Across the Niger Delta region, it is not uncommon for government health centers to stand empty and unused. For community members, this leaves few options. Some visit ill-informed alternative medicine practitioners. Others travel great distances for care, while others simply go without.
The situation in Sabagreia, in Bayelsa State, was no different. For three years, the primary health care center there was non-functional, with no doctors or community health workers assigned to it and no drugs available. Women typically gave birth at home or traveled long distances during labor to try to reach a doctor in time.
When Pact began implementing the PROMOT II project in Sabagreia, this immediately stood out as a problem. Funded by Chevron, PROMOT II worked to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, primarily by increasing HIV testing and treatment.
Pact provided training to the local Community Development Committee, or CDC, on how to mobilize resources and demand accountability from the local government.
“We took the matter up,” explains the CDC chairman, Comrade GP Apuge. “We first met with the [local health authority] and pleaded with him to post a health worker to our health center, and he did. We also mobilized youths to clear the compound so that the place would be clean.”
Gradually, the once-desolate health center became a beehive of activity. More health workers were added, and more patients soon followed.
“Because of our activities in the community, we are experiencing a very high turnout of pregnant women, women of reproductive age and nursing mothers attending our clinic for treatment and immunizations,” says the CDC chairman.
Among them is Abadani Timipre Cynthia, a mother of five whose first four children were born at home. She credits PROMOT II community awareness campaigns for her decision to have her fifth child at a health center.
“There are a lot of differences between giving birth at home and at the health facility, such as the clean environment of the health facility,” she says. “This fifth baby is stronger and healthier than the four I gave birth to at home.”
She now encourages other women to go to the health center for pregnancy care.
On a recent day at the health center, children fussed as they received inoculations. Mother tried to calm them, and health care workers moved from patient to patient.
Standing out like sore thumbs were a group of men there for something besides their health. The center’s medical doctor had mentioned to the CDC that the center lacked electric bulbs, so the CDC had come together to provide them, along with rechargeable lamps.
In a heartfelt sign that they would continue to support the health center and its work, the CDC members presented the new equipment to the doctor.
Lead photo: The Sabagreia health center.