As part fulfillment for my attainment of the M.B;B.S degree, I learnt that it would be required of me to provide basic healthcare to certain communities in Lagos and it’s immediate surroundings. My community immersion began on the 16th of June 2008. My first assignment was to spend 4 working days in Alhaji Masha Surulere popularly known as Shitta. Since I had never been there before I left school in the old rickety school bus with an open mind, my lively group members in tow and with a Ghana must go full of drugs, medical supplies and health education tools. Being the group rep, I was asked a lot of questions about where we were headed by my over-eager group members that i just couldn’t answer. We arrived at Shitta at 9.30 am and the place was like any other part of Lagos only worse with overpopulated rambling storey buildings and dirty surroundings and a great number of young men who should have been at work hanging on the streets. We the final year medical students of the University of Lagos, College of Medicine became street doctors going from flat to flat, household to household interviewing the people, finding out their health and health related problems and treating their illnesses. We also had in-depth interviews with the leaders of the community to hear their views on the standard of living, health and other problems in the community. The only fee collected from them was minimal and only during the sale of prescribed drugs. Also we had a focused group discussion on sexually transmitted diseases where the youths aired their views and we tried to correct their misconceptions. We also went to the African gospel nursery and primary school located in the community where we assessed the children’s nutritional status, de-wormed them and examined them as well as treating the common illnesses we encountered. We knew our limits and referred patients who needed expert care to the nearest functional hospital. We also carried out a mass immunization exercise. On the last day, we presented our findings to the leaders of the community and put our heads together to come up with possible solutions to present in our action plan to the Local government. The major health problems in Shitta were malaria, hypertension and arthritis while the health related problems were overcrowding with up to seven adults living in a small room, unemployment amongst the youth and a high percentage of old people in addition to poor environmental sanitation due to poor drainage. On the 22nd of June, we left school in some hired old buses to a destination unknown. Ire-akari village they called it. Our arsenal was an assortment of food, clothes, mosquito repellants and our faithful Ghana must go full of medical supplies. Most of us hadn’t been to a village in years and were dreading the thought of spending four nights in a village unknown. All we told our parents and guardians was that we were headed to Pakoto in Ifo Local government of Ogun state. We arrived there at 12.30pm. the village looked deserted, maybe the villagers were still in church. The bus stopped at an unpainted duplex and we waited with bated breaths. Our facilitators asked us to come down with all our luggage and we were ushered into a small bungalow behind and given two rooms the size of prison cells with only one window unprotected by netting per room. This was the beginning of a long ordeal. We had to use pit latrines, there was no electricity in the village as the transformer had blown months ago and was yet to be fixed, we had to sleep on bare concrete floor at the mercy of sand flies thankfully a few of us, I included had brought mattresses. In those five days we were expected to fill questionnaires, interview the people, treat their illnesses, count the number of houses, draw a map, de-worm all their school children as well as assess their nutritional status and immunize the people especially the children in the village. We also had to conduct focus group discussions on HIV/AIDS, a topic chosen by us because during our interviews we realized the people had no knowledge on HIV/AIDS. The people were cordial and initially a bit skeptical of us. The palm wine was fresh and the village lacked mosquitoes- what a blessing! There were three primary schools in the village but the children had to travel miles for secondary education. Many of the children were undernourished and had varying skin diseases. We had to educate some of their parents on cheap sources of protein. On the last day we gave out food stuffs and provisions to the villagers and they prayed lengthily for our success. It was quite an experience. I was thankful that I could help this people in my own little way. It wasn’t easy because all of us were city kids used to the comfort of high brow Lagos but we survived. Looking back I can laugh at all the incidences that made me cry like falling on my way to the stream into elephant grass and not only tearing my jeans but itching all night because of the elephant grass. We thought the Institute of Community Health was punishing us by sending us into the wild but we returned fulfilled and more aware of the problems of the masses. I wish more programs like this would be incorporated into medical schools nation wide and that more importantly, the government will reach out to these mostly unnoticed set of people. I got an A and I was excited although honestly, I wouldn’t wanna repeat that experience. Today I’m a proud doctor and all I can say is E seun Baba!!!
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