Dominican Angels of Maternal/Infant Health

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

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In the cluttered conversation about Nigeria, bad news sells. However, there are many who silently work for a change and hardly make a noise about their work. It is easy to criticize, a critique hardly provides solutions; but to walk a talk, valour is imperative. And for unostentatiously being a pillar to women and children, cutting the cold hands of death from snatching this vulnerable subset of our society for the past ten years; the St Dominic Catholic Hospital, Ogunbade Village, Ibadan deserve our praise.

Although Ibadan, hosts the foremost health institution in the country, that alone cannot (and should not) cater for a city with an estimated population of about two million people. Considering also that most of the inhabitants of Ibadan live within the fringes of the city, then one appreciates the context of my praise for these nuns and their hospital. And as such, the burden of primary health care falls on non-for-profit and religious institutions that are propelled by social justice.

Now the grim statistics: Nigeria ranks as second in the global maternal and infant mortality deaths. In 2010, it was estimated that 608 deaths per 100,000 deliveries in Nigeria. According to UNICEF, Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-five year olds and 145 women of childbearing age daily. This makes the country the second largest contributor to the under–five and maternal mortality rate in the world.

Yet in “The Changing face of Global Child Demographic”, the authors, Danzhen You et al (The Lancet, Volume 381, Issue 9868, Pages 701-703, March 2, 2013) insist that this ugly trend is gradually being changed. They note that:

By the middle of this century, almost one in every three births and nearly one in every three children younger than 18 years will be in sub-Saharan Africa… Several factors will contribute to realisation of this scenario, such as improving child survival and continuing high fertility rates in sub-Saharan Africa, which contrasts with sharply falling rates in the rest of the world.

But there are many things that the number crunching above did not and cannot capture. It is the voices behind these numbers; the anguish of the mothers crying for their dead children, the shattered hopes of families who lose both mother and/or child, and silent toil of their care-givers. The unsung heroes who have provided affordable and qualitative primary health care to rural and semi-rural Nigerian women are hardly recognised. And within these ranks, one can easily situate the courage of the Dominican Sisters of Nigeria. These nuns have championed primary health care through the St Dominic Catholic Hospital, Ogungbade Village, Ibadan since 2003.

The Dominican Sisters of Nigeria are part of the global Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Sienna. The charisim of the Sisters of St Dominic is spreading the compassion of Christ to others through educational and medical apostolic work. St Dominic Hospital in Ogungbade Village is a materialisation of the missionary spirit of the Sisters. And in this case, the essence is captured in health – reaching all through the compassion of Christ especially in children under five years and pregnant women.

St Dominic Hospital had an interesting history. The Sisters of St Dominic had established their convent in Ogungbade Village, off Ife Road, in Ibadan. Soon the community, who apparently had no other source of medical intervention, started bringing their sick ones to the nuns. As the traffic of patients continued to increase, the sisters began a clinic in a small boy’s quarters with the community. They had barely up to ten members of staff and most of their patients were treated as out-patients with few admissions. Obviously they did not do surgeries and had to refer difficult labour cases to other hospitals. This growing demand prompted the need for a more formal structure. Thus in 2007, the sod was turned and within three years, (2010) the present St Dominic Hospital was commissioned.

The hospital has 64 beds with an array of medical professionals: doctors, nurses, laboratory scientists, paramedical and administrative staff. They run a 24 hour service and have consultants in various specialities involved, such areas are obstetrics and gynaecology, orthopaedics, general surgery, urology, neurosurgery plastic surgery, cardiology and paediatrics. They have free malaria tests for children and free malaria treatment for our pregnant women. St Dominic hospital also offers medical outreaches to many of the villages around us, giving health talks and treatments. This includes collaborative effort with NGOs involved in HIV prevention, especially mother to child transmission. They are also engage foreign capacity aid, for instance, they are expecting a team of US orthopaedic surgeons to perform leg deformity corrective surgery before the end of the year.

However, it has not been a stress free walk for St Dominic Hospital. While it took courage to walk their talk (better still to walk the path laid out by the needs of others), there are still many hurdles to skip. And in the words of the Medical Director, Dr Taiwo Obisesan:

We are anxiously looking forward to see a well equipped and well staffed hospital serving the community, involving in various research works, collaborating with similar organisations here or abroad. Above all we hope in the nearest future to be able to train House Officers, Nurses, and Medical Laboratory Scientists and run Residency Programme in Family Medicine and other areas.

Nonetheless, it is disheartening that treacherous craters litter the path to this hospital. As matter of public interest, the Oyo State Government should urgently extend its current road construction drive to Ogunbade Village. For the erosion on the road that leads St Dominic Hospital might easily induce a pre-term labour in a gravid woman. A bit of asphalt on that road will certainly do the sisters, the hospital’s patients/staff and the entire community some good.

The future of Nigeria’s health care system revolves around primary health care. The life of many women and children lies precariously and only a systemic intervention can reset this rot. Nonetheless, this sustained and deliberate change has to be propelled by a collective effort from public and private concerns. That is why St Dominic Hospital deserve praise because despite all odds, they have faithfully carried this burden for the public good.

First published in the Nigerian Guardian (Friday, May 17, 2013)

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2 Comments

  1. Since the time of St Dominic, more than 800 years ago, Dominicans have been living and sharing the message of the Gospel. Today thousands of sisters, nuns, priests, brothers, associates, and laity serve in more than 100 countries around the globe.

    Reply

  2. The Dominican Sisters came to Jackson over 60 years ago to respond to a need for choice in hospital care in the community—we’re hearing the same call today in Madison County.

    Reply

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