On 1 March 2018, I lost a dear friend and colleague, Dr. Onyedikachi Izuogu (Kachi), a doctor who was killed on duty with two other aid workers in a tragic incident in Rann, Borno State in north-east Nigeria.
Dr. Kachi was a friend and a colleague whose values of dedication, service and sacrifice were shining lights in the dark alleys of disease and suffering caused by ongoing hostilities.
While Dr. Kachi’s death was heart breaking and devastating, I must remember that when our courage is tested, we must be bravest. His death in service to humanity might deter someone working in similar circumstances but it has only fueled my passion to serve the women and children affected by the crisis in north-east Nigeria.
Working in north-east Nigeria
In the Nigerian states of Adamawa, Yobe and Borno, at least 1.6 m people have been internally displaced due to ongoing conflict. At least 80% of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) are in Borno State, and over half are living outside camps in local communities, making it harder to provide assistance and putting additional pressure on the host communities.
Freedom of movement for IDPs, is limited by the continued security threats in surrounding areas such as Banki, where I am based. Banki is 130 km south-east of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State and virtually inaccessible by road. Travel for humanitarian workers, to and from Banki is facilitated by UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) via helicopter. As one can imagine, the task of reaching displaced people is a tough one but it’s even tougher when the population is in the farthest reaches of a region devastated by ongoing crisis.
Yet, consistently in the last two years, UNICEF has delivered much-needed humanitarian assistance to the affected children and women in this region. For a long time, UNICEF was the only organization that delivered emergency health services to IDPs in Banki. By working with the State Primary Healthcare Development Agency, UNICEF has been providing immunization, nutrition, emergency, out-patient and maternity services to displaced people in Banki. In 2017 alone, the UNICEF clinic in Banki helped over 32,000 patients and vaccinated over 10,000 children. This does not include the over 2,500 children that were cured of severe acute malnutrition or the 1,000 people who received various emergency care services. Early this year, UNICEF deployed three additional nurse/midwives to Banki to boost capacity.
Security for humanitarian workers
Working in a security-compromised area is obviously a challenge but I am amazed by the commitment of the team that I work with —relentless and passionate about making a difference for children. We deliver quality care because of the high synergy and teamwork not just among facility staff but also with voluntary community mobilizers, partners and our field office in Maiduguri. We have consistently recorded improved immunization drop-out rates. In the last month, the death-rate for children enrolled in the Community Management of Acute Malnutrition program was 0% with recent cure rates averaging above 85%. Every day, the entire UNICEF team in Banki braves the odds to ensure quality services for displaced persons. I and my colleague Dr. Sa’id Gaya together lead UNICEF’s health interventions in Banki and are proud of our efforts. They embody UNICEF’s core values of hard work, dedication and commitment to providing quality care to vulnerable women and children affected by conflicts.
As I mourn the loss of a dear friend and colleague — Dr. Kachi, I am comforted by the knowledge that my friend died at only 34 years of age whilst making a difference for the children of north-east Nigeria.
I can only honour his memory by doing the same.
Dr. Franklyn Nnakwue, a UNICEF Consultant writes from Banki, Borno in north-east Nigeria.