By Prosper Ishaya
In late 2018 after Hannah* recovered from a brief illness, it happened that she possessed an excess of unused and unopened drugs left off her medications. Eventually, she decided to donate the said drugs to people who needed them. But there was a constraint she faced: there was no initiative sourcing for unused drugs and neither did she find any avenue through which she could donate the drugs.
However, fast forward to 2019, she as well with a team of like minds founded Drug Aid Africa wherewith she proposed a plan to source unaltered drugs from people who didn’t need them anymore, as was in her case, and thereafter distribute them to people who needed them but could barely afford them
“So, in 2019 it [Drug Aid Africa] started donating medicines to Massey Children Hospital for specific types of diseases ranging from sickle cell and all of other diseases that require regular use of medicines,” Oluseyi Sanyaolu, the initiative’s program manager relates. “And over time, we’ve been able to expand to one other hospital, Alimosho Hospital.”
But according to Oluseyi, the initiative’s services have since grown. It now also includes frequent visits to various indigent communities where they provide healthcare support as well as free healthcare supplies and medications.
The WHO postulates Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as a means that all people have access to the full range of quality health services they need, when and where they need them, but without financial hardship. This, according to the global health body, is a pathway to making healthcare accessible to all.
Moving the focus specifically to Nigeria, the nation’s drive towards UHC as reported by WHO in a recent survey is ranked one of the poorest globally. And as reported, one of the main factors to this effect is the gradual rise of the nation’s poverty rate.
“Asides from the absence of quality amenities in most of Nigeria’s healthcare system, most of the population lack access and one of the primary causes of this is poverty. Most people can’t even afford medications.” *Abang, a healthcare practitioner, tells Social Voices.
But according to Oluseyi, this is the gap that Drug Aid Africa is filling. It is why they’ve been conducting medical outreaches in various indigent communities, as well as donating over-the-counter medicines to orphanages and to some free schools for the past four years. Statistically, according to the organization, they’ve so far been able to impact the lives of over ten-thousand people.
Most of their beneficiaries, comprises indigenes of Makoko, Shogunro, Mosafejo, Idi-Araba, Ikorodu, Oworonshoki, and Ajegunle communities, all in Lagos. Also, there’s the Poku community in Bayelsa, and the Annang community in Anambra, both recently added following the countrywide flood crisis late last year.
In managing this, the organization depends solely on crowdfunding and infrequent drug donations which currently comes mostly from family, friends, and well-wishers of members of the team (three trustees and over fifty volunteers). Oluseyi tell Social Voices that “So far, we depend on donations from family and friends who know what we do and are willing to help. There’s been no external major support so far, no grant, so it’s just us.”
But in aims to amass more donors, the organization features a donor form on their website as well as frequent call outs for donations on social media.
For their hospitals’ project, Drug Aid Africa mainly focuses on providing free routine medications for sickle cell patients. But they slso supply other drugs such as antimalarials and antibiotics in cases where needed.
The process for this usually follows a sequence which begins with the partner hospitals sending over a list of understocked or required drugs to Drug Aid Africa where after, the organization sources from donors. But in the case where there’s no donation, as is mostly is, according to Oluseyi, the organization buys the required medications and afterwards goes to the hospitals to donate the drugs.
Though for the organization’s outreaches in indigent communities, the process, Oluseyi reveals, is particularly strenuous.
Firstly, the organization targets a specific community which they believe would need their service or one which they get recommended to. After that, they go ahead to visit the head(s) of the community to brief them on who they are, what they do, and what solutions they’d bring to the community if permitted operation. This approach, according to Drug Aid Africa, is central to building trust which in essence translates into gaining the host community’s approval thus preventing any sort of kickbacks. But the process of trust building, they reveal, normally takes test and time.
But after gaining approval from the community heads, they then would immediately conduct a community-wide survey which after they’d analyze the results which consequently guides them towards possible solutions for the community’s healthcare concerns. After this, they’d fix a proposed date for their outreach which after is communicated to the community to allow for awareness and preparations. Afterwards, the initiative, in order to ensure frequency in their healthcare provision, make sure to always revisit the communities every month.
Mrs. Oluwaloremi, a beneficiary and native of Idi-Araba community in Lagos disclosed that since inception into the community, the initiative has since assumed care of the community, healthwise.
Another beneficiary, Mr. Sunday of the Mosafejo community in Lagos, confesses that since the initiative came into his community their wellbeing has greatly been improved. “They come and take care of pregnant women and they give them free medicines. They also take care of the elderly and do regular checkups and deworm our children every three months. Everything they do for us is free and that’s the type of thing we want in our community since we don’t actually have access to a health center,” he said.
However, being that Drug Aid Africa primary objective is just to provide medical supplies for free, they employ support from other non-profits to complement other healthcare services during their outreaches. For instance, during outreaches, they partner with other non-profits like Alabiamo (A Maternal & Child Healthcare Organization), to make sure that their host communities have untethered antenatal healthcare services. So, during campaigns, while the other organizations with health professionals conduct tests and proffer diagnosis, Drug Aid Africa provides the medicines.
In bid to ensure sustainability, the organization says they currently only take on projects they’re capable of affording without compromising the possibility of others. And so far, their provision of free medications to sickle cell patients across their partner hospitals is one of the few projects that’s been consistently maintained. Also their regular community healthcare provision too, is one which has remained sustainable but its expansion to other communities and states, they say, currently depends on the availability of resources to do so.
Because the initiative works to improve access to basic healthcare, it has in place strict quality control measures. For instance, in the case where they receive drugs from donors, Oluseyi says that the initiative forwards the drugs straight to the hospitals in need of them. There, the hospital’s pharmacy department, before disbursement, analyzes and crosschecks the received drugs for quality and authenticity. However, in the case where it’s required that they buy drugs and healthcare kits for campaigns and even hospital donations, Oluseyi who is himself a pharmacist, explains that since it’s essential practice to only purchase drugs from registered wholesale pharmacies and distributors, Drug Aid Africa applies this method for its purchases. “So we buy from the renowned companies like Emzor, Swirva, Elbe Pharma, and so on. But we just always make sure to buy from the registered wholesale pharmacies and too, owing to my experience as a pharmacist I know credible places to buy medicines from as well as who to buy from. So that helps.”
What Can Be Learnt From Them?
Equitable drug and healthcare access is one the fundamental human rights and as such should be treated pertinently. But in Nigeria, the current state of the healthcare system is far from making this a reality.
This reality is that which Drug Aid Africa aims to attain by making sure to provide free-to-access drugs and healthcare services to low income patients. And their method of tackling this involves their frequent drug donations to hospitals as well as their regular visits to various communities where they not only create health awareness but also provide healthcare services.
A lesson that can be learnt from the initiative is their method of approaching the demography which has proved to be so far very effective. Through ardent community relationship management, partnership with hospitals, and effective drug disbursement as well as quality healthcare services provision with aid from collaborations with other organizations, the initiative has set a standard which can competently be replicated.
Also, through their adoption of social media to promote and call-out for volunteers and drug donations from willing donors, they’re making sure to leverage their visibility both online and offline. This, in some way, is principal to building more exposure.
But There’s A Few Limitations
Asides limited funding, a challenge the Drug Aid Africa faces is that of kickbacks when they get to explore new communities. But this actually has become an infrequent occurrence since they developed the technique of meeting with the community leaders first before the people.
Another challenge the initiative constantly encounters is that of accessing inner communities. “There’s some communities we’ve been to where the roads there are terrible. Some don’t even have roads and we had to take boats,” Oluseyi tells us.
But Drug Aid Africa is only still trying and according to Oluseyi “aims to do more projects in more places as sustainably and continuously as possible” in the coming future.
Note: Names prefixed with an asterisk (*) are pseudonyms and were changed to preserve anonymity.
This story was produced in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.