Mrs Mercy Ameh is a passionate nurse who works as a humanitarian healthcare worker in Northeast Nigeria. “I joined the WHO-supported mobile health team in May 2017, after nights of deliberation of whether to accept the job or not”, she said.
“On the eve of Sunday, the 15 May 2017, I was informed of the opportunity and was asked if I am willing to both accept and be deployed to one of the hard-to-reach areas in Borno state, to provide essential health services to the people. Although I am passionate about saving the lives of people including the vulnerable ones, the volatility caused by the humanitarian crisis propelled me not to take a decision on the spot. After 3 days of sleepless nights, I concluded that my passion cannot be starved, so I went ahead and accepted the job.”
For over five years, Mrs Ameh remained committed and guided by her passion to save thousands of lives in the northeast region. And regardless of the challenges the goals and objectives are so glaring to her, that she wouldn’t give up. “I believe, becoming a humanitarian health care worker isn’t just about having a job but it’s more of a calling and a lifelong ambition.”
She narrated the challenges she experienced in the course of her job especially the fear of attacks, working in a dangerous environment, and walking in rocky areas. However, she wasn’t deterred by those challenges but remained committed to the course saving lives.
“One faithful day, we were on our way (as a team) to one of the hard-to-reach areas in Gufangeli ward of Bayo LGA, to provide urgently needed essential health services. When it started raining heavily causing major pathways to be flooded. Although we were drenched, shivering, and stuck but remained committed to getting to the location to provide health services.”
“While walking in the flooded pathway proceeding to cross a particular river to get to the village, a sharp metal in the river cut the sole of my foot. Blood was gushing out, I was in pain, crying, frustrated, and about to give up but the goal was clear. I further girded myself and proceeded until we got to the village in Bayo LGA to provide the urgently needed health services.”
The humanitarian crisis in northeast Nigeria is currently in its 13th year, living 8.5 million people in dire need of humanitarian assistance according to the 2022 humanitarian response plan. The conflict has also resulted in massive destruction of health facilities in the northeast.
Since the declaration of the humanitarian crisis as a Grade 3 emergency in August 2016, WHO remains committed to saving millions of lives that have been displaced in northeast Nigeria. With the overall goal of reducing mortality and morbidity through the provision of life-saving essential health services including in hard-to-reach locations.
The WHO-supported mobile health teams in the BAY (Borno. Adamawa and Yobe) states have always ensured that children were immunized against childhood killer diseases and screened for malnutrition, while Severe Acute Malnutrition cases were referred to functional health facilities for further management. Additionally, sick community members, including pregnant women received antenatal services and were treated for minor ailments.
Naturally, female members of the teams face peculiar challenges on the job working in a dangerous environment and walking in rocky areas. However, Mrs Ameh wasn’t deterred by those challenges but remained committed to the course saving lives.
“One faithful day, we were on our way (as a team) to one of the hard-to-reach areas in Gufangeli ward of Bayo Local Government Area, to provide urgently needed essential health services. When it started raining heavily causing major pathways to be flooded. Although we were drenched, shivering, and stuck but remained committed to getting to the location to provide health services.”
“While working in the flooded pathway proceeding to cross a particular river to get to the village, a sharp metal in the river cut the sole of my feet. Blood was gushing out, I was in pain, crying, frustrated, and about to give up but the goal was clear. I further girded myself and proceeded until we got to the village in Bayo LGA to provide the urgently needed health services.”
She explained, that the pain she felt dissipated upon getting to her destination where the team immediately set up a post and provided health services.
Appreciating the mobile hard-to-reach teams, Dr Aliyu Shettima, the Borno state Incident Manager of Polio Emergency Operations Center said, “the teams go the extra mile, despite extant insecurity in the hard-to-reach areas. What is worse, the roads are not motorable, cars do not get to those locations and the team had to resolve this by using camels, motorcycles, donkeys, and even canoes to get to the communities to provide the urgently needed essential health services. And in situations where either of these is not feasible, they have to walk miles to get to those locations.’
What gives Mrs Ameh who is both the team lead and the clinician of her team joy, is the relief on the faces of their patients after rendering services.
One of such beneficiaries in Yobe state, Fatima Shettima was extremely happy about the lifesaving services she received. According to her, “I was bedridden for a couple of days, not knowing what to do because we do not have money to go to the hospital. Then one faithful morning, the team approached our community in Yusufari LGA, and I consulted their medical experts. To my greatest surprise, they responded and prescribed me free drugs. And right now, I am stronger than I was.”
While in Adamawa state, a beneficiary, Hajjiya Halima Alilu in the Fufore IDP camp said, at first having access to immunizing our infants was a problem. But when the team (mobile hard-to-reach) started the intervention in this camp, not only can we avail our children of immunization, but we also consult them whenever we feel unease or someone in our neighbourhood is sick. Now, we don’t need to travel that far, to get the urgently needed health services. I am grateful for this team.
To effectively support the BAY States, WHO insists that gender equality is maintained when recruiting team members. And currently, there are 211 mobile hard-to-reach team members where 101 are females and 110 are males.