‘I connect with marginalised women and young persons’
Damilola Akinsulire is a hard-working and dedicated medical doctor with over seven years experience in reproductive health, maternal and child health services. She is a Consultant Public Health Physician with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) where she effectively designs and implements evidence-based programmes geared towards sexual health and rights of women, adolescents and young persons. She is passionate about helping girls and women from low-income families and volunteers in her community through a mentorship programme to help adolescents develop life skills and learn about their sexuality.
She also runs a medical outreach programme which focuses on breast and cervical screening, family planning counseling and services for female prisoners and underprivileged in the society. Through her initiative, she has touched more than 5,000 lives positively. With a Master’s degree in Public Health, she also holds a fellowship with the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria where she was awarded the Best candidate in Principles and Practice of Public Health for the year 2017. She is one of the 100 Nigerians sponsored by the United States government to receive the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship.
Sharing her childhood experience, she said that it was fun and exciting. “I grew up in a loving family. I am the first of four children. My father is an auditor while my mother is a teacher and a proprietress. My mum was very strict and imbibed leadership skills in me and my siblings. She encouraged us to be focused and goal-oriented. For her, failure is not an option but carve your own niche. That orientation shaped me into becoming a better person.
“I and my younger ones are closely knitted because our parents taught us to care and love one another. I have very fantastic relationship with my siblings and they see me as a leader. At a young age, I had acquired leadership roles both formally and informally because I had to take care of my siblings and assign responsibilities to them.
She explains why she opted to become a doctor. “I went into medicine because of my passion and respect for the medical profession. I’ve always cared for people which tilted me towards that direction. I went into community health and public health because it does not focus on one person but the whole population. I want to be in a position where I can treat people and prevent complications from happening. That explains why I do a lot of community outreaches. On this job, I’ve learnt about research work and evident based programmes because what you feel a community needs might not be what they really need. It has exposed me to implementing policies that works for people. Before I implement my programme, I do a mini research on the environment because one needs to know the needs of the people. I think it saves cost instead of wasting resources. For some communities, my focus might just be on non-communicable diseases but importantly, I ensure that women have access to reproductive health information. This was further strengthened during my Mandela Washington Fellowship at Ohio State University in America, I was taught how to analyse policies well and implement effective programmes.”
While conducting her research on birth preparedness and complication readiness, Damilola most times wondered how pregnant women cope in the marketplace. “If you look at the lifestyle of market women, they wake up early and go about their businesses. I found out that this group of women are marginalised and need access to proper medical care. Maternal mortality rate is still high in Nigeria. Even in Ghana, maternal mortality rate is better than ours at the moment. So, I felt that to reduce maternal mortality rate and achieve the SDGs, everyone should be included. Also, for this to be reduced drastically, the root cause should be addressed.
“Women die from preventive illnesses. When you are looking at the causes of death in women, you look at the obstetric and non-obstetric causes. A lot of women die from excessive bleeding during childbirth and some of the causes are as a result of patronising quacks and not reporting early to the hospital for medical attention. Most people do not make proper planning until they get to their third trimester. Nobody prays to lose blood during pregnancy. Proper arrangement will help to alleviate the suffering and reduce waiting time. There are trained traditional birth attendants who are able to identify complications. Non-qualified birth attendants contribute to maternal mortality.”
She recommended: “In order to reduce maternal mortality, it is important that pregnant women have access to the right information and medical care, save enough money and plan ahead. For instance, if a woman has frontal headache, dizzy spells and leg swelling, people assume it is a normal thing associated with pregnancy. It is essential to see a skilled healthcare provider. Aside work, I comb the slump and rural areas to treat people with minor ailments and offer free breast and cervical cancer screening as well as give women health talks. I connect with the marginalised women and young persons. I believe in the maxim “health is wealth.”
The community driven advocate, who also takes her awareness campaign to schools to educate them on sexuality education and give free de-worming to children, emphasised on the need to enlighten these young ones because they are vulnerable.
“Children should be mentored and educated on reproductive healthcare and about the physiological differences that are ongoing in their bodies especially at this age where sexually transmitted diseases are rampant. This is aimed at preparing them for adulthood. I started doing this since 2010 as a way of contributing my quota to a healthy society. I urge parents to teach their children sexuality education early enough but let it be age appropriate. Choose words wisely because there are things you don’t say to a child until he or she is matured.”
She added: “From the age of two, a child should know what part of the body is meant for him or her. This will be in their consciousness that their body belongs to them and shouldn’t be played with. In most cases, sexual abuse happens within the family setting. You will observe that there are some cartoons that teach children not to allow anybody to touch their body and tell them to tell their parents if anyone tries to touch them. It is important to let our children know that sexual abuse happens. Parents need to be watchful and enlighten their children by giving them basic information.”
Balancing work and home for Damilola has not been so easy but she handles it effectively. “My loving husband who is an orthopaedic surgeon is my great pillar of support.
He encourages me all the way and urges me to read and work hard. We share responsibilities and support each other. I am grateful to my mother Mrs. Okuneye, who instilled discipline in me. She is my greatest mentor. I also appreciate family members who are praying for me and mentors like Professor Onajola, Professor Odeyemi and Victor Ohuruogu for bringing out the best in me. I advice young ones aspiring to go into medicine to first of all get a mentor to guide them through, be prayerful, focused and put in a lot of hard work. There is no shortcut to success.”
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