Local Rotarians traveled to Nigeria in May to oversee a large grant for supplies at a large healthcare event. Primary sponsor Danville Rotary coordinated fundraising for the $47,000 grant, which went toward purchasing mosquito nets and medical tests.
Danville resident Gary Vilhauer, a 26-year Rotary member, was excited to travel to Nigeria to see the impact of the Rotary grant at Rotary Family Health Days -- a three-day health screening fair held in over 80 sites around Lagos,the most populous city in Lagos State. The fair was organized by Nigerian Rotary clubs and partially funded by grants from Rotaries around the world.
"Rotary is not all that different, they have greater needs in healthcare and the types of things that Rotary can do are larger healthcare projects with vocational training teams," Vilhauer said. "It was exciting, seeing the culture, meeting the people. Seeing how their lives were, versus ours, and having conversations with them about not only future projects, but what they needed and how we can help them."
The Danville Rotary grant, which also saw contributions from several San Ramon Valley Rotaries, decided to focus its fundraising efforts on Nigeria because of the country's large health issues. Nigeria is the No. 1 African country for contracted AIDs and Malaria cases, and is one of three remaining countries with polio. An ongoing conflict in the north of the country makes eradicating polio extremely difficult, Vilhauer said.
"It makes it hard for polio eradication teams to get up there. They are making gains...and it's gone down dramatically -- last year at this time in all of Nigeria, they had 300 cases reported of polio, this year it's down to 150," Vilhauer said. "It's costing extraordinary amounts of money to get it eradicated which is what needs to happen."
Rotary Health Days centers were set up in schools and town squares in downtown areas as well as rural villages. Medical professionals, some of whom closed their practices or moved them to the health fair for the duration, screened people for HIV/AIDS, gave polio drops to children, conducted blood tests for Malaria and did basic health screenings. Most of the people served at the pop-up clinic were those without readily accessible healthcare who are often caregivers to AIDS patients; those patients were referred to doctors if necessary.
Rotary doctors and volunteers also educated people on disease prevention and gave information on family planning to women. Many girls don't have access to feminine products during menstruation and often stay home from school during that time, said Rotarian and Danville Police Chief Steve Simpkins who also went to Nigeria. Rotary Health Days provided many girls with necessary sanitary supplies.
"It's always interesting to me to see someone at such a severe level who has such a happy, positive attitude," said Simpkins, a world traveler. "It's so amazing to see happy, smiling faces in what we would consider some pretty serious circumstances."
Rotary hoped to screen and care for 80,000 people over the course of the Health Day, though Vilhauer estimates doctors probably saw 60,000 to 80,000 patients. Most of the attendees were women, he noted.
"Women are caregivers anyway, so that's primary audience. They were very grateful for Rotary to provide that and let them know their AIDS status for health and give them referrals," he continued. "Very outgoing and friendly people. By and large...all were willing to talk to you and tell you what's going on."
Part of the grant, which was matched by Rotary clubs in Nigeria, will go toward follow-up at the three and six-month marks. Rotary is currently discussing need with Nigerian health professionals and is considering sending doctors from other areas of the world to train Nigerian healthcare workers or inviting Nigerian doctors to the U.S. For a three-week training.
"The main thing was willingness of both Nigerian Rotatrians and Rotary to tackle something this large and willingness of the people to come in and participate. They face overwhelming problems every day but they're more than willing to go out and give and do things for other people," Vilhauer said.
Simpkins said he was overwhelmed by the conditions in Nigeria and the seemly contrasted attitudes of its people. The experience of traveling to oversee the grant, he said, will stay with him forever.
"Seeing a country like that it gives you a huge appreciation for our standard of living and the things we complain about are pretty ridiculous compared to what you see there," he said.