For the Love of Humanity
By Dr Abubakar MS
I have closely monitored her humanitarian activities. Not only in the North East, but across the country. As such, this writer is eminently qualified to write on Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
MSF, which is popularly called Doctors Without Borders, will be the crux of this week’s column. MSF was founded in 1971 in France, by a group of doctors and journalists in the wake of war and famine in Biafra, Nigeria. Their aim was to establish an independent organization that focused on delivering emergency medical humanitarian aid quickly, effectively, and impartially.
Three hundred volunteers made up the organization when it was founded, including doctors, nurses, logistics experts, and other staff, including the 13 founding members. MSF was established on the belief that all people should have access to high-quality health care, regardless of gender, race, religion, creed, or political affiliation. From the start, MSF teams made a commitment not just to care for patients, but to bear witness to their experiences and speak out to call attention to the problems driving emergency needs.
Since its establishment, MSF offers medical humanitarian assistance to people based solely on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender, or political affiliation.
Her teams of doctors, nurses, logisticians, and other frontline workers are often among the first on the scene when people’s lives are upended by conflict, disease outbreaks, or natural or human-made disasters.
The decision to respond is based solely on MSF’s independent assessment of medical needs. The international organisation works to ensure that her teams can reach people in need without restriction and provide aid directly.
For clarity’s sake, MSF’s goal is to do no harm, as the international humanitarian body remains committed to providing the highest quality medical care possible—no matter where she is working—and to acting in her patient’s best interests, respecting their rights to dignity, confidentiality, informed consent, and to make their own decisions.
With over 45,000 of its staff members of 169 nationalities working in more than 70 countries around the world, MSF recognizes that diversity, equity, and inclusion are inextricably linked to the success of her medical humanitarian mission.
In October 1999, MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “in recognition of the organization’s pioneering humanitarian work on several continents.
The International Non-Governmental Organisation (INGO) knows too well that our Giant of Africa is bedevilled by multifarious socio-economic challenges.
To help address the many health challenges – afflicting the Nigerian populace – posed by a deteriorating security situation, environmental degradation, and endemic diseases, MSF, has over the years, been running a wide range of programs across the country.
Don’t get it twisted, MSF runs one of its biggest operations worldwide in Nigeria. In Africa’s most populous country, MSF has been assisting people affected by violence and displacement, improving the health of mothers and young children, and running specialist services for neglected diseases such as noma.
In addition to running regular basic and specialist health care activities, MSF health officials always respond swiftly to disease outbreaks and other emergencies, whenever the need arises.
As an indigene of the Northeast, I can tell the level of the devastation suffered by Borno State (my home State) as a result of the lingering Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West African Province, ISWAP, insurgency.
To compound issues, people living in Borno towns and villages, still controlled by either Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists, totally lack access to basic humanitarian assistance.
Around 1.6 million people are displaced in Borno, and some 30,000 families live in the state capital, Maiduguri, statistics have revealed. But MSF would not be perturbed. It has continued to provide lifesaving specialist healthcare to children under 15 years old in Gwange pediatric hospital, in Maiduguri.
When malaria hit my Beloved Borno, some time ago, MSF expanded its capacity by conducting additional consultations for malnourished children, at a 120-bed nutritional feeding centre. At that time also, the international humanitarian organisation offered basic healthcare to displaced people living in five informal camps in Maiduguri.
Though it was forced to close its operations in Gwoza and Pulka towns in August this year, over insecurity in the areas and threats against humanitarian workers, MSF continued to run a 20-bed inpatient facility in Ngala hospital.
It equally supported outpatient and inpatient services in Gamboru maternal and child health centre, at the period in focus. It is heartwarming to also point out that some MSF-trained health workers also conducted community-based consultations. These were at Ngala and Rann.
Nobody wants to go to Zamfara, Katsina and other North West States. And this is because violent conflicts between herders and farmers have displaced more than 530,000 people in the region, says MSF. In addition, criminal gangs increasingly engage in killings and looting. We should not even bother talking about kidnappings for ransom, especially of schoolchildren.
But yes! In the same Zamfara, MSF has continued to run her 130-bed children’s hospital in Anka, aside from providing medical care to displaced people living in the town. The foreign NGO also worked in two hospitals in Shinkafi and Zurmi, supporting therapeutic feeding centres, inpatient pediatric care, mental health consultations, and treatment for victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
At the end of 2021, after more than 11 years of activities, MSF handed over her lead poisoning project in Zamfara to the State Government.
Of course, everyone knows that exposure to lead, caused by unsafe mining practices, is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Zamfara children. But following a successful multi-sector approach by MSF, that includes medical treatment to remove lead from the body, environmental remediation of lead-contaminated areas, and promotion of safe mining practices, children no longer die of lead poisoning in the State.
Going down to Katsina, President Muhammadu Buhari’s home State, MSF started to work with the Katsina Ministry of Health in July, this year. This is to address alarming levels of acute malnutrition among children and support outpatient therapeutic feeding centres in four basic health care centres in Jibia local government area.
Just last month, in September, it then opened a new in-patient therapeutic feeding centre in Katsina city. In the North Central part of the country, inter-communal clashes between herders and farmers is a recurring decimal.
Last year alone, in Benue state, clashes between herders and farmers displaced more than 220,000 people, who were forced to leave in dire conditions in informal camps with limited access to health care, food, water, and sanitation. In coming to the aid, MSF ran two basic health care clinics in Mbawa and Abagana camps. The camps offered outpatient consultations, ante- and post-natal care, nutritional support, health education, and care for victims of sexual violence.
This writer, also learnt that MSF, in June this year, started supporting newly displaced people in Ortese camp by running mobile clinics, constructing toilets and showers, and distributing water and mosquito nets.
2021 was the year Nigeria experienced its worst cholera outbreak in a decade, where about 3,600 people died from the water-borne disease.
But the emergency teams of MSF, who collaboratively worked with the Federal Ministry of Health, were able to mitigate the impact of the outbreak, by opening cholera treatment centres in Bauchi, Borno, Kano, and Zamfara States, while also launching vaccination and health promotion campaigns, aimed at improving water and sanitation.
MSF is doing an amazing job in Sokoto State too. in The Seat of the Caliphate, the organisation is supporting the treatment of noma, a neglected disease that mainly affects young children. In addition to surgery, the MSF team provides physical therapy, nutritional and mental health support, and conducts outreach activities to improve early detection of the neglected disease.
And in Kano State, Nigeria’s Centre of Commerce, MSF carries out its work in two basic healthcare centres in Tarauni and Ungogo, with the intent of reducing sickness and death linked to disease outbreaks, while improving care for pregnant mothers and newborns.
It is gratifying to note that MSF, right now provides emergency obstetric and neonatal care and assists births in Garan Gamawa health centre in Gwale.
For several months now, MSF has been sponsoring comprehensive emergency obstetric and neonatal care in Jahun General Hospital in Jigawa State. The hospital admits around 1,000 women every month for the aforementioned care.
Since December 2020, MSF has supported a total of 1,129 new patients, the majority of whom were minors, and provided follow-up assistance to 1,500 victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital.
Other SGBV-related activities MSF carried out in Port Harcourt include delivering training in five hospitals and four basic health care clinics, together with supporting children’s and remand homes with mobile clinics, training for carers, donations of medical supplies, and improvements of water and sanitation.
A lot is there to write on MSF and what the 51-years-old foreign organization clearly represents to mankind. This column cannot tell it all. But one thing is certain: charitable and humanitarian organisations like MSF, in years to come, will not stop rendering invaluable aid to millions of vulnerable Nigerians, in particular, as the good work she is doing is for the love and betterment of humanity. And nothing else.