Bringing Essential Health Packs to the remote highlands of Nigeria

Medically qualified, Muhammad Saddiq came to the UK in 2006 to study health systems, and now lectures in Sheffield. With the Nigeria Muslim Forum, the Dechi Health Trust Fund and other partner charities and sponsors, he initiated a health outreach to his home region: Kakara and Gembu, part of the Sardauna area of Taraba State.

This highland area is 2km above sea level and has a population of 500,000 people. It’s one of the remotest parts of Nigeria, on the border with Cameroon. “There are no health services there, virtually nothing,” Muhammad told us. “There is serious, desperate, massive need.”

Muhammad was working with two colleagues: Dr Mukhtar Ahmed (a consultant surgeon based in Poole) and Dr Phoebe Pallotti (an associate professor in health at Nottingham University, and a trained midwife). Having couriered an Essential Health Pack to a new health facility being set up in Gembu, the three flew to Nigeria in early April: arriving in Abuja, they took a domestic flight to regional capital Jalingo, then made an eight-hour road trip.

Outreach over two days saw more than 400 patients getting a free consultation and medicines. Some were given hepatitis and HIV screening tests and counselling and referred appropriately. In addition, local midwives and health workers were trained in current thinking on birth techniques and shown emergency, life-saving obstetric manoeuvres. “The turnout on both occasions was massive and we had to disappoint many people, but we hope we dealt with the most serious cases,” says Muhammad.

Essential Health Packs save lives

One such case was a woman who sat quietly in a corner. She had stepped on a nail while weeding, weeks ago, but was too poor to afford medical help. Now she grits her teeth in pain as flies swarmed around her right foot, where a serious infection was affecting muscles and bones. “Without urgent treatment, she was likely to get blood poisoning and die, leaving the child she was breastfeeding,” says Mukhtar. “We were so glad a nearby hospital allowed us to use their facilities for a fee, and we managed to clean the wound of organic material including cow dung, which is a local remedy for all superficial infections, and removed the necrotic tissues.”

Importantly, after initial IV antibiotics were purchased at the hospital, the team was able to give the woman a complete set of antibiotics from the Essential Health Pack, plus fresh dressings to use daily to keep the wound clean and get her back to full health.

“Part of the reason we had huge turnouts was that people in that region generally don’t believe medicines in shops are effective. But these medicines were from the UK, and they could put trust in them,” says Muhammad. “The Essential Health Packs cover a lot of the needs on the ground. They are doing great things and bringing people together. Health outreach is a good starting point, especially when there is mistrust. It brings people together to work on something positive, and that’s a powerful message.”

Find out how more about Essential Health Packs and how to apply to be a carrier here

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