By Doris Obinna

Over 90,000 children in Nigeria are said to be given birth yearly with congenital heart defects, a life-threatening condition that without corrective surgery is fatal. In this interview, Pamela Egbo, Director, Obijackson Foundation examines this and other issues.


What prompted the idea of free heart surgeries?

So basically, I had the opportunity to meet with Dr Segun Ajayi sometime last year, and he runs an incredible organization called Hospitals for Humanity (HFH). Their goal is to help as many children as possible that have congenital heart defects to get surgeries because first, it’s a life-threatening condition if they don’t have corrective surgery. Secondly, it is something that, I thought, was an incredible initiative that we wanted to be part of. I have learned since meeting him that over 90,000 children in this country every year are born with that defect. And because of how expensive these surgeries are in this country most people cannot afford them. They live with that condition and a lot of them die. There is a high mortality rate if they don’t get corrective surgery. Most people who have these conditions can’t even afford the surgery. The surgeries are usually between N10 to N15 million and above. It is only the rich who can afford to take their children abroad to have these surgeries. A lot of the people that we screened in this period cannot afford the surgeries. Even people who have seemingly good jobs would have to have a lot of money to afford a surgery of N15 million and above.

How do you select beneficiaries?

When we originally decided to partner with HFH on this laudable initiative to ameliorate the suffering of children with this condition, there were people who we told that we were going to have the screening. We first had a pre-registration form to ask them about their socio-economic status and we made sure that they were in that bracket of people who could not afford it. We went through a thorough screening process. Before we were able to decipher and determine that these people could not afford the surgeries. But like I said, with that high number of people, you know, how much surgery costs, a lot of people will fall into the bracket of people who cannot afford to do the surgery in this country.

After surgery, you are going to go for post-surgery care, drugs, medication tests, and other things that might be involved in this whole process of beating this challenge. However, it’s a continuous thing and from the little I’ve seen in our partnership, it is holistic care. So, It Is not just us, we screen them first, they do the surgeries and there is continuous care for them and monitoring of how they’re doing, even after they have the surgeries.

How much does the foundation commit to this initiative?

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For our goal, we have committed as a foundation right now, to fund 50 surgeries. Each surgery costs N3.2 million. So that’s about N160 million so far, but our heart is to do more. This is just the beginning with the Hospital for Humanities. There’s a huge need out there. We haven’t even touched the surface of the problem. But our goal this year is to do between 50 and 100 surgeries if we can. But we have committed ourselves to 50 to start with. But as I said, our goal is to raise more funds to be able to help more children, and we are open to receiving support from members of the public and highly placed individuals to achieve that.

What is the Obijackson Foundation about?

The Obijackson Foundation was originally founded in 2010. We’ve been around for about 14 years and our remit focus is to help the most vulnerable people in society, in our communities. Our focus is predominantly the southeast of Nigeria, which is Anambra state. Our flagship office is in Okija. However, we operate outside of Anambra. We operate in Lagos. We have initiatives in Lagos and Ibadan. We’ve done projects in Akwa Ibom and Abuja as well. Our foundation motto is transforming communities’ one life at a time. Our focus areas are education, health, and nutrition. In and around education, we sponsor several kids every year to an academy called the Obijackson Academy in Okija and the goal is for them to have good basic quality education. We sponsor 40 kids every year to go into the college and the Jesuits there teach them. Each child costs about one million naira a year and so every year we are adding on a new class. So by this September, we are going up to primary four. We have added from primary one to three. And then in and around our health initiative, the Obijackson Foundation has a hospital called the Obijackson Women and Children Hospital. And the whole idea is to cater to the needs of the people in and around the southeastern Anambra state; people who cannot afford basic health care. We also have a nutrition initiative where we run a soup kitchen here in Lagos and we’ve been doing that for about 10 years. It’s in a rehabilitation centre in Owusu in Ikorodu. We also have beneficiaries in the Southeast, over 200 people and we give them dry food every month, including beans, rice, and oil to help them. So those are some of the initiatives that we have.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing vulnerable Nigerians in terms of healthcare?

I think the two biggest challenges, number one, is that we don’t have good healthcare in this country where the government must create an enabling environment for good policies and fund healthcare for it to even scratch the surface that is like it is in other countries. That’s number one. Then number two, we don’t, most people cannot afford good health care and for those that can, the manpower is no longer there. Even hospitals like the general hospitals or the federal hospitals, do not have enough manpower because the government is not creating initiatives to help doctors stay, there’s a huge brain drain, people are going abroad and we’re losing good doctors and nurses. So that is a real issue in this country presently.

How do you monitor the impact and how do you ensure continuity?

Yes, we have, we were very hands-on with our beneficiaries. We always document everything that we do. There is monitoring and evaluation. We always visit our beneficiaries to make sure that they’re still okay. Even this past Easter, we visited some of our health beneficiaries, the older ones, we gave them gifts over Easter and made sure that they were fine. We have an auxiliary nurse who goes to their homes every week to check their vitals, to make sure they’re fine. So that’s just an example, but generally in all the projects that we do, we do have a mechanism to track and monitor and evaluate the things that we’re doing.

What will be the effects on local health workers and how beneficial will it be in terms of knowledge transfer?

We did the screening at the hospital in Okjia. The Obijackson Women and Children Hospital and the Hospital for Humanity staff, the professionals, and all the paediatric cardiologists came there and performed the screening. The surgeries are going to be in Abuja in a hospital that is a partner of the Hospital for Humanity because they are the ones with the expertise, but the whole goal is for our staff in the hospital in Okija to learn about these surgeries so that hopefully next year we can start to conduct these surgeries within the hospital in Okija, Anambra state.