A decade ago, Tawa Yekeen was visiting the only primary health centre in the Island community of Okun Alfa, Eti-Osa local government, Lagos State – for basic health services. The foster mom goes to the centre with her months-old baby girl for postnatal care, vaccination and disease treatment.
But, before her next appointment with the doctor sometime in November of 2011, the rising Atlantic Ocean had ravaged some parts of the hospital building located kilometres away.
“My last born is the only child I gave birth to in Lagos and I used the centre for postnatal care – before it disappeared”, the Oyo-indigene mother of four said.
When the sea further threatened the wrecked building, the doctors and nurses fled.
Left with no option, Tawa regularly buys and prepares herbal medicines for her baby by herself – a practice 122 specialists at Lagos University Teaching Hospital have discouraged patients from doing.
More than a decade after the rising sea level destroyed the health centre which used to provide health services for thousands of residents in the community and neighbouring towns, access to health care has worsened.
“As I remember it now, many people do visit the centre for medical care”, Tawa added, saying that’s no longer the case.
Already, only 40 percent of over 200 million Nigerians have access to quality Primary Health Centre (PHC) services as of 2022, according to the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), which noted that about six out of ten Nigerians lack access to quality primary healthcare services.
‘The sea destroyed everything’
The rise in sea level is affecting coastal communities across the world. In Nigeria’s economic hub, Lagos, communities in low coastline areas are battling sea invasion and flooding.
Residents recounted the loss suffered during the rise in sea level, which include the demolition of shops/kiosks, clubhouses, games and event centres, and private properties.
A mother of four who frequented the demolished hospital, Ronke, said many residents who could not afford distant private hospitals depend on the public health centre for basic care.
The mother, who gave birth to her children in the Island community, could only access the health centre when she was fostering her firstborn, Rasak, now 13-year-old.
“There used to be a health centre there, and since the sea destroyed everything, there hasn’t been any health centre in this community”, she said.
According to a report by the Journal of Coastal Research, a one-metre rise in sea level could flood as much as 18,000 km² of land, forcing as many as 3.2 million people to relocate from their homes and destroying infrastructure currently valued at over $18 billion, including vital oil-producing facilities.
Residents lament poor access to healthcare
While the residents have already suffered from rising sea levels, the lack of infrastructural facilities such as good drainage systems and motorable roads has made their communities prone to flooding every year.
In 2022 when Nigeria’s devastating flood happened, seven people lost their lives while 24,131 households were affected in Lagos alone, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Although the government doled out palliatives to flood victims, what residents in communities such as Oku Alfa want the government to provide is infrastructural facilities, especially a health centre.
Oguntimirin Mary, a private community nurse, recounted how she often wade through a stagnant body of floodwater to attend to her patients during the rainy season.
She noted that flood water could be stagnant for weeks since the drainages are blocked, which creates an abode for mosquitoes, exacerbating the prevalence of deadly malaria, which has killed no fewer than 200,000 Nigerians across the country as of 2021.
“Many people get treated for malaria because of the situation here; it’s not okay as there’s no hospital here”, she said.
‘I started feeling pain again’
With a presence of a tourist centre in the boisterous Alpha Beach in the Island community, the health centre served both residents and visitors alike.
At times, tourists rescued at the point of drowning were taken to the centre after resuscitation by paramedics, various accounts stated.
But, until this day, many residents still suffer from the lack of a health centre in Okun Alfa.
In 2019, when 13-year-old Samuel was hit by a motorcycle on his way home from school, there was no health centre to take him to immediately.
Since his guardian’s house was near the scene, witnesses rushed him home. But on getting home, Samuel’s guardian was not around, and neighbours could not afford the logistics to take Samuel to a distant health facility at the moment. So, he was rushed to a local orthopedist, instead. And there, the boy’s broken left leg sustained more damage.
‘‘I started to feel pain again’’, he recalls. “I was in-door for months ( and I missed classes). There was no health centre in Alpha Beach; so the orthopedist was the only option. Besides, where is the money to visit a private hospital”.
Samuel, now a dropout, was attending Jamatal-Islamiyah Primary School, Igbo-Efon when the accident happened. The orthopedist is a quack, he thinks since his broken leg didn’t get fixed in the first and second ‘surgeries’.
No water, no space: Inside Igbo-Efon PHC
Navigating through the narrow, often flooded road to Eti-Osa local government primary health centre, Igbo-Efon can be torturous.
After many years of weathering different seasons, floods eroded the health centre.
The building has faded yellow paint with cracks all over it; crumbled bricks now lie in its five rooms which were used as wards before the demolition less than a year ago when a new but smaller centre was constructed in the same compound.
On April 13 when this reporter visited the health centre, both expectant and visiting women were seen loitering around the centre due to lack of space to accommodate them.
A young lady was seen crouching under the shade beside the centre to breastfeed her baby in the open space; as a man, possibly the husband, hovers around them, another woman helps arrange the baby’s things. They refused to talk to this reporter.
A mother of two, who uses the centre often, identified as mummy Solomon, said the scorching sun beats down on women and children that visit the centre on sunny days; and when it rains, they jumble inconveniently in the little space inside the centre, or just leave.
“The centre is functioning well, [but] it’s just small. Rain and sun dey beat people, but wetin person wan do”, she said in Pidgin English.
In spite of its size, the centre also served as one of the Covid-19 vaccination centres in 2021.
When our reporter visited the centre, it was observed that there was no running water at the centre. A hand-washing basin was tucked at one corner of the centre.
Efforts to reach the representative of the community in the state House of Assembly proved abortive as calls and text messages were not responded to.