• We Sacrifice Our Comfort to Save Lives – Humanitarian Workers
By Femi Bolaji, Jalingo
Humanitarian expedition can be quite tasking and risky, exposing those involved to wide arrays of disaster on their quest to give succour to those in critical need of their services.
A task most people dread is a source of fulfilment to a few others who have dedicated their lives to service to humanity.
This could be adduced to the selfless services of the over 400 resource persons engaged in the Hard-To-Reach (HTR) programme that has been running in Taraba State since 2016.
The resource persons, mostly women, include nurses, mid-wives, doctors and community health workers, who have dedicated themselves to providing medical services to residents of remote communities which are not motorable and really hard to reach.
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They have exposed themselves to dangers of various degrees in their line of duties while getting fulfilment, seeing that their efforts have cushioned the prevalence of infant and maternal morbidity affecting rural dwellers, who lack basic health facilities and personnel in their various communities.
They risk being swept away by rivers, falling while on motorbikes on mountain tops, being kidnapped on their way to those HTR settlements.
The HTR, which will wind up in December across the 12 local government areas of the state, is aimed at eradicating polio and other killer diseases among under-five children and women of child-bearing age.
The programme is sponsored by Canadian government, through Global Affairs Canada, in conjunction with United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, and Taraba State government, through the state Primary Health Care Development Agency, and has been providing door-to-door free medical services to over 600 rural communities in the state.
One of such routine expedition by the HTR team conducted on the Mambilla Plateau, Sardauna Local Government Area of the state, which this reporter and some colleagues were a part of, brought to the fore the travails of humanitarian health workers while giving succour to the vulnerable.
The Cold Zone, as the Mambilla Plateau is usually called, has most villages on mountain tops and some others on the hills, which is ultimately the prime target of the HTR programme.
Large and small rivers are some of the barriers that were defied by the team while accessing the villages covered under the programme.
Gembu, the headquarters of the LGA, and the surrounding villages were accessed through desert motorbikes which serve as the only means of getting into the settlements.
Each person paid N6,000 or above and rode on bikes for more than three hours depending on the distance before being ferried across different rivers with the motorbikes into the remote target settlements.
The terrains were very difficult and slippery due to persistent rainfall and unpredictable weather condition which characterise the Mambilla Plateau.
We were beaten by rain at regular intervals en-route to the assessment of the programme in Bang Dadinkowa, Kabri ward in Sardauna LGA.
The fares charged by the motorbikes were far less than the stress involved in the journey, and, when this reporter inquired from one of the bike operators why this was so, he said it was part of their contribution to the success of the programme.
“If I am to work within Gembu town, I make more than what I am given here, but since this programme is for our people in the villages, we feel we also have a responsibility to assist those embarking on this risky journey”, the operator said.
“Some of us have never even been to some of these villages before but this programme has exposed us to the plight of our brothers and sisters in the remote villages”.
The medical outreach lasted two days and witnessed a large turnout of beneficiaries who were mostly children, women of reproductive age and the aged.
An average of 80 under-five in 169 rural communities on the Mambilla Plateau have, so far, benefited from the free medical outreach by the group.
The communities, which cut across 10 wards in the LGA with elusive health facilities and health workers in the past, it was learnt, had often witnessed high rate of maternal and infant morbidity.
According to the state HTR Cluster Coordinator, Dr. Onuche Oliver, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard at Bang Dadinkowa Village, health workers avoid those communities because of the difficult terrains which have put them at the mercy of death resulting from preventable diseases.
“Actually there are no accessible roads to the communities. The road to this place, for example, was muddy and we fell several times on our way which you also witnessed”, Oliver stated.
‘Most of the communities are very difficult to access because they are above mountain plains and the roads are slippery now.
“I fell into water several times and my gadgets got spoilt, but I am relieved that I did not fall from the bike while climbing the mountainous roads.
“The rivers connecting the headquarters to this area are full right now but, through the help of God and our determination, we were able to reach out to the vulnerable locals here.
“If I can take that risk to save that one child in this community, then I think I have contributed my quota to humanity.
“Those of us living in town don’t know what is going on in these remote villages. They are actually suffering.
“We travelled on bike for three hours before getting to this community and, when we got here, there was no health facility.
“The people are dying on daily basis from preventable diseases that can be cured with just medical prescriptions.”
Corroborating what he said, the HTR focal person in the state Primary Health Care Development Agency, Mrs Joyce Madanga, said, “It is an amazing journey. We crossed the rivers, up the mountains, down the hills until we arrived here.
“We are here to do immunization, offer antenatal services, check for malnutrition and deworm the children and treat other minor illnesses like ringworm and scabies.
“If you talk to the village head, he will tell you that the services offered have reduced the rate of maternal mortality because since we have been offering antenatal, in conjunction with the drugs prescription and medical advice given to them, there has been a major difference from the status quo.”
Speaking on the challenges often encountered during outreaches, Oliver explained that cultural and religious beliefs of locals in target remote communities are major impediments to the activities of field officers of UNICEF in some settlements.
He explained, “Aside difficult terrains, there are communities we visit that we are told immunization during fasting is not permitted. They claim it breaks their fast.
“In some other settlements in the northern zone, particularly in Zing and Yoro LGAs where it is believed that women are not permitted to see masquerades, our resource persons, who are mostly women, find it difficult to discharge their duties.”
Madanga, who also spoke, said, “Immunization on polio is still one of the challenges we face but we are enlightening them on the need for vaccination in collaboration with village heads.”
Thousands at risk
With the expiration of the HTR programme by December across the 12 local government areas of Taraba, it is obvious that thousands of rural dwellers, especially children, women of child-bearing age and the aged are at risk of medical support.
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This can be adduced to the lack of medical facilities and personnel in those communities which, since 2016, are being reached out to by the HTR team.
Now that the tenure of the team’s services will soon lapse, the hope of the locals well-being is hanging with their call for government to take ownership of the programme.
However, Oliver noted that a sustainability plan, since the inception of the exercise, had been put in place and has taken off.
“Before the programme started, a sustainability plan was put in place so that when the programme winds up, communities can still get medical help”, the Cluster Coordinator said.
“This we did by training some members of the community under the Integrated Community Case Management, ICCM, from the 12 LGAs.
“We trained these Community Oriented Resource Persons, CORPS, on how to treat common childhood illnesses like malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea.
“We also taught them on when to refer patients which they cannot handle to catchment facilities so that they can be properly taken care of.
“We are happy that some LGAs like Wukari, Takum and Ussa have actually started taking ownership of the programme and calling on others to do same.”
He implored government and donor agencies to set up health facilities in those remote areas to ease the work of CORPS when HTR programme ends.
Village head of Bang DadinKowa, Audu Gimba, who spoke in Fufulde, showered encomium on the HTR team and sponsors while soliciting for government’s intervention now that the programme is gradually getting to its last stage.