‘We are Using our Training as Doctors to Save Lives’

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Having survived gunshots incident in 2011where about 20 bullets were shot into his neck by armed robbers, Dr. Kunle Megbuwawon, a medical practitioner and a family physician by training and founder Orange Health Initiative in this interview with Mary Ekah, says he plans to carry out free surgical exercise on Nigerians suffering from various forms of ailments that require surgery from May 19 to 22 in Lagos State

Tell us what you do for a living and how you came about the present project?

I am a medical practitioner and a family physician by training. I work with a health insurance organisation and I have also volunteered to work with Orange Health Initiative as the Project Coordinator. We started in 2014 together with Dr. Segun Ogundimu, who is presently the Chairman of the Initiative, Mrs. Titilope Godo and my wife, Temitope Megbuwawon. We also have other doctors who have volunteered their service each time we hold a programme. So we strive on volunteer services and I must say that voluntary services are what a lot of youths are shying away from but this is actually a way they can also build their skills and knowledge.

Basically one of the reasons why I volunteered to do this was to say thank you to God for sparing my life after gunshots injuries on my neck. I was shot by armed robbers in 2011and there were about 20 bullets that went into my neck but God spared my life and apart from thanking God for such miraculous deed, I promised that I would use my skills, knowledge, network and money to give back to society. So my wife and I started the Orange Health Initiative with help from other partners as mentioned earlier. We have been using our resources to impact on the society and we have been collaborating with other groups and organisations to find ways of impacting lives. One area we felt was germane was in the healthcare space and as doctors that is our core area. We knew that not everybody can afford the services that we offer and not everybody can afford surgery even though they had a huge need for it. So we said this is our own little way of contributing to better the society and to impact lives.

Apart from the scheduled free surgical exercise, what other things do you do at Orange Health Initiative?

One of our core areas at Orange Health Initiative is the care of the elderly. We discovered that in Nigeria, nobody is talking about caring for the elderly. And it is a paradox because you and I in a few years are going to join that group called the elderly because from 60 years, we are going to become that. We are enjoying good health now and we can run around but when we are 60 and 70 years of age, we discover that our strength is not as strong as it used to be. We move from being independent to being dependent and except the society decide to take care of her dependent; we find that most people will be in need of those to cater for them. We find out that a lot of people that were not hypertensive or diabetic will become that and a lot of others will develop so many other ailments while others develop enlarged prostrate that needed to be treated, so different life events happen that make us to begin to depend on our families and society at that age.

And these are people that actually need the healthcare because you also discover that they are not given access to health insurance. So we are saying, we are the voice for the elderly and so we started Project Grey, an annual event where we celebrate the World Elders’ Day. And last year we treated over 1,500 elderly people in Fadeyi, Lagos, where we brought them together and do eye surgeries for them, gave them eyeglasses and served them for five days and this year we are also planning to do same. We also started the Veteran Health, which is a health package for the elderly people, which with minimum amount they can have access to healthcare.

We also started the Senior Citizen Health Fund when we discovered that the elderly do not access healthcare not because they do not want to but because they cannot afford it. And so we are appealing to organisations to support the Senior Citizen Health Fund by subsidising the cost of their healthcare so that the little amount that is paid by these elderly ones, and the subsidy will cover for them so that by the time they come to hospitals, they could have access to better healthcare. Now the impact of this is that it is going to prolong their lives and they are going to live better and longer lives while they continue to impact on the society. Because whether we like it or not, the wisdom of the elderly can never be quantified.

When the young are growing up, they need the elderly ones to guide them; when you feel you know it all, the man that had done it several years before can tell you the history and where the pit holes are and the youth can actually gain a lot from the wisdom of the elderly. Aside from these, we also do consultancy and other advocacies. We are also looking at so many other things that we can do and once we have support, we will be able to do more and impact lives. One of such areas is youth empowerment and areas that concern the women.

So how does the Association of Rural Surgical Practitioners of Nigeria come in?

I am not the only one involved in this project, it is the Association of Rural Surgical Practitioners of Nigeria (ARSPON) of which I am the Public Relations Officer that is running the programme in conjunction with Orange Health Initiative and the hospital where the operations will be carried out is One Life Hospital, owned by a member of ARSPON. So now, ARSPON in conjunction with my NGO, Orange Health Initiative with support from Lifebox Foundation, UK and One Life Hospital will be offering four-day free surgical operations to Nigerians suffering from various forms of ailments that require surgery. The exercise, which will take place at the One Life Hospital, located on Agege Motor Road, Bolade, Oshodi, Lagos, totally free of charge. Expected to be carried out are operations for Hernia, Lipoma, breast lump, fibroid, goiter, prostrate, tooth extraction amongst others during the exercise which begins on Thursday May 19 and runs till Sunday, May 22.

The Association of Rural Surgical Practitioners of Nigeria is an NGO made up of medical doctors and surgeons that came together to give their services to the very poor in the society and those that cannot afford to pay for their medical service. Operating a Fibroid surgery, for instance, could cost as much as 150,000 naira depending on the area and yet not many can afford that kind of money and so we came together as doctors and give these services as pro bono to people that cannot afford it. So one of the things we do is to go to communities – resource poor areas and utilise hospitals and community centres in those areas to do free surgeries for people.

So we said it is not focusing on the urban areas and middle class alone but let us also go to those in the disadvantaged areas that have these disease but cannot afford the money. Now we also chose One Life Hospital because for every programme that we have to do, we must have a base with which we must do it. We have to use somewhere that has requisite facility to be able to take care of the patients and so we look for venue and it has to be a member of ARSPON who is willing to volunteer his/her hospital. Once you volunteer your hospital, there is a checklist we are after which you provide the necessary materials would be needed and once all that is set, we take off.

What qualifies a patient to be a part of this free exercise?

Once you have been diagnosed to have one surgical condition or the other, you are qualified to come for the registration at the One Life Hospital. After which other examinations will be carried out on you to confirm that you actually can go through the surgical operation. And we are looking at doing 100 surgeries in four days starting from May 19 – 22. We have done it before in Festac, Lagos, where we did over a 100 surgeries in three days and we have done Ibadan and even in the Eastern states.

How often do you do this?

We do this at least four or five times in a year depending on the resources and sponsorships that we have. One major area is that if we have sponsorships, we are available to do as many as possible at every nook and cranny of the nation. And so my appeal will be to organisations that if they are looking for a place to put their CSR funding, this is a good place to do that because they are going to see the effects, impacts and results. At the moment, it has been solely financed by us with some doctors offering their free services and facilities, without any outside organisation assisting us in any way. So we want kindhearted Nigerians and various organisations to partner with us in giving better healthcare services to the less privileged Nigerians.