Chiefs also expressed their appreciation by honoring each member of the Mission with a Traditional Chieftaincy title; Ozondu Ndi-Igbo. Some of the professionals on the entourage include Dr. Ngozi Nwaneri, a world renowned Cardio thoracic surgeon, Dr. Emeka Onyewu-plastic surgeon, Dr. Babafemi Adenuga-family medicine, Dr. Chinedu Ahaghotu-Urology and Dr. Alex Nnabue-Optometrist. Others include Dr. Robert Wilson-Orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Fernando Daniels III – Emergency room Medicine and Dr. Tosin Adesanoye – opthmologist.

Tosan Aduayi is the founder of and Publisher of Trendy Africa Magazine and could be reached on

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