By Godshield Kanjal
For 61-year-old Mrs. Lydia Ogbeche, who retired as a grade level 12 Community Health Extension Worker in Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State, retiring from public service is not the end of her career.
Unlike her colleagues who retired and relocated to their villages to start a new career in farming, she is fulfilling her childhood dream of owning an affordable maternity center in Okuku, within her Local Government Area, to bring antenatal care closer to expectant mothers in underserved areas.
Unable to do so through the civil service, this passionate 61-year-old who has operated her small maternity clinic since her retirement in 2015 is committed to giving back to society through her profession, she told GK Journalism Foundation.
She said her service does not carry a price tag as most expectant mothers in the catchment area are unable to afford the costs.
According to her, once her clients and patients can afford to purchase the required medication, she administers the medicines for free although sometimes clients leave her a token in appreciation.
She said her 35 years of service as a health worker had given her the opportunity to work in eight Primary Health Centres in Yala, Ogoja, and Obudu Local Government Areas, and to head a Primary Health Centre.
According to her, being a private health worker after retirement from service is a passion to save lives, and give care, rather than a means for financial gain.
The health worker said she employs all the professional ethics and code of conduct in the healthcare profession in her private practice, as some android pelvis cases during delivery that may be beyond her capacity, are referred to the doctor at the general hospital in Ogoja, where the Cesarean section (C/S) is performed.
She said she has had multiple clients who delivered twins in her clinic, adding that she refers those with triplets to the general hospital, located in Igoli in Ogoja LGA, 20 kilometers away from her clinic.
She said, “As a child, growing up in my village, in Etega Okpudu, in Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State, I saw how expectant mothers suffered to walk a long distance to Health Centre to register for antenatal care and some could not even afford the fee even till their delivery date.
“It is a long story to recount how my people back then suffered to access basic health care.
“We didn’t have a health post in my community, and many people resorted to the use of herbs for medication.
“When I saw all these challenges being faced by my people, it sparked the desire in me to go into the medical field.
“First, I applied to work as a ward orderly at Monaya Hospital owned by the Catholic church.
“I got first-hand experience working there as an orderly, in the area of maternal care and thereafter I enrolled for a two-year program at the College of Health Technology, Calabar where I bagged the Junior Community Health Extension Worker certificate, then I started working as Community Health Extension Worker in 1980.
“To further sharpen my knowledge, I proceeded to NKST College of Health Technology, Nkar, Gboko, Benue state where I bagged another certificate in Senior Community Health Extension Worker,” she said
Closing the gap of lack of access to Maternal and Newborn Health care:
Mrs. Lydia says the reason for her private practice in the community is to close the gap of lack of access to Maternal and Newborn Health care by women.
She decried the poor funding of health facilities in the state.
“The poor state of our health system is nothing to write home about, from lack of staffing to unavailability of drugs and equipment.
“There are health centers you visit, and you will find only one or two health workers, and these are the professionals expected to service an entire community.
“Many remote villagers don’t even make efforts to visit the health centers. They just patronize the traditional birth attendant.
“Yes, I know these women lack money to go to the hospital, even a private one, but the primary health centers that are close to them aren’t even functioning well.
“Like the labor case I had yesterday, the pregnant woman was already in labor, in her house, and with the help of the traditional birth attendant, they made all efforts so she could give birth, to no avail.
“They had to rush her to my clinic. It was a very critical matter but with God’s help, we achieved the delivery.
However, when the baby came out, she couldn’t cry. And there was no movement.
“I employed all the techniques to no avail until I discovered that the mother was excessively taking herbs during pregnancy. And the herbs affected the child. But luckily the baby later cried and began to move her body.
“I asked the mother what she took, she said the traditional birth attendant had been the one giving her herbs all through the pregnancy.
“And she was taking these herbs even close to the point of delivery.
“If this community where the woman is from had a health post and a professional health worker there, she wouldn’t take all these herbs,” she said.
Mrs. Lydia’s clients speak:
15-year-old Ms. Idiku Beatrice, from Ocheyenor in Okuku, who gave birth on June 26, 2023, praised Mrs. Lydia Ogbeche for her professional service.
Asked if she is legally married, Ms. Beatrice, who is a school dropout maintained that she dropped out of school in Senior Secondary School 1, after being impregnated by a youth in the community who later denied responsibility for the pregnancy.
She said it was her first pregnancy and thanked God for the safe delivery of a baby girl.
Beatrice, who is being taken care of by her mother, Lydia Idiku, says she hopes to return to school when her baby grows up.
“Mama Lydia has been our saving grace in this community. She’s the only consistent and readily available health professional that we run to any time we have a health-related challenge. She is kind and humble. And very thorough with her work.
“It was tough for me while I was in labor at home before I was rushed to her small private facility where I delivered seamlessly. I had no money to pay her for her service, but she kindly discharged us and told us to pay her when we had the money.
“Our health facility in the Community is not functioning as it was supposed to function, aside from the fact that we don’t have enough resources to register for antenatal and obtain the necessary medication, the health center doesn’t have enough staff.
“I want to appeal to the federal and state government to revamp the health sector,” Ms. Beatrice told GK Journalism Foundation.
Also, 17-year-old Odey Destiny from Okpoma, a neighboring Community, said but for the professionalism of Mrs. Lydia Ogbeche, she would have undergone a Cesarean Section (C/S)
Destiny, who is also a school dropout, added that she hopes to return to school when her baby grows up.
According to her: “lack of adequate health facilities by the Government is a challenge in this community.
“If you visit the health post, you won’t find workers there 24/7 and this is because the Government doesn’t want to employ more health workers, and the few we have are overworked.
“But Mama Lydia Ogbeche is the only person whose clinic is open to us even at midnight
“There is no emergency even in the middle of the night that she does not wake to attend to.
“She is aging but still very energetic,” she said.
For his part, the village head of the Ocheyenor Community in Okuku, 80-year-old Chief Oloko Odey praised the works of Mrs. Lydia Ogbeche, maintaining that “even when we don’t have money to pay her for her service, she will ask us to only buy the drugs for her to administer them on us”
He said with the shortage of health workers in the few health centers in Okuku, Mrs. Ogbeche was already filling that gap.
“We are supportive of what Mrs. Ogbeche is doing for us in this community.
“We can’t thank her enough because what she is doing is selfless service and I think her reward is in heaven.
Why mothers and newborn health is important:
According to a United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) report, “Newborns and mothers are still dying in appalling numbers – mostly from preventable causes.
“In recent decades, the world has made significant progress in reducing newborn and maternal deaths. Between 1990 and 2020, the newborn mortality rate was almost halved.
“But newborns and mothers – including adolescent mothers – are still dying in unacceptably large numbers – mostly from preventable or treatable causes, such as infectious diseases and complications during pregnancy or childbirth. In recent years, we’ve witnessed alarming setbacks for women’s health, as maternal deaths have either increased or stagnated in nearly all regions of the world.
“Uneven access to affordable, high-quality health care and services impedes many countries from improving maternal and newborn survival and reducing stillbirths. A significant proportion of maternal and newborn deaths occur in settings of conflict or displacement.”
The UNICEF report added that: “every day, some 6,500 babies die in the first month of life. In 2020, an estimated 2.4 million newborns died worldwide.
“If current trends continue, 48 million children under the age of 5 are projected to die between 2020 and 2030, half of them newborns.
“Globally, every two minutes, a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth. In 2020, there were an estimated 287,000 deaths worldwide. About 70 percent of those maternal deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Severe bleeding, high blood pressure, pregnancy-related infections, and complications from unsafe abortions are the leading causes of maternal deaths. These are all largely preventable with access to high-quality healthcare. If this trend isn’t reversed, the lives of over one million more women are at risk by 2030.
“All babies and mothers are entitled to affordable, high-quality health care before, during, and after pregnancy”.