International Health Partners’ Health Programmes Officer, Luc Diei-Yoa, recently returned from a trip to his home country, Ivory Coast. He often goes home to visit family and friends, but this holiday was slightly different. This time, with guidance from a supportive doctor in the UK, he took with him one of IHP’s Essential Health Packs (EHP) to carry out a medical mission in his home community of Angré, a suburb of Abidjan, the capital of the country.
The EHPs comprise two boxes of primary healthcare medicines, with approximately 800 treatments for adults and children. Packs typically include antibiotics, antifungals, analgesics, antacids, anti-inflammatories, anti-parasitics, eye drops/ointment and inhalers. Most products are for acute conditions. All the medicines are donated from companies such as Walgreen Boots Alliance, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson.
“Bringing some medical help to the Ivory Coast was a long-term vision for me,” explains Luc, who was born and raised in the West African country, but now lives in south London. African and Caribbean diaspora communities living in the UK work tirelessly to support their families and communities back home sending whatever is needed to bridge gaps in education, health care and overall well-being. Luc is a well-known community leader amongst the close knit diaspora Ivorian community in the UK and had tremendous encouragement and support for this venture from his fellow Ivorians and others.
“Healthcare is not free in the Ivory Coast, even in the public hospitals. You have to pay to be seen then you have to pay for the medicines. Economically, it is a medium-income country, which is great. But this doesn’t translate socially especially when it comes to healthcare,” he says. GP fees are the equivalent of £2 and to see a specialist it is up to £10. The majority of the population live on under £1.50 a day. “People have to choose whether to live with the pain and the disease and feed their families, or to pay for medicines and not feed their families,” he says.
So, while healthcare is accessible, as long as you can pay, the majority of the population cannot afford it. “This creates a big vacuum which is occupied by traditional practitioners and others who I call charlatans. Self-medication is rife and so is the consumption of easily available fake medicines,” Luc explains.
He continues, “Way too many people are still dying from very simple and easily treatable diseases like cholera and diarrhoea. Many also suffer from pain that prevents them from living comfortable lives.”
Luc’s home church, Bethel World Outreach Ministries International hosted the outreach. Most of those treated came from the surrounding poorer areas of Abidjan.
Luc organised a team of two GPs, two paediatricians, two midwives, four nurses one pharmacist and 15 volunteers. They all came from his home community and volunteered their time and services. “The idea was to have a full communal health day so we had various services provided for free that patients would have had to pay for in normal circumstances,” he says. The services provided were gynaecology, vaccination, general practice, paediatric, family planning advice and free HIV testing. They registered 315 people, but attended to many more. “By 1pm we had to stop registering people,” Luc recalls.
The team treated a variety of sicknesses, skin disease, hypertension, urine infection, infected wounds, constipation, peptic ulcers, arthritic pain, chest infections and other types of infections. They also dewormed adults and children.
According to Luc the EHPs made all the difference, “I can’t stress enough how useful the medicines were. The manager of the health centre thought I was coming with short-dated donated generic medicines until she saw the boxes’ contents and their high quality. I was very surprised by the quantity of the medicines available. We had a considerable quantity left after the outreach which we donated to the health centre,” he explains. As a result many more people will receive free medicines when they visit the health centre
The reception and feedback from the community was fantastic says Luc, “They are looking forward to the next outreach. I felt bad for those people who could not make it on time.”
Despite being physically exhausted after such a busy day, Luc is “extremely pleased” with the outcome. He plans to return and help the community further, “I am planning on bigger things in light of what happened with this single EHP. The needs are real, people need help and I intend to do what I can with what I can. It was very important for me to start in the area where I grew up, my local church and my local health centre. Many other areas up and down Ivory Coast will be touched in the future and I am working on it,” says the 40 year old, married father of a two-year-old son who lives in Croydon, South London.
Luc has been invited by various diaspora community groups around London to talk about the outreach and is hoping that this will garner more support.
He has the following thoughts to give to anyone considering taking an EHP overseas, “You will be surprised by the sheer number of people who need help. It will take a lot of time and effort in time and organisation but is worth it. The quality and quantity of medicines in the EHP are outstanding. You get value for money. It is indeed a mobile pharmacy. So, if you’re thinking about taking an EHP, go for it! It will be a blessing to more people than you expect.”
To find out more about IHP’s Essential Health Packs click here.
Photo: Luc (left) with community members waiting to be seen by medical staff