By Kenneth Azahan
Medical personnel especially in Nigeria and other developing countries, need to update their skills regularly to meet up with the ever-changing medical issues ranging from disease mutations and advances in preventive and curative medicine. The advent of technology has also made some jobs obsolete, increasing redundancy in employment. Equally, some medical professionals work in dilapidated infrastructure that demands innovative ways to work in low resource settings, failure to which, many patients seek further treatment abroad. It is estimated that medical tourism cost about $2.1 billion yearly, a revenue which has been dented by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Whereas various medical professionals on an individual basis have put up structures to ensure training and retraining of their staff as part of promotion requirements, it is not enough. Governments and Non-Governmental Organizations, as well as other corporate partners must, therefore, get involved since the acquisition of technology, maintenance and the training of personnel to operate these machines is cost intensive.
Some NGOs working in Nigeria and health partners have stepped in to complement the government’s efforts in providing timely and adequate public health services. For instance, the Lift Above Poverty Organisation (LAPO) has undertaken to continuously educate and create awareness on all forms of cancer offering free screening and referral services to all Nigerians especially in towns and villages. Marie Stopes, another health NGO is at the forefront of enlightenment and sensitization on sexual and reproductive health with state-of-the-art health facilities across the country.
- Nigeria loses as Russia-Ukraine war escalates global oil prices
- In northern Nigeria’s Islamiyya schools, paedophiles lurk around
Smile Train is another global organization devoted to free cleft surgery and care. While other NGOs do their best to advance medical services in their area of expertise, Smile Train’s unique model of partnerships is most striking.
While Smile Train endeavors to dispel myths and misinformation surrounding cleft, the organization goes the extra mile to train and fund local medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses, nutritionists, anaesthesia providers, orthodontists, and speech therapists to provide safe, quality treatment within the community all year round. Cleft lip and/or palate is a common birth difference, whose causes are yet unknown. Patients with cleft experience difficulty in breathing, eating and speaking, unable to contribute effectively to the community due to the stigma and isolation they endure. Their ‘teach a man to fish’ model sets them apart from other charitable organizations which deploy missionaries to carry out surgeries, isolate the local medical providers from receiving requisite training to carry on their work long after they are gone.
Smile Train has not just offered free cleft surgeries for Nigerians for the past decade; they have also been involved in the training and retraining of healthcare providers to ensure the sustainability of their benevolent efforts.
To curb the challenge of lack of surgical facilities and equipment not just for cleft surgeries but also the general Nigerian population, Smile Train in 2019 partnered with global non-profit organization, Safe Surgery Initiative to train medical engineers and lab technicians on repair and maintenance of surgical instruments and equipment. The selected trainees were then encouraged to cascade the knowledge they received to their local hospitals across the states in Nigeria. The result of this training was that the waiting period for surgeries reduced drastically since the need for adequate and functional tools in the theatres was addressed. The trained technicians promptly and regularly service surgical equipment paving way for more surgeries per capita unlike before.
Empirical data on cleft greatly lacking in many low to middle income countries but presents another opportunity for collaboration in the endless pursuit for Universal Health Coverage. Smile Train has gone a step further to partner with the West African College of Surgeons, National Surgical, Obstetrics, Anaesthesia and Nursing Plan (NSOANP) and SearchAnWrite (a research and innovation organisation) to undertake a nationwide training for healthcare providers equipping them with requisite professional knowledge on cleft research and documentation. Beyond the training the health professionals also benefited from Smile Train grants to undertake research and come out with data that will help prevent and better manage cases of cleft in Nigeria. This first phase of training used purely local manpower and the outstanding trainees have been elevated to becoming trainers and facilitators. Smile Train has also in partnership with the federal ministry of health launched a cleft e-registry system to track and register patients to receive comprehensive cleft care at the nearest partner facility.
Entrenching local content into the health sector is very important if we are to lead the pack in quality healthcare services. This is achieved through investment in the care, but also in education and training of the medical professionals. Increased budgetary allocation to the health sector cannot solve the problem down to its roots except through partnerships and capacity building at the lowest level. Other NGOs like Sightsavers could consider a partnership model to ensure that eye surgeries are not only carried out, but the local professionals are strengthened and supported to stand independently to be more sustainable.
Kenneth Azahan, a public affairs commentator writes from Abuja.