Nursing is a calling, pastoral work for me – Aiyedun Lawan Oluwabunmi

Comrade Aiyedun Lawan Oluwabunmi is a paediatric nurse and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Spinal Brifida and Anti Cephalous Foundation saddled with the responsibility of looking after children with abnormities newborns with congenital anomaly especially the ones affecting brain and spinal cord. She is also the Founder, Maternal Adolescent Reproductive Child Health (MARCH) Initiative that cares for women, newborns, children, and adolescents. In this interview with ENE OSHABA, she speaks on her passion for the nursing profession, especially maternal, newborn, and adolescent’s care, among others.

What is your background and how did you jpin the nursing profession?

I was born in Lagos state, I grew up in Kwara state, and my husband and I are from Ogorimagongo in Kogi state.

We have four kids, two boys and two girls. I can say I am a fulfilled woman, mother, wife, daughter and sister.

I am a paediatric nurse and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Spinal Brifida and Anti Cephalous Foundation saddled with the responsibility of looking after children with abnormities newborns with congenital anomaly especially the ones affecting brain and spinal cord.

I was born in March and the other project I am part of is the Maternal Adolescent Reproductive Child Health (MARCH), which I am so passionate about.

I started my nursing career from school of nursing and never made the mistake of being confused as to what area of my life to grow in.

I grew with passion and vision that I was going to be a nurse, so even when there was pressure on me to do something else especially while at the Teaching Hospital Illorin. Many people wanted me to go and study medicine because they felt I would be good in that but I turned the advice down because I love nursing.

I attended St. Luke’s School of Nursing, Zaria, Kaduna state; and moved to have midwifery but that wasn’t enough because I wanted to work at the National Hospital. We were told while in school that the National Hospital Abuja was the best in Africa and I said I was going to work there.

Well, I recently disengaged my appointment with the National Hospital.

I come from a humble background; I hawked wares as a child, went to afternoon school, got back and sold in front of the house. I also did lots of farming; I also used to go to Oja Oba and Pata Markets to buy maize, and mangos, to sell.

I am the first born and it took my mum eight years to have me and that got me wondering why she was so tough on a child she waited so long to have.

My father was a military man and I took after his very assertive and strong-willed personality. I just told myself I was going to make it and that was why even when I had fantastic and brilliant friends who along the line ran from home, got pregnant, I didn’t deviate from my dream.

My mum was so tough on me that sometimes even when I go hawking and returned I got the beating of my life. One day one girl collected my products and ran away, my mum was so angry at me, but I said to myself I must make it.

Why did you resign?

I left because I could not cope with my Foundation’s community outreach and my job at the National Hospital at the same time. Each time I have meetings or advocacy there was really a threat or query because senior colleagues were not very supportive but I needed to move on and I am glad I did.

What made you opt for nursing?

My being in nursing is an inborn thing, it’s natural because even my mum said when I was born there were lots of prophesies that I was going to be a nurse. While growing up I used to see myself in white and with whites and it’s happening now. So, my choice of nursing is inborn. For me, practicing nursing is like a calling, a pastoral work.

Many have complained of harsh attitudes of nurses to patients. Why are nurses harsh?

Yes, host of nurses are harsh and just like every other profession we also have good ones because as a nurse I’ve also experienced harsh treatment from nurses.

I had Covid-19 and was on admission for two weeks at the National Hospital and I knew how badly I was treated that I had to flare up. I screamed and fought because this was the hospital where I worked for almost 10 years and I expected the best.

That is why I said to have passion it must be a calling rather than you just taking up the profession because you applied for medicine and pharmacy and didn’t get it and you just opted for nursing.

Again, the environment does not support nursing, you go to some facilities and some are being owed salary of 10-11 months or have to work on 30 or more patients in a day. However, that is not good enough reason to be harsh.

I believe in compassionate nursing in any circumstances because your passion should override any suffering and negative circumstances to make your work harder.

Why is nursing profession dominated by women?

Nursing is not strictly for women, the Mother of Nursing, Florence Nightingale, said the principle and act of caring is domiciled in women so we are naturally caring. Even before the advent of nursing people were delivering children and safely too.

Nursing has been as long as women and men existed. It’s just that the art is a woman thing but today we have about 14-15 per cent of male nurses.

However, they are mostly theatre nurses, accident, and emergency units and they are doing amazing jobs. Some of the male nurse even read midwifery. So, it’s actually evolving.

You resigned your job yet you carry out lots of health interventions at community level. How do you get funding?

As of when I left my job at the National Hospital to concentrate on my organisation I didn’t have funding partners but over the years we were able to build goodwill and better friendship.

In the space of NGO, trust and networking stands for you; the quality of people in your circle of influence determines how far you will go and how far you will receive.

While at the National Hospital I was doing my activities and carried out some projects and this made partners know me for who I am.

Nursing is dominated by women and healthcare powered by doctors and it is believed that nurses are not to be heard but I have built good partnership that once in a while they call me for policy review, documents, among others and I get some stipends for the work and with support from my husband and friends who always assist when I call.

Things are changing because recently we got a small grant to do a training programme in Ebonyi and Zamfara states and we keep getting better.

What would you say are your achievements so far?

My achievements include my ability to put nursing in global space; and the enablement to put Nigeria nursing into global map.

I currently serve as head of nursing to two big International organisation called the G4 Alliance which is a consortium of organisation who advocate for surgical, obstetric, and anaesthetic care. I am also the Chairman of the Nursing and Midwifery group.

The second is the Global Initiative for Children Surgery (GICS) and these are organisations that drive quality surgical interventions for children in low income countries like Nigeria.

I worked out nurses’ visibility at these two organisations because before it was only doctors that were members but no matter how complex a surgical experience is a nurse makes it more successful.

I have succeeded in putting nursing in national map and that’s why I always say we don’t just need a leader but someone with the passion to channel energies rightly.

In 2019 Nigeria launched the first National Surgical Obstetrics Anaesthetic and Nursing Plan (NSOANP), a global movement but globally it’s only Nigeria that has nursing in their plan. There is still a gap but with the help of God, my ability to put nursing in plan is one of my greatest achievements.

I have been a paediatric nurse for 14 years now. Last year, I was able to work with the three Senators’ wives in Kwara state to strengthen newborn intervention at primary health care levels. So, we created what is called the newborn corner.

Nigeria is just about 2 per cent of global population but we contribute 10 per cent of maternal deaths and when it comes to still births Nigeria is second after Parkistan and all of these is worrisome.

We were able to, with help of current Senate Chairman on Health, drive initiatives with their wives and built capacity on essential newborn care.

I am so proud of my organisation because we have been able to work with key stakeholders of Kwara State Ministry of Health, State Primary Health Care Board and the Senators’ wives, to establish the newborn corner. We built capacity for health workers and donated newborn materials, multiple micro supplement for 8000 women.

One facility we supported had no light, deliveries of babies were done with torch light but we got them solar energy and they now have radiant water heater. The facility also has oxygen cylinder and a beautiful place.

We visited another facility where the delivery couch was just an iron with one leg support by the wall and women were giving birth on the floor.

Yes, we have leaders, organisations, agencies, and basic healthcare provision funds, though government is trying there is need to do more.

We need accountability because so much is spent on health and we don’t have commensurate results and thats why maternal and child mortality is high.

10 years ago we wrote the Ministry of Health that there was a need for surveillance because we know that there are more than seven million babies born every year and we don’t know how many of those have congenital anomaly.

If you don’t know how many you won’t be able to plan, strengthen provisions, and support women. But as it is, it was played down for 10 years. At a point I got the World Health Organisation (WHO) to some of our meetings but probably maybe because they think it’s coming from a nurse they didn’t give attention. However, today, they have created a department for children with special needs. So, this is one of my achievements and I am so proud of my mentors, helpers, and team for that.

Would you say you are living childhood dreams?

Yes, absolutely; though I have not got to that point because I really want to help women, adolescents, children, and probably the elderly. However, my major priority is helping the newborn.

I want to be on policy tables to be able to influence policies that is why I was happy being at the last public hearing where I submitted position paper on maternal and child surveillance response and that is one big step.

Is it because you are a woman that you are interested in maternal mortality?

By instinct I am a woman and that is enough to naturally fall in love. But that is not what we see every day; trust me if you go to offices where women are the head it’s always difficult because most women feel threatened. So, there is this poor solidarity among women. I am just driven by passion.

For newborns, my mum stayed for eight years before she had a child and when the child finally came it was a breeched presentation and I also didn’t cry at birth, so I was told. My head was turned upside down and I was given the beating of my life. So, having survived such stages in life, the best I can give society is to work for them and save lives.

Do you have any regrets?

The only regret that keeps hunting me is when I participated in one outreach in Edo state where we identified some children with congenital anomaly; we picked this seven-year-old girl and did surgery for her at the National Hospital, however, at a point the child was being abused by her stepmother because she couldn’t control her urine and she was always beaten up.

I promised to bring the girl to my home after seeking permission from relevant authorities and my husband. They all agreed but I had to travel abroad so I said I will pick her when I return. On my return, I asked for the girl and was told she had died. It was painful and I still regret the incident.

What is your vision of the nearest future?

My major vision is to see Nigeria and Africa own presentable maternal newborn births and that means some of us have to be on the decision table. I have the vision of being the Minister of Health where we can influence policies that will promote support and healthy that will safeguard the nation.

How would be you assess Nigeria’s health system as it affects women?

The health system is still evolving. We are still discovering things and our investments are not commensurate with results but we still have some strong and good healthcare personnel that is why there is high level of brain drain.

Nigeria, after endorsing the Abuja Declaration of 15 per cent of budget being devoted to health we are still working with 4-5 per cent and the Primary Health Care (PHC) is not really equipped.

We don’t have healthcare at doorsteps of people yet, we still have 89 per cent of pregnant women delivering babies at home. We don’t have accessible emergency essential surgical health facilities and we are a country of 166 per 100,000 population surgery strength.

We are also supposed to be doing 5000 per 100,000 population and this is a problem because majority of people who need surgical services do not have access. We were unable to achieve MDG’s we are now on SDG’s and I am afraid that 2030 will soon catch up with us with not much achieved.

What can be done differently?

We have good policies but implementation is the problem. We are a donor-driven nation so if donors don’t donate nothing happens and bills sponsored by donors will follow dictates on how it’s spent.

We need government or leaders to be more committed, Wives of Governors, Senators, others need to rise up and work.

Traditional and religious institutions need to pay more attention to health. All stakeholders should rise up to the challenge because they have network around the globe.

Nigerian government should give nurses visibility when it comes to health policy formulation, worst of all there is the fact that there are no Department of Nursing at the Ministry of Health even when they are the largest healthcare providers, nurses need and demand more inclusion.

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