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Expatriates move to curb Nigeria’s under five mortality ratio

By Lawrence Njoku, Enugu
26 March 2022   |   4:03 am
Medical experts drawn from various international health institutions have begun training for paediatricians aimed at tackling under-five mortality and consolidating service delivery at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Ituku-Ozalla, Enugu State.

Medical experts drawn from various international health institutions have begun training for paediatricians aimed at tackling under-five mortality and consolidating service delivery at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Ituku-Ozalla, Enugu State.

No fewer than 15 international medical experts led by a Clinical Associate Professor of Paediatrics at the Jefferson University, Philadelphia, United States of America (USA), Dr. Odirra Nwankwo, are conducting the training, which has seen paediatric patients receive free surgeries at the facility.

The Guardian gathered that the Paediatrics Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the UNTH, set up in 2019 through the support of Nwankwo, was the first in the country.

Nwankwo, who also consults at the Cooper University Hospital, New Jersey, told journalsists in Enugu that in spite of the country’s huge population of over 200 million, there was no single organised Paediatrics ICU in Nigeria, even with the danger posed to the health of its infants, children and adolescents.

Nwankwo stated that he was moved into setting up a Paediatrics ICU at the UNTH in 2019 after his medical training in Europe and America with resources from friends and donors as a way of giving back to the country.

He said: “I am a Nigerian and also an American.”

I know that Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, a country of over 200 million people. But it saddens me to know that there is no single organised Paediatrics ICU in Nigeria. I did my medical school here. I went to Europe and then America and trained in paediatrics. I term myself to have been lucky to have had these exposures and to have the resources that I have and I thought that one of the best ways to give back to the country is to come back and plough back what I have learnt in the United States.

“I know that most people do not know that in Public Health, there is what is called under-five mortality ratio.  In Nigeria, it is about 201.  It means that one out of every five children will not live to see their fifth birthday. That has been happening for a while and based on what the World Health Organisation (WHO) says, nations that have under-five mortality ratio should focus their efforts on primary health prevention and for years, nothing has changed.

“So, what I have done is to begin to make an inroad into secondary and tertiary care. I thought that coming to start a Paediatrics ICU is the way to go. We have been doing this for years. I started collecting supplies from the hospitals that I work in America. In 2019, we came here for the first time to establish the skeletal structure of the Paediatrics ICU. It is an ICU that has everything that any ICU in the world can have. We came with about 10 people from the United States of America.”

He stated that since the establishment of the Paediatrics ICU, training had been ongoing online, adding that some nurses and doctors of the hospital were undergoing training in Kenya and South Africa to consolidate the practice.

“We are supposed to come in 2020 and we couldn’t come but we continued to do online training. The other thing that we have done that is quite encouraging is that we have looked at how to develop manpower. There are only two centres in Africa that train paediatric critical care providers. One is in the University of Capetown and the other one is in Kenya. I reached out to a couple of people and connected those two institutions. As I speak to you now, we have some in Kenya and two doctors in South Africa. We thought if we have this solid framework, we should be able to have doctors that can anchor the programme even in our absence,” he added.

Nwankwo praised the Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, for his support towards actualising the project, saying since 2019 when the idea began, the governor had catered for the needs of the expatriates in the programme.

Also speaking, Chief Medical Director of UNTH, Prof. Obinna Onodugo, explained that the centre, which was the third ICU in the hospital, would benefit Nigerians.

He stated that since the establishment of the centre, the medical team had continued to train local experts free of charge, adding: “They want to nurture it to grow to be the best healthcare in Africa. To achieve that, they have been organising a series of training, which has been online and as they do that, they also come here to physically train doctors, nurses, technicians and what have you.”

He stated that the hospital was delighted to host the centre, adding that efforts would be made to sustain the service.

Onodugo, who praised Nwankwo for thinking about home, stated that the hospital would train more local experts within the year as part of efforts to sustain the programme.