Breathing Easy – How Save the Children in partnership with GSK is Improving Access to Medical Oxygen in Jigawa and Lagos State
Timely access to oxygen can make the difference between life and death, but for many children in Jigawa, in the northwest region of Nigeria, they are denied the opportunity to see their fifth birthday as a result of complications from childhood pneumonia.
For decades, medical oxygen was not common within the health care system in Jigawa state, because many hospitals did not have the capacity to administer oxygen to patients, especially children who needed this lifesaving intervention to breathe and stay alive. The Dutse General Hospital, located in the city center, usually had to rely on the only functional oxygen cylinder in the operating theater or transport patients to the Specialist Hospital in Kano- about 100 kilometers away in search of oxygen facilities and most times, these patients were lost on the way.
Recounting her experience, a nurse in the pediatric ward of Dutse General Hospital, Mrs. Dije Muhammad said “we have been suffering resuscitating sick children with oxygen, children have been dying, because when they need oxygen, it is only in the operating theater that we have oxygen and when it is not available, we have to refer them to Rasheed Shekoni Specialist and on the way, the child will die.”
Save the Children International and the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Partnership, through the INSPIRING project is making significant improvements in the health sector in Jigawa state. The INSPIRING project funded by GSK, is working to reduce the number of child deaths from pneumonia and other preventable infectious diseases. The project is supporting the healthcare system in Jigawa and Lagos states to prevent, detect and treat childhood pneumonia and other childhood illnesses, while strengthening capacity of communities to improve preventive and care-seeking behaviours and practices in Jigawa state.
As part of its drive to improve access to medical oxygen in the state, the INSPIRING project provided functional oxygen systems in two secondary health care centers- Dutse General Hospital and Rasheed Shekoni Specialist Hospital in Jigawa state. Piped oxygen systems were also installed with outlets at every bed within the pediatric wards, to deliver oxygen to children who struggle for breath. The project also donated oxygen concentrators to complement the oxygen cylinders to always ensure availability of oxygen in the hospital. Pulse oximeters were also donated to effectively measure oxygen levels and detect which child needs oxygen and what amount of oxygen to give.
Appreciating the INSPIRING oxygen interventions, the Head of the Paediatric ward of Dutse General Hospital noted “we used to rush to the theater to use oxygen and sometimes, the patient dies on the way, but nowadays, every bed is having its own oxygen provided by Save the Children. Now there is no more borrowing of cylinders.”
To strengthen capacity of health workers to better detect and administer oxygen, the project trained healthcare workers on Pulse Oximetry and Oxygen Therapy in the state. This training was well appreciated by the health workers as this was the first time, they had been trained in oxygen therapy for over a decade.
The INSPIRING project is taking a step further by establishing oxygen systems at three flagship primary healthcare facilities in Kiyawa LGA of Jigawa state. This initiative is the first of its kind in the state and children will now have access to timely oxygen and families will no longer have to travel far distances to receive emergency care for their sick children with severe pneumonia. These efforts will help to reduce the economic burden on families, by bringing services closer to the people and enhance community confidence in the overall health system in Jigawa state.
Knowledge is the first defense against Pneumonia
Asmau Mohammed, aged 35, is a mother with four children living in Sabon Gari town, Kiyawa LGA in Jigawa state with her husband, his other wife and children.
Asmau noticed her youngest child, Ahmed* who is 20 months old, was ill when she observed he had a fever, a high body temperature, difficulty breathing and an indrawn chest (a pneumonia symptom for when it is critical). After giving him local medicine for a week, she noticed his situation kept getting worse, so she was very scared and feared for her son’s life. She decided to reach out to Aisha, a Community Health Volunteer (CHV) under the INSPIRING project who worked in her community to come see her son. When Aisha observed Ahmed, she was able to confirm that he was displaying symptoms of pneumonia.
Aisha followed Asmau and her son to the Primary Health Center in Kiyawa LGA for a professional opinion and where it was confirmed that her son indeed had pneumonia. Ahmed’s condition was already critical, so they referred her to the Rasheed Shekoni specialist Hospital in Dutse (the state’s capital). By the time she got to the hospital, her son was already losing consciousness and fainting. She was so terrified that she couldn’t even pray.
“When they told me my son needed oxygen, I already lost hope and thought this was the end for him. But I noticed after a few hours of being placed on oxygen that his breathing stabilized, and he regained consciousness. I was so relieved that I could finally pray.”
Her son was on oxygen for 2 days and was only taken off intermittently so she could breastfeed him. He was discharged after spending 3 days in the hospital and was referred to the PHC in Kiyawa LGA to complete his daily dose of injections needed as required. Asmau took him back to the specialist hospital for a follow-up appointment a week later and the doctor confirmed her son’s health was much better.
Asmau now attends a women’s group meeting in her community where they meet monthly and are taught about pneumonia and other childhood illnesses, hygiene and nutrition best practices. She has been attending these meetings since they kicked off in March 2021 and has now learnt the signs and symptoms of pneumonia at its different stages and can tell when a child has pneumonia.
This knowledge proved useful when the child of Halima, her husband’s other wife, fell ill, she was able to alert Halima that her child was showing early signs of pneumonia. Halima was able to take her child for treatment before the condition became critical.
When asked how she plans on ensuring she protects her children from being exposed to pneumonia, she said “I make sure I do not allow my children into the kitchen when I am cooking and there is a lot of smoke. As well as practice better hygiene.”