A Medical Outreach on Children’s Day

Millions of children live in poverty in Nigeria;lacking access to clean water, food, health care services, and education. Two and a half million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, “defined by a very low weight for height (below -3z scores of the median WHO growth standards), by visible severe wasting, or by the presence of nutritional oedema.” In Nigeria, 430,000 children live with HIV/AIDS.1  In April, I attended a wedding reception where I saw masses of children scramble for leftover food from the guests’ plates. It was an awful sight, to witness and a reminder of the plight of Nigeria’s children. Where are their parents? Why do they look so unkempt? When was their last meal? These were all questions that ran across through my mind as I reflected on their pitiful condition.

May 27 is recognized as Children’s Day in Nigeria. While not a public holiday for the country, the day is set aside for observance and celebration of Nigerian children. On this day, the government, religious institutions, schools, non-profit organizations, and parents take time out to reflect on the situation of the Nigerian child and do something special for children. Events throughout the country range from picnics, amusement park outings, parades, and visits to orphanages and to internally-displaced persons camps where food items are shared to with children. This year, the acting President/Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, hosted students from the local public schools at the Presidential Villa in Abuja. He tweeted that “[Children] and future generations are the reason we must remain committed to the growth of our nation and shared prosperity of its people.” This shared prosperity remains a farfetched dream for many children in Nigeria, particularly to the millions who are living in poverty.

To commemorate Children’s Day, I participated in a community medical outreach to in a village called Waru located on the outskirts of Abuja. Waru is the kind of place you don’t imagine you would find in a modern capital city such as Abuja. My visit to Waru was another glaring reminder of how much farther Nigeria has to go to achieve economic and social justice for all citizens. The roads were evidences of poor maintenance and infrastructure. One resident lamented to me about how many of the homes in the community lack a latrine because the landlords have refused to provide a latrine one (not to talk of a toilet). Hence, residents release their bodily waste in nearby bushes, which contributes to contamination of the water and outbreak of illnesses including diarrhea and malaria.

When I asked why conditions were the way they were, residents responded “[The leaders/landlords] don’t care”. Because rResidents cannot afford to go somewhere else, so they simply manage with their conditions.

The medical outreach aimed to enlighten members of the community about teenage pregnancy and HIV, and to provide an opportunity for free medical check ups, including HIV testing and counseling. The organizer of the program – a member of the community named Ayo – acknowledged the high rate of teenage pregnancy in the community as the reason for the event. “I discovered that in this community teenage girls are more pregnant and they are pregnant to young boys,” he said. The chief of the community showed his support by attending the program and encouraging the community to practice healthy lifestyles. He also provided his palace compound as the venue for the event. Interestingly, this was the first time an outreach like this had been done in the Waru community. Residents are typically not able to access or afford health care services, so this event was a welcome. The chief also promised to provide an office space to the event organizer to enable coordination of future projects. This outreach was a reminder that on Children’s Day, Nigeria must not forget its hard-to-reach communities – those living on the margins of society.

A mobile medical van was on site with staff to administer health check-ups for children and community members were tested for and counseled about HIV.

  1. SOS Children’s Villages International. General Information on Nigeria. http://www.sos-childrensvillages.org/where-we-help/africa/nigeria. Accessed: 05/06/2017

About the Author

A Nigerian-American who earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in the United States, Onyinye has returned to her native Nigeria to examine the urgent issue of girls health, education, early marriage and, most of all, girls empowerment. Onyinye holds a Masters of Public Health degree from University of Washington-Seattle, as well as graduate-level certificates in the Global Health of Women, Adolescents and Children, and in Sexual and Reproductive Health Research. Describing the impetus for her project, Onyinye points out that, “Niger is presently ranked as the country with the highest percentage of child brides in the world with 76% of girls married before age 18. Nigeria holds the number 14 position with 43% of girls married before age 18. As a trained global health practitioner and advocate for adolescent sexual and reproductive health, I understand the power in a girl’s voice and the dangers associated with silencing that voice. During my ICWA Fellowship I intend to work with young people and their communities to understand the factors that propel child marriage and hinder girls education. My aim is to identify culturally-sensitive ways to address these critical problems.” In addition to her academic credentials, she brings field experience in project design and implementation, monitoring and evaluation, maternal and child nutrition and adolescent sexual and reproductive health; Onyinye has worked in both urban and rural/remote locations in Africa and in the US. An emerging young leader, Onyinye has been recognized by the Clinton Global Foundation as a Commitment Maker, was awarded a prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship as well as a Global Opportunities Health Fellowship. Onyinye’s ICWA Fellowship began in August 2016 and will continue until August 2018.