A reporter’s diary: When antenatal is luxury

Getting them the required help was more than being a journalist, I had to be human at some point

For two nights I think I experienced what people mean when they say excitement deprives them of sleep. I hold my story ‘When antenatal is luxury: the IDP story’ responsible for my sleeplessness.

For my ICFJ-UN fellowship on climate change and migration, I chose to report on internally displaced women in Gongola IDP camp in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

During my interview with 10 pregnant women who were five months pregnant and above, I realised none of them was registered in any hospital where they were going for antenatal sessions/care.

Their reasons were cost of transportation to and fro the hospital and cost of delivery. It was closer and cheaper for them to patronise a traditional birth attendant (TBA) whom they could access in less than 15 minutes if they walked or in five minutes if they went by commercial motorcycle or rickshaw.

Although they admitted using the TBA was risky because they had recorded maternal and neonatal deaths, for them she was a better deal. She asked for next to nothing as against the items on the long list the hospitals gave them to come along with when they were about to put to bed.

Some of the women going into the Wuse General Hospital upon receiving their referral letters from FEMA

They also complained that, even though they had been told they could go to Wuse or Asokoro general hospitals, two of Abuja’s government hospitals, for free treatment, transportation was expensive and for those who went, they were always shabbily treated and turned away.

I also discovered that these women and many others in the community suffered from urinary tract infections and used pieces of fabrics to pad the discharge.

After visiting the TBA’s home and seeing the kind of environment in which these women were delivered of their babies, I grew impatient and knew my situation was more than telling a story but also getting the women the help they needed and very fast too.

I was curious as to why they were turned away if the government had paid for them to receive treatment. I began investigating and found out the process of being registered in any of the hospitals.

I began investigating the funds, found out the process of being registered in any of the hospitals and went with one of the women with UTI, to go through the process. We got her referral letter from the FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and along with her IDP Identity card, went to the hospital. She called me while speaking with the staff, the phone on speaker.

The brashness of the Wuse General Hospital staff telling her, “We don’t have bed space. There is no money for you people,” was shocking.

We returned to FEMA and relieved the experience. That day, I published my first story narrating the whole experience including some of my interviews with the women.

At some point I had to ‘stop’ being a journalist and become human especially as these women are mostly between ages 21 and 34, which for me was their prime. In all of it, I was very particular about an intervention that would be sustainable and not dependant on donations or charity.

I investigated some more and discovered that they were indeed eligible for free treatment in Wuse and Asokoro general hospitals. I was told payments had been made to these hospitals, to cater to them as long as they came with their individual referral letters from the FEMA and their IDP identity cards.

Two days after the story was published, I got a call asking me to please come with all the women and their children for referral letters to go to hospital.

At this point it had become a personal mission. I split the women and their children totalling 22 into groups of seven and eight.

I went with 14 of them assisted by my friend Domitila who took some in her car and I went with the rest in taxis.

They got their referral notes, went to the hospital, were registered and began free treatment immediately. The day after I went with the rest and it was as smooth as day one and so was the third day.

They got their referral letters and were urged to invite their husbands to come for theirs so that they could join their wives in the treatment process. Their husbands also received their referrals.

Avoiding charity also meant I wasn’t going to do everything for them. They would make an effort and I would meet them half way.

Therefore for every hospital trip, they paid their way to my office and I took care of transporting them to the FEMA and the hospital and back to my office. They paid their way back home from there.

On day one, our first appointment for 8am, they came one hour and 30 minutes late. I waited.

On day two, our appointment was at 10am, they were not there and I did not wait.

On day three, our appointment was for 10am. They were one hour, fifteen minutes early. Clearly, the message was well-received.

Three women and a baby were first attended to at the Asokoro General Hospital on that Friday 2, February, 2018. Another eight and two children were attended to at the Wuse General Hospital on Monday and Tuesday and Thursday the week after. The others went subsequently at their convenience.

While I may have lost an investigative report, it’s one loss I am not mourning. I am super pleased that the women and their families now have help. I am also really happy for this massive sudden expansion of my extended family. Now our conversations are like sisters sharing their victory over what may have been a worse situation.

The six weeks of working on this story were very long, torturous and emotional ones. But as the days go by and the excitement weans, I’ve been sleeping with a pretty smile on my face – mapping out my next impact riddled story.

I think my approach paid off because now with the others who have had babies or taken ill, the women from this first group of 22 now serve as guides. They are the ones who now accompany the newbies and show them the rope.

It’s been about 10 months since the story was published. The impact has been sustained. New babies are born in healthy hospital environment, registered and immunised as at when due. The IDPs are also still able to access the hospital and receive free treatment except for cases where the prescribed medicines are not available and they have to buy.

So far there have been 12 babies all born in hospital, documented, immunised and healthy as their mothers are.

PHOTOS: Adie Vanessa Offiong & Domitila Modesti

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