By Chioma Umeha
Dr. Christian Iroegbu Ike, the National President, Abia State National Association in North America(ASNANA) who was recently in Nigeria urged wealthy Nigerians in the Diaspora to assist their kinsmen at home by providing medical care, among other needs during an interview with UCHE NELSON. Excerpts:
We do understand that your association has been into medical mission to Abia state. What have you done so far to bring succour to the sick and aged in Abia State?
More than six years ago when I started my pharmacy in a small town in Georgia, I joined a small group, a church group to a medical mission to Oyo State, Nigeria. I was the only pharmacist in the team. Indeed, what I saw during the mission blew my mind. Remember what happened during Biafra, you see a lot of people coming for help, mothers with children were trying to get help no matter how little. I realised that it could be me on the receiving side, based on that, I thank God that I’m on the receiving side and determined that I will do whatever I can to help humanity especially, through medical missions since I am a pharmacist. So when I ran for the office of the National President of Abia State National Associations in North America I told them that if I emerged successful, I’ll carry out my medical missions. I When I won, it became the thrust of my administration. I mobilised Abia indigenes in North America and we did our first medical mission in 2014, despite all odds because there were a lot of challenges, including, the Ebola virus. We stood the risk of being quarantined during our visit then. We were prepared to be quarantined. However, we were lucky, we were not quarantined. We treated more than 6, 000 people and did about 400 surgeries during that mission. This was 2014.
We came on a second missionary journey, luckily for us, the governor, Okezie Ikpeazu also partnered with us. When we came, Abia was literarily shut down. We visited the 17 LGAs and were able to do surgeries at Amachara General Hospital, Diagnostic Centre, Umuahia and Madona Hospital also in Umuahia. We were able to see more than 10,000 people and we did more than 600 surgeries, including, eyes and general surgeries. It was so fulfilling to know we were able to touch lives. And these are all free. We came with a lot of drugs that when we finished, we had a lot more drugs remaining and donated them to the hospitals we used.
Who are your sponsors?
We often task ourselves. We appeal to the conscience of those in America: “We try to tell them look God has brought you here, God has given you some privilege, you need to give back.” So we get donations through our members, and then we go out to the NGOs in America and also get some help. Some NGOs in America give us drugs, some medical supplies, some give logistics support, but the thrust of the money comes from us and the association. And as the president, I put more money. I have to use this opportunity to appeal to Nigerians in the Diaspora to assist their kinsmen back home by providing medical care and other needs.
What is the extent of government’s involvement in the medical mission?
Well, right now like I said, the first one, there was no government involvement but the second one, Governor Ikpeazu was part of it. He provided the logistics, accommodation and some level of feeding. The most important thing they do was providing an enabling environment, because we came with medical experts from America people and also black Americans, we were kind of worried about security. The governor gave us the Police and everywhere we went, we were covered.
What other medical personnel did you come with?
The last mission, we came with about 12 doctors, four of them are surgeons. We came with about 10 pharmacists, 15 nurses, physiotherapists and other medical personnel. The team that came from America was about 43 medical personnel and we also mobilised local people to help us.
Did the team cover the 17 LGAs of Abia state?
We did in Umunneochi, Arochukwu, we’re at Nkporo, Ohafia LGA, Item, Bende LGA; in Umuosu, Isiala Ngwa North, Aba North, Osisoma. One that was of interest was when we went to Ukwa West because people were scared of going to Ukwa because of the kidnap saga, but we did. We were also in Ohuhu, Umuahia North, Umuahia South and Ikwuano.
How many medical shuttles from USA to Abia did your association record?
During my administration, two times, but beyond my administration, there were other teams that came from different associations, but Abia Associations in North America came twice. The association has also assisted in providing drugs and other medical supplies to hospitals in the State. We ordered a container load of medical supplies, it arrived Abia state from Atlanta, Georgia in December 2016 and it was distributed to Abia hospitals.
We’ve had 18 years of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria. Has your association done anything to encourage democracy either in Abia state or in Nigeria?
Yes, we have. As stakeholders in Abia project, we’re somehow involved in what happens in our state. Associations should do likewise. We pay close attention to politics of Abia and also contribute. Many of us in the Diaspora have at least two or three persons we train back home, so we kind of contribute to what they do here politically.
Apart from medical care, is ASNANA involved in other programs to enhance the economy of Abia State?
We plan to hold a symposium and exhibition of Made in Nigeria products in Atlanta, Georgia later this year. Prominent Nigerians including the Abia governor, Nigerian Ambassador to the United States and other distinguished Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora will deliver lectures on durability and viability of Nigerian made goods during the symposium.