Dr. Mrs Anthonia Uche Umeh , popularly known as Adadioramma is the President and Founder of Anambra State Association, Women in USA (ASA Women-USA). A recipient of several honourary awards both internationally and locally owing to her unquenchable passion for humanitarian services, she is poised to tackle the health challenges of Ndi Anambra. In this interview with IJEOMA EKWOWUSI, the pragmatic health care crusader opens up her commitment to collaborate with the Anambra State Government in health care delivery to the state. She also dwelt extensively on the association’s plans in nipping the scourge of breast cancer in the bud, among others. Excerpts:
Can you tell us more about ASA women?
Basically, the ASA women work in implementing programmes that affect health and educational issues, most especially on cancer and maternal health medical missions that we embark on every two years. The organization was formed in 2011 and since then, we have been coming to Anambra State for medical missions, specifically on cancer and maternal health. It is about the fourth now. We just had the fourth cancer and maternal health medical mission usually in collaboration with the state government. We have worked with the Ministry Of Health under the Hon Commissioner of health, Dr Joe Akobuike. So, he knows more about the organization. We are practicing under the ministry and we are here on the ground in Anambra State. We do a lot of surgeries where we come with our breast surgeons from the United States. We carry out surgeries in three major centres. Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital (NAUTH), Nnewi is where all the breast surgeries are done and we partner with the general hospital. They do all the gynaecological issues like fibroids, ovarian cysts, cervical issues, then cataract and eye defects are also done in the same hospital. The operation for men with prostate and Hermes is done in St Charles Borromeo, Onitsha.
How many communities have you visited so far?
Since we have been having our medical missions in Nigeria, I would say we have covered over 27 communities in the state because it is not a course we started just today; we have been doing it for years. Again, we have other programmes in our line-up. It’s just that we do not have time to really work on them. There are empowerment of youths and visit to orphanage homes which we have in our agenda. The visit to the orphanages has always been in our programme as we have been successfully doing this since 2008.
What has been your experiences working in these communities?
We have both the good and the bad. It has been great all along as we have seen so many patients from various communities across the state but then, we also have our challenges which have to do with funding. Although funding the medical mission is not really a problem for us because we raise all our funds from US for the medication for everything that we do because we have to hire more doctors on the ground, more surgeons that partner with us but where the main challenges are coming from is the post care; after the medical mission, what happens? Are you going to desert them as other medical missions do where after the dispensing of medications they just leave? Furthermore, we do more than that because when you screen people, they need surgeries and you cannot abandon them. So, after the medical missions, the second phase is the co-ordinated post medical mission surgical care and that is where the challenges come in. Here, we need the state government to key in and assist because we have done the work treating them, medically screening them. We can only do as much as we can with so many of them like the one we did in July, 2018, the most recent, which had over 140 patients for surgery. We cannot afford it all. We are still pleading with the state government to assist us so that we can take adequate medical care of our people.
Yes, I must commend the governor, Dr Willie Obiano for assisting us with transportation and security but we need total support for the post-surgical care.
What is the motivating factor for you in all of these?
When you come into the country, the needs are enormous but after treating them, the people come back to say “thank you”. You will see the smiles on their faces; sometimes it could be frustrating; but then, when you see the faces of these people, we cannot stop and our ultimate goal is to build a cancer treatment centre. So it is something that the executives of this association are working on through grants.
Are you aware of the importance and necessity of involving the Anambra State Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Art, Culture and Tourism as a central body to getting your needs channeled to the state government?
Of course, if we can get in touch with the Hon Commissioner of Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Art, culture and Tourism, Barr Sally Mbanefo and work in collaboration with her, that will be awesome. That way, she can help us plead our case to the government to tell them this is what is happening. I have seen it- these women are actually working and they have done it not just by mere talking but through action. Yes, we can communicate with her as our aim is to support what the governor is doing in the state.
From your observation, what has been the response of Anambra women to their health issues since you embarked on this programme?
We have Anambra State Chapter, ASA women USA. We just recently inaugurated them. This is so in order to hit the ground running as they are the ones that will help us in disseminating the information among the communities. Even the last July medical mission we had, we kicked it off with a big ‘walk for home’, a cancer awareness walk. We walked as far as the Federal Science and Technical College down to Eke-Awka (Eke market) because our target was the grass root women who really need the help. In the past, we had done the ‘cancer walk’ where we walked from the Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) to Government House, Awka and we were told that it is like we were doing it for the public servants; that those who actually needed the sensitisation were the market women hence, the awareness/sensitization in the market place.
Really women are now aware but the problem is money because if you interview those that really have the disease, you will discover that some of them knew what the disease was all about. They had been educated, probably through their churches, unions, among others. But the real issue is when they go to the hospital after the diagnosis, they then start the chemotherapy but unfortunately, they could afford only one session and they stop; unfortunately the cancer reverts. So, some women are aware but some are not. But generally, our women did welcome the programme and they are looking forward for the next one.
What are we expecting next from your organization?
Our mission to Anambra State is every two years because it is very tasking raising funds. We could not do it annually but if there is more funding, why not? Then, we can afford to do it every year.
How do you raise your funds for the medical mission?
Yes, we organize breast cancer dinner to raise awareness. We do cancer walk to different cities because when people come to walk, they register; we sell tickets for you to participate in the walk. We also get sponsors to sponsor the walk. We do it in Maryland, Houston and then in Nigeria. Those are the three areas where we do the cancer walk.
Is it only cancer related diseases you address in Anambra State?
No, we do not do cancer alone; we do cancer, we do maternal health. Maternal health has so many issues; women with fibroid, ovarian cyst and cervical and then, the men with prostrate. Also, we address chronic issues like people with diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, among other ailments. We always come medically to address all areas but in terms of specialised areas like the breast cancer, we have a stand-by breast surgeon from the US who comes with us to Anambra State to do the breast surgeries. Even the women, as they come for the programme, they come along with their spouses. The thing is that we try to differentiate our medical mission programmes from others, otherwise it is just a general media mission.
Finally what is your message to women?
They need to be well informed because information is power; it’s the key. If they are well informed, they know what to do as they will know that when they have a lump in their breasts, they go and get checked while a close follow up is ensured. I mean you must ensure that a biopsy is done to ascertain what it is. When the lump is removed from your breast, it is expedient that you go back for further enquiries to know if it is cancer or not. Do not wait until it is full blown before seeking for imminent medical help.