Nigeria covers an area of 924,000km², roughly four times the size of the UK. The estimated population is 186 million (90 million under the age of 18), making it the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous in the world. Based on mineral wealth and vast oil reserves, the economy is worth $500 billion, ranking it the world's 20th richest country. It’s not surprising that Nigeria is often referred to as the ‘Giant of Africa’.

 

And yet its bigness – its vast area and booming economy – brings with it growing problems; problems of infrastructure, supply and health.

 

This last issue is why a pediatric consultant from Manchester feels drawn to visit Nigeria regularly with a team of fellow medical volunteers from the Huddersfield-based African Healthcare Development Trust. In his latest visit, Dr Abubakar Zubairu – known as Abu to his friends – ran additional out-patient clinics at General Hospital Kawo-Kaduna in the north-western city of Kaduna, roughly 200km (130mi) from the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

 

With five IHP Essential Health Packs (EHPs), Abu and four colleagues, leading and advising hospital staff, were able to treat nearly 3,500 patients (3, 470 to be exact) over six days. Because the clinics were free, patients would travel up to 350km (200mi) to see a doctor. The treatments carried out on adults and children included various medical, surgical, ophthalmology, obstetrics and gynecology conditions. Of these, there were 411 general surgical procedures, plus 91 cataract operations.

General surgeries included hernia, appendix, hydroceles, breast surgery, goitre and various lump removals.

 

In the years that Abu has been treating patients in Nigeria, the ailments and conditions have changed. ‘These days we see many more cases of hypertension and Type II Diabetes,’ he says. ‘These are lifestyle conditions and reflect improved income levels and living conditions in the region’.

 

Kaduna town or city is capital of the state of the same name and has grown massively over the past decade. It used to be a transport hub for a largely agricultural region, but now it boasts one of Nigeria’s four main oil refineries, textile and machinery plants, two airports and the service industries that support a population that is now estimated to be upwards of 2m people.

 

‘The people used to be much more active,’ says Abu. ‘They lived in the outlying regions, working physically in agriculture and buying fresh food in the village markets. Since they moved to the city, they have started leading more sedentary lives and buying their meals at the supermarket.’

 

As a result of these changes, among Abu’s party of volunteers were a specialist diabetic nurse and an ex-banker turned lifestyle coach called Mahmud Dodo from Leeds.

 

Abu says that Dodo ran a session for up to 150 people every day, explaining how increased exercise can reduce the long-term complications of high blood pressure and diabetes. It sounds like a teaching session that would be as suitable for Yorkshire as it would for Central Nigeria. But Abu says that obesity is on the increase in the region and education – for staff in the hospital as well as patients – is an important part of the programme that he runs when he is out there.

 

Asked why he gives up his free time to volunteer in a town like Kaduna, Abu says that he has family in Nigeria, but that is not the real reason. He says that the hospitals need advice, the staff need training and the people need treatments. The people need Abu’s help because, otherwise, they would not be able to afford treatment for what in, Manchester or Leeds, would be relatively easy medical issues to cure.

 

One day, during a previous visit to the country, a man came into the hospital who was blind. He was holding onto a stick and being led by his seven-year-old grandson. Abu takes up the story: ‘This man was blind because of cataracts. We operated on one eye and he could see. The next day, we operated on his other eye and he cried and cried because he had his sight restored. When I got home, the grandson phoned me. He passed the phone to his grandfather who said two words – thank you. He still phones me now just to say that: thank you, I can see. That’s why I go to Nigeria – to give an old man back his sight. I enjoy seeing and hearing about the legacy of what we leave.’

 

Dr Abubakar Zubairu travels 6,500km (3,500mi) to treat patients who would not otherwise receive medical help. He could not do it without the EHPs that he and his fellow volunteers take. ‘There is no way we could afford the treatments if it wasn’t for IHP,’ he says.

 

IHP makes a difference to Dr Abu. Dr Abu makes a difference to the people of Nigeria. The companies that donate medical treatments for the EHPs make a difference to IHP. It’s a circle that’s hard to argue with.