Mobile teams deliver healthcare to more than
400 000 in remote areas of north-eastern Nigeria

13 July 2017

Among many women who brought their children to the WHO-supported mobile team for free healthcare services was Aisha, a 29-year-old mother of 6. Keeping her children healthy is a top priority. However, she lives in Ngandu, a remote village located in Kaga, Borno state, Nigeria, which for several years was cut off from regular health services due to conflict.

Beyond vaccinations against polio, none of her children had received routine vaccinations or medical checkups in years, if ever. So when Aisha heard about one of WHO’s mobile health teams offering free health services in Ngandu one day, she jumped at the opportunity to join the queue of mostly women and children waiting to be seen.

“We have never had anything like this before,” Aisha said. “We are being offered a combination of vaccines for our children and free treatment for every member of the family.”

Memuna, a 24-year-old mother, explained why she joined the queue with her son early to receive free medical treatment. “I have been feeling feverish for the last 3 days, same as my son,” Memuna said. “We couldn’t eat. We couldn’t sleep. There are no clinics nearby except if we go to Maiduguri which is risky, costly and far from here.”

Going where few go

The medical teams supported by WHO make it their mission to reach remote and insecure areas to provide urgently needed care to people deprived of essential health services. More than two-thirds of the health facilities in Borno state are partially or completely dysfunctional due to the ongoing crisis. The conflict led to a mass exodus of skilled healthcare workers. Many areas also have difficult terrain and poor road networks.

“The mission of our mobile health teams is critical,” said Dr Wondimagneghu Alemu, WHO Representative to Nigeria. “They are the frontline health workers offering services that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Without these teams, thousands of people would suffer needlessly or die. The places they go can be very remote and dangerous. They are risking their lives to save others.”

Across north-eastern Nigeria, WHO and health sector partners are seeking to help some 5.9 million people.

A labour of love: delivering more than health services

On 13 March 2017, Hanatu went into labour. The nearest health facility was 10 kilometres away and no healthcare worker could be reached. “I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be since it was my first time and there was no nearby health facility or healthcare provider,” said Hanatu. “I would have laboured at home without help, but then my neighbours asked the team working in Pela Olla to see me. The team helped me to safely deliver my baby girl.”

Hanatu is among nearly 1 500 women of child bearing age who have benefitted from the ante/post-natal care provided by the teams. However, thousands of other women and children in need of urgent healthcare services are yet to be reached.

Saratu works as a midwife in one of the WHO-supported mobile teams.

“Every day, we decide to go to a hard-to-reach location knowing that we could be attacked, injured or killed,” Saratu said. “But the fulfilment comes at the end of the day, when you sit back and realize that someone’s life was saved because you took a risk.”

Bringing health services to areas in conflict

With grants from USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WHO has trained and deployed 56 mobile teams across 25 local government areas in Borno state to offer a package of basic health services that include vaccines, medicines, screenings and referrals when required. So far, the teams have seen more than 400 000 clients, and referred nearly 40 000 to health facilities when greater care is required. The teams have treated some 83 000 people for different ailments, and more than 50 000 for malaria.

In an area where thousands of children die every year from easily treatable and preventable diseases, helping children is a key part of WHO’s work. For more than 300 000 children, the mobile health teams have administered vitamin A supplement, provided deworming and screened for malnutrition. They have also vaccinated over 1 million children against polio.

“The work never stops,” Saratu said. “As new areas open up, we are ready for the next deployment. However, I think we all long for the day when the conflict is over, health facilities are restored and health services for everyone here are easy-to-reach.”