Coming to realize we’re all called to ‘mission’

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Sunday, August 12, 2012

Coming to realize we’re all called to ‘mission’

When a partnership was formed between the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Catholic Schools and the Diocese of Nsukka in Nigeria, to strengthen Catholic schools, the team soon learned that not only did education need help, so did health care.
Fathers Jude Ejemezu and Anselm Asogwa look over a ward at Our Lady Help of the Sick Hospital in rural Adani on July 4. Ejemezu is the administrator of Our Lady Help of the Sick and Asogwa is administrator of Bishop Shanahan Hosptial in Nsukka.
Parishioners pack St. Theresa's Cathedral in Nsukka on July 1. This church, built years ago by Irish missionaries, will one day be replaced
On July 3, a staff member of Bishop Shanahan Hospital in Nsukka prepares cotton swabs and bandages to be sterilized for use in surgeries. Bandages and cotton swabs do not come in presterilized packages like they do in the United States.
The entrance to Bishop Shanahan Hospital.

Note: This is Part II of coverage on the Office for Catholic School’s ongoing partnership with the Diocese of Nsukka, Nigeria., acknowledging the responsibility for mission that comes through our baptism. Previous stories:

When a partnership was formed between the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Catholic Schools and the Diocese of Nsukka in Nigeria, to strengthen Catholic schools, the team soon learned that not only did education need help, so did health care.

“There is a lot of illness in the villages. Children come to school not well. We know that there are a lot of kids that have HIV/AIDS complexities in the family so there is a lot underlying the situation, much of which is not talked about,” said Esther Hicks, director of Catholic identity and mission for the Office of Catholic Schools and the director of the partnership for the archdiocese.

Cases of malaria and typhoid fever are common in Nsukka and all of Nigeria. Medical teams also commonly treat those with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and those with hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular illness. Nigeria is ranked second in the world in number of people living with HIV/AIDS. Life expectancy is 49 years for men and 53 years for women, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Great needs

The needs of health care for the Nigerian people are great and the Diocese of Nsukka has taken that on as a ministry. They operate three hospitals: Bishop Shanahan in Nsukka, St. Mary’s in Enugu- Enzike near to Nsukka, and Our Lady Help of the Sick in rural Adani.

Just like in providing quality education, challenges exist to providing quality health care. The people in Nsukka do without many of the things Americans take for granted, like clean water and regular flow of electricity. The government provides a fraction of the electricity needed for everyday use, and it is intermittent. Most people rely on generators for their power. However, fuel costs are high so not many people can afford to run their generators for long every day.

All of the hospitals struggle with educating people about when to come to the hospital for care. Many patients will go to the village medicine doctor or chemist first and try out various remedies.

“When they have done that and everything fails then they come to the hospital,” said Father Jude Ejemezu, administrator at Our Lady Help of the Sick in Adani. “By the time they are coming, it [their health issue] is very, very severe.”

He called it “a poverty of the mind” where people aren’t educated enough to understand that the hospitals are there to help them. There are also financial constraints. The people see the hospitals as very expensive.

Father Anselm Asogwa, administrator of Bishop Shanahan Hospital in Nsukka said he works health care issues into his homilies to try and remind parishioners that they have to take care of themselves and to advise them on simple care methods. The diocesan newspaper, The Shepherd, carries stories about health care in another effort to educate people.

Help given

The partnership between the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Nsukka began in 2006. Cardinal George and Nsukka Bishop Francis Okobo agreed to a formal partnership between the church in Chicago and Nsukka.

Since that time much planning and training has occurred in the education arena — teachers and principals have been given a voice and training in modern teaching methods and plans have been laid for construction of a model school with building set to begin this fall with the nursery section.

Once the $5 million school in Nsukka is finished, it will serve students from 3 years old through college, and incorporate a teachers’ college to educate the diocese’s future educators. The group is still raising money to fund all of the construction.

On the health care side, the partnership has helped in different ways. In one instance the archdiocese, in conjunction with Rotary International, sent Shanahan a large generator. However, the hospital cannot afford to run it often because of high fuel costs. They rely on smaller generators but much of the time there is no regular flow of electricity. It’s not uncommon for doctors to conduct procedures near windows to use available light.

“Lack of electricity is one of the things we suffer,” said Dr. Emmanuel Nnabueze, chief medical director of Bishop Shanahan, during a tour of the hospital on July 3.

Once, Nnabueze was conducting emergency surgery late in the evening when the power went out. The patient died.

They are trying to raise funds to install solar power in the hospital so they will have a 24-hour source of energy. However, adequate funds are always an issue because diocesan hospitals are self-sustaining charity hospitals. Their fees are low to help the poor.

“We charge practically nothing compared to the government hospitals,” Nnabueze said.

Government hospitals ask for a deposit before they will treat a patient. “We treat without asking people,” said Nnabueze. Back in December, again with the help of Rotary International, the archdiocese sent nearly 10 tons of donated material — more than 600 individual pieces of medical equipment, furniture and books — to Nsukka, which was distributed between the three hospitals. Sent from the Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach warehouse in Bedford Park, it contained everything from an x-ray unit and surgical gowns to crutches and commodes, ordered by the hospitals.

The outreach receives donated shipments from nearly 70 partner hospitals, medical supply companies and health care institutions in Illinois and Wisconsin. Some are overstock and others are used equipment.

Many of the supplies were put to use right away in Nsukka.

“You’ve really lifted this facility. We look different and are grateful,” said Ezedike Francisca, the chief matron at the hospital, referring to the partnership and the donation.

There have been some glitches, mainly concerning electricity. The equipment requires different voltage than what is available in Nsukka. The folks in Nsukka are working to address this.

Rotary International along with partnership member Chuck Newman of Schools for Children of the World continue to work closely with the hospitals to try and meet some of their needs.

On the ground

Shanahan has a school of nursing, midwifery and medical lab technology. However, now the schools face possibly not passing inspection by the state boards because they don’t have proper computer labs and resources. They make photocopies of the textbooks because they don’t have enough to go around and students and the schools can’t afford new ones.Bishop Shanahan Hospital has 115 beds for patients. They also run an outpatient clinic, immunizations and an HIV/AIDS clinic. Their outpatient center, which operates 24 hours a day, sees the most patients.

Four doctors and two visiting obstetricians staff Shanahan. It’s not enough Nnabueze, said.

Thirteen years ago, Nnabueze retired from working as the chief medical director at a state university teaching hospital in Enugu and returned to his hometown of Nsukka.

“I like to say I’m retired but not tired,” said Nnabueze. The doctor said he had offers to work in other places that would pay him more than Shanahan but he said “I felt these are the people that need me.”

St. Mary’s is a new facility that opened in 2010. It’s state of the art compared to Our Lady Help of the Sick in rural Adani.

Our Lady Help of the Sick doesn’t have its own doctor. Physicians from Shanahan take turns serving there for a week or two at a time. It’s difficult to get doctors to work in the bush, Father Ejemezu said. Most want to be in the cities where roads are good and where there are more conveniences. They ask for higher wages out in the bush because they are making more sacrifices.

The hospital flourished at one time but in the past 10-15 years, after inter-tribal conflict in Adani, the hospital has been in a decline. The diocese has committed to revitalizing it and the partnership is trying to help as well.

Not having a full-time doctor sets them back. People want to see a doctor and see the same one, not rotating doctors.

“If we have a steady doctor here the hospital will flourish,” Father Ejemezu said.