(A NEWS ANALYSIS)
By Cecilia Ologunagba
Abba Bukar, an amputee, is one of the beneficiaries of the Physical Rehabilitation Programme of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), aimed at rehabilitating amputees from bomb blasts and other explosions.
Bukar, a 300 level student of Mathematic/Statistics at the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAD), like other amputees, has a story to tell about his survival and re-integration into the society.
For him, his story is that of loss, gratitude to God and the ICRC for rehabilitating him and sending him to work as an Assistant Technician at the newly inaugurated Physical Rehabilitation Centre (PRC) in Maiduguri.
“I lost my left leg during a bomb blast that happened on Jan, 17, 2017 at UNIMAD staff quarters; four days after the blast, my left leg was amputated.
“It was a sad memory because I lost my younger brother in the bomb blast, but I thank God that I am still alive.
“ I got an artificial leg (prosthesis) in the ICRC’s PRC after 10 months without a left leg and series of surgeries to save my right hand.
“My condition is an opportunity to help people who have gone through my experience so I am planning to study Prostheses and Orthoses to help amputees get back their mobility and integrity,’’ he said.
The journey of rehabilitating a patient starts with the the ICRC Mobile Surgical Team at the surgical ward of the State Specialist Hospital before being referred to Kano’s Physical Rehabilitation Programme, domiciled at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Dala.
Dr Bhavna Chawia, a surgeon at the ICRC Surgical Ward said the primary goal of the surgical programme was to treat victims of armed conflicts and other situations of violence.
“The programme is aimed at treating the war-wounded, offer life and limb saving surgeries; we also do emergencies for care from the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps around the region.
“Some of the surgeries would involve amputation of limbs and that there was the need to rehabilitate such amputees. We have a PRC in Kano where we used to refer the amputees to have access to mobility aids.
“With the inauguration of the new PRC at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH), it is going to be easier to refer our patients there.
“They don’t need to travel almost seven hours to get to Kano,’’ the surgeon said.
Mr Aliyu Dawabe, ICRC Public Relations Officer, said no fewer than 7,700 patients received surgical care from the ICRC surgical team in 2019, and in the first half of 2020, they received more than 350 surgical admissions and carried out more than 1,450 surgical interventions.
At the recent inauguration of the PRC, the ICRC Head of Delegation in Nigeria, Mr Eloi Fillion said the centre was established in collaboration with the UMTH to provide the much-needed physical rehabilitation services for people with disabilities to regain their mobility.
“It is expected that the centre will receive 90 patients per month during the first months and should have attended to some 2,000 patients by 2022. ICRC will fully support the centre for two years and then hand it over to UMTH.”
According to him, the centre will provide artificial limbs – prostheses and orthosis – physiotherapy sessions and walking aids, such as the zimmer frame, and wheelchairs.
The ICRC, he said, began assisting people living with disability in Nigeria since 1979, but “before now, physically challenged people from Borno and surrounding states, had to undertake long and often difficult journeys to Kano for physical rehabilitation services”.
No fewer than 314 people were fitted with artificial limbs through the ICRC Physical Rehabilitation Programme in Kano in 2019 alone.
“Thankfully, with the establishment of PRC in Maidguri, we will be reaching a lot more amputees here,’’ he said.
Daniel Ngota, ICRC Team Leader at the PRC, said the centre would provide one-stop rehabilitation services for people living with disabilities in the North East.
“We have all the machineries required to produce artificial limbs, from medium level technology to high level technology.
“Secondly, we have a production unit, equipped with all the materials that are important to rehabilitate people living with disability.
“We also have a physiotherapy section, where training is done for people who have received their services and require training on how to use them,’’ he said, adding that after signing an MoU with the UMTH, the ICRC would support the staff of UMTH technically and after two years hand over the centre to the hospital.
“We are two from ICRC– a Prosthetist and a physiotherapist – we will continue to mentor these staff for the first two years because they just completed their training,’’ Ngota said.
He said ICRC had trained six orthopedic technologists in Tanzania to provide services at the PRC, adding that three technologists are currently undergoing training at the Federal college of Orthopaedic Technology, Lagos.
Some of the trained technologists and technicians, that are living with disability, are grateful to ICRC for employing them to work at the PRC in line with the inclusion policy of the federal government to provide employment opportunities to people with disabilities.
“ I feel so happy, word is not enough to express my appreciation to ICRC for the support”, says Hannatu Holma, an amputee Assistant technician, who lost her left leg to cancer at age six but got an artificial leg through the support of ICRC.
Also, Muhammed Dalori, a Prothesist/ Orthotist at UMTH, who benefitted from an ICRC scholarship to Tanzania, said, he had acquired skills to fabricate devices, help patients and rehabilitate them.
Dalori, a graduate of the Tanzania Centre for Orthopaedic Technologists after three years, said that the training was all about fabricating devices for amputees.
“It is really appreciating when you see people who are not able to walk and you are the reason they are able to walk now. It is an amazing experience!’’ he said.
In all, the amputees of the rehabilitation programme thanked the ICRC for going further to support them by providing them a source of livelihood.
For them, physical rehabilitation without social and economic empowerment would amount to frustration and bitterness. But, with total rehabilitation through care, treatment, socio-psycho support, assistance with artificial limbs, counselling and skills acquisition; they can be effectively integrated into the society.