The role of NGOs and partners – Blueprint Newspapers Limited

Kenneth Azahan

Medical personnel, especially in Nigeria and other developing countries, must regularly update their skills to deal with ever-changing medical issues, ranging from disease mutations to advances in preventive and curative medicine. The advent of technology has also made some jobs obsolete, increasing job redundancy. Similarly, some healthcare professionals work in dilapidated infrastructures that require innovative ways of working in low-resource settings, failing which many patients seek treatment abroad. Medical tourism is estimated to cost around $2.1 billion a year, revenue that has been dented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While various health professionals have individually set up structures to ensure the training and retraining of their staff within the framework of promotion imperatives, this is not enough. Governments and non-governmental organizations, as well as other business partners must therefore be involved since acquiring the technology, maintaining and training the personnel to operate these machines is costly.

Some NGOs working in Nigeria and health partners have stepped in to complement government efforts by providing adequate and timely public health services. For example, the organization Lift Above Poverty (LAPO) has set out to continuously educate and raise awareness about all forms of cancer by providing free screening and referral services to all Nigerians, especially in cities and towns. the villages. Marie Stopes, another health NGO, is at the forefront of sexual and reproductive health education and awareness with state-of-the-art health facilities across the country.

Smile Train is another global organization devoted to free cleft surgery and care. While other NGOs do their best to advance medical services in their area of ​​expertise, Smile Train’s unique partnership model is the most striking.
As Smile Train works to dispel the myths and misinformation surrounding the cleft, the organization goes the extra mile to train and fund local healthcare professionals such as surgeons, nurses, nutritionists, anesthesiologists, orthodontists and speech therapists to provide safe and quality treatment within the community. all year. Cleft lip and/or palate is a common birth difference, the causes of which are still unknown. Cleft patients have difficulty breathing, eating and speaking, unable to contribute effectively to the community due to the stigma and isolation they endure. Their “teach a man to fish” model sets them apart from other charities that deploy missionaries to perform surgeries, isolate local medical providers from the training required to continue their work long after they are gone.

Smile Train has not only provided free cleft surgeries to Nigerians for the past decade; they have also been involved in training and retraining healthcare providers to ensure the sustainability of their charitable efforts.

To address the challenge of lack of surgical facilities and equipment not only for cleft surgeries but also for the general Nigerian population, Smile Train partnered in 2019 with a global non-profit organization, Safe Surgery Initiative , to train medical engineers and laboratory technicians in the repair and maintenance of surgical instruments and equipment. The selected trainees were then encouraged to disseminate the knowledge they received in their local hospitals across the states of Nigeria. The result of this training was that the waiting period for surgeries was drastically reduced as the need for adequate and functional tools in operating theaters was addressed. Trained technicians service surgical equipment quickly and regularly, paving the way for more surgeries per capita than before.

Empirical data on cleft is sorely lacking in many low- and middle-income countries, but presents another opportunity for collaboration in the endless pursuit of universal health coverage. Smile Train has gone further by partnering with the West African College of Surgeons, the National Surgery, Midwifery, Anesthesia and Nursing Plan (NSOANP) and SearchAnWrite (a research and innovation organization ) to undertake nationwide training for health care providers by equipping them with professional knowledge on fissure investigation and documentation. Beyond training, medical professionals have also benefited from Smile Train grants to undertake research and generate data that will help prevent and better manage cases of cleft in Nigeria. This first phase of training used a purely local workforce and outstanding trainees were elevated to the rank of trainers and facilitators. Smile Train has also launched, in partnership with the Federal Department of Health, an electronic cleft registry system to track and register patients to receive comprehensive cleft care at the nearest partner facility.

Rooting local content in the health sector is very important if we are to lead the pack in quality health services. This is achieved through investment in care, but also in the education and training of health professionals. Increasing budgetary allocation to the health sector can only address the root problem through partnerships and capacity building at the lowest level. Other NGOs like Sightsavers could consider a partnership model to ensure eye surgeries are not only performed, but local professionals are empowered and supported to stand independently to be more sustainable.

Kenneth Azahan, a public affairs commentator writing from Abuja.

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