The Misconception of health care in Developing countries.

Often when third world countries such as Nigeria, Nepal, India etc are referred to the primary thoughts people have of the country are dangerous, dirty and daunting.  Many of the volunteers upon discovering they would be going to Nigeria experienced shock, fear and even the consideration of not going at all. This fear was further reinforced by talking to family members. Personally, hearing responses such as “are you sure you want to go there?” and “Make sure you keep to yourself people out there are dangerous” with many other volunteers hearing “you’re not going there!” simply solidified my knowledge of the fear that the world has of developing countries. This fear much like most fears come from the unknown.

Very few people choose to visit developing countries unless you or family members have heritage from these countries and thus know very little about what these locations are truly like. News articles about crime and violence happening in these countries only propagate this fear of the developing world. I too feared the country, but upon visiting and meeting people from this country I decided to write this, to raise awareness for developing countries, to tell the world that it’s not as bad as everyone believes. If members of the community could understand the truth about developing countries, the likelihood of major poverty running through countries like Nigeria could decrease, with more people wanting to visit the country.

Whilst in Nigeria, one of my main experiences were with the medical services. Despite them not being equipped with the most recent up to date medical apparatus, they had the essentials in order to test and give a diagnosis, this being whilst staying in a tiny town. Despite this being looked down upon by members in the UK, when really thinking about it, does it really differ from small areas of it? Some people within in the UK have to travel miles and miles in order to receive medical treatment, so how does this differ from Nigerian medical facilities?

This being said during my time in Nigeria I was also sent to a larger medical facility in the capital city, Abuja. This facility was much larger and better equipped for dealing with emergencies. However, due to the stigma around Nigeria, members in the UK still didn’t trust these facilities because the UK can “offer better treatment” but in my experience this is not true as I had this illness before going to Nigeria for several weeks and was told by UK staff that nothing was wrong without carrying out any tests, however in Nigeria I was sent to a specialist consultant who did his best to try and get to the bottom of what was wrong after all this time, suggesting I get an endoscopy done in order to get a better idea of what was going on. Both doctors in the UK and Nigeria have been through training and are in the same position, so who can really say you will get better treatment? One thing I remember vividly was that a member of the UK staff said to me I must return home for a requested medical test for many reasons, one being that the environment could be unsterile and therefore further irritate my illness and make it much worse, two being that the doctors could be lying in order to get money. Whilst both are potential possibilities, the idea that the “unsterile environment” would make me worse came as a shock to me when I was staying in the capital city, in a perfectly clean hospital. This comment was due to the misconception that because its Nigeria the environment is not as clean. This is within a professional medical facility that honestly looked and treated me better than any facility I had been seen at in the UK.

Another thing I experienced dealing with the UK medical team was the instant judgement that the test results were wrong, be this malaria testing or trying to give a diagnosis for my illness.  The lack of faith that the doctors in Nigeria could be equally as good as they are in the UK shocked me. Whilst tests such as that for malaria can undoubtedly be difficult, you’d think in a country such as Nigeria where malaria is more prominent they would be more equipped to dealing with these tests. Nonetheless, this lack of faith persisted, making volunteers go for several seem-ably unnecessary tests, even travelling for several hours in order to go to Abuja hospital for the same test that was carried out previously and ending with the same results.

Upon arriving back in the UK, I went to a hospital in London, to see if they could work out the diagnosis of my illness. Not being given treatment that was successful and not being in Nigeria long enough for these tests to continue, and the UK medical team restricting the tests I was allowed, the doctors took blood tests and came to the same conclusion the Nigerian doctors had. However, they believed it is less severe and said I needed to take medication ‘for months and months and months’ until the pain began to fade, yet the medication the doctor wanted to prescribe I had already been given, it having made my illness much worse. This spoke great volumes about the so-called better quality of medical help in the UK, with this further reinforced when the doctor refused to accept me telling him about the medication, stating this medication to be the one I had to take. Furthermore, upon returning to university and going to a different doctor to try to get to the bottom of my illness, showing both medical reports from Nigeria and London, the doctor agreed with this medical treatment, but suggesting the Nigerian medical report more accurate than the one from London. Who, therefore, can really say one is better than the other?

A major problem in the UK medical system is the waiting list to see a doctor. When illness occurs, you phone either your local GP or the NHS, and appointment dates can vary, from being seen within a few weeks to a few months. This wait could be the reason people’s illnesses get much worse. In Nigeria when you were sick you went to the doctor and was seen that day, tests carried out and most often given your results on the same day. It is undoubtedly true, therefore, that there are problems with all locations, with all medical facilities. Yet even if you removed the country names, the majority would still believe the cultural stigma that medical treatment is better in the UK. But why?

This is all, of course, subjective. There is no answer to which medical system is better- both have problems- but the stereotype that the UK is in some way better than Nigeria and other third world countries because they are ‘developing’ is false and therefore the ultimate thought that needs to be eliminated.

You cannot judge a country on one location, one person, one event. Crime rates in London are continuously increasing, and if we only focused on this  area, would anyone want to visit? This is much the same as in developing countries like Nigeria; not all areas are filled with crime and violence. Nigeria is undoubtedly very different from the UK; lives are harder, laws are different. That being said, I experienced the positives too, the beautiful landmarks, the amazing views and the remarkable people. What, therefore, really makes Nigeria in any way different to the UK?

My Summer in Nigeria

When first applying to VSO ICS I never believed I would actually follow through or even be accepted, however, at each step I grew more and more excited. This was until the country I would be going to was revealed. Nigeria, a country I knew very little about but somehow managed to terrify me instantly. This fear wasn’t helped when I told my family and friends about the location I had been offered and I had to watch each and every one of their faces drop with the same fear I initially felt when I read the word Nigeria. This fear inside me was quickly eliminated when I done some research and understood that all countries are presented in a negative light, and this was the whole reason I wanted to go to a developing country. However, this attitude wasn’t adopted by my family as each member of my family continued to argue their case of the lack of safety and the wish for me to not go. Once they realised this wouldn’t work they tried to offer me what they perceived as advice, which honestly wasn’t helpful coming from people who had never visited the country themselves.

This excitement stayed with me until the day of departure, where it hit me that I was going to be living in a country I knew very little about for the next three months with 29 other people I had never met, this wasn’t aided by the simple fact that this would be my first time leaving the UK. This is when the fear began to raise up inside me once again. Almost instantly at the airport with both my team going to Gwada in Nigeria and the other 13 UK volunteers going to Kwara in Nigeria that everyone was feeling the same way I was, excited, nervous and curious for what the next three months were going to bring.

Arrival in community, the first two weeks in Gwada were possible the hardest days of my life, the major culture shock when we came to the realisation that there had been no electrical power in the last two weeks and it was unlikely it would return for a further two weeks. The idea of having cold bucket showers every day, no running water, cleaning your teeth outside and using a squat toilet, which is essentially just a whole in the ground with a little bit of concrete around it. Some homes were much more modernised than we expected, some having generators, normal toilets and even TV’s however this wasn’t the case for everyone. Food was one of the biggest culture shocks that I’m not sure many volunteers truly got used to, once again depending on the host home you stayed in food varied massively. Another thing to get used to, were the animals, everywhere you went were dogs, cats, cows, goats and sheep, this soon became very normal and we loved having the animals around.

Here are some photos of food we were given, our bathroom and some of the animals.

Goat brain soup 

The food everybody was wishing for.

Intestine Soup

the Toilet in one of our host homes.

Every night for the next week we laid awake sweating, wondering when the rain would cool down the room. The rain came but the heat continued. Almost instantly we became a family, messaging our group chat about the lack of ability to sleep, our host homes and our Nigerian counterparts were all discussed at length by all UK volunteers. This was the beginning of a hard but amazing journey. Everyday just waiting for the power to turn on, to have a fan and the ability to charge your phone. The rain in Gwada was not like rain we were used to encountering in the UK particularly being rainy season, this made for some long waits in shops, some very wet walks and the inevitable muddy/sandy journey home.

The rain really does come down in Africa.

One week into this trip I became very ill, suffering every day, but still not wanting to quit this amazing opportunity I had been given. I had visited 3 different hospitals on several occasions throughout my weeks in Nigeria. One day in particular this really got me down, I lay there trying to get the never-ending pain to seize just a little, as my chest tightened. This night was one of the scariest since I had been in Nigeria… not due to gun crime, or the members of the community but down to my own unknown illness. It was this that gave me the motivation to fight through the challenging journey that was Nigeria. Fighting the UK medical team at every turn in order to stay to the end of my cycle to say goodbye to lifelong friends.

When going to a new country, a new state or a new town you never truly know what you can expect. Going to Nigeria, Gwada was a life changing journey, no matter how you look at it. The ups the downs, the challenges and the fun filled days were what made this journey worth taking. Our time in the Gwada community had often been described as a rollercoaster with multiple highs such as summer school, the starting of the sanitation project, as well as the clear interest in things we are informing the community about, however, there are just as many lows with illness, food and the feeling that you’re not truly making a difference. So, what made the journey worth taking? The volunteers, the host homes and the community, no place had we been more accepted by a community with the constant asking of your name or asking to have a photo with you, and honestly where would any one of us really be if not for the other volunteers getting us through our lows and making the highs worth celebrating. The host homes were the perfect way to help with cultural differences and feel as though you belong to a new family during your stay. ICS is described as an ‘experience’ and you can’t argue with that, this journey took us to a new community with different views, different cultures and different lives and although at the beginning of this journey that caused issues for many, but once these things were embraced we could see that this is the positive, this is the reason we came on this programme to meet new people to experience new things. Through this programme I have made friends with people I would never normally have contact with, visited a community or even country I would never have had contact with. So, with the highs and the lows throughout this programme my journey through Gwada has been interesting, exciting and challenging, a true once in a life time experience.

Here are some photos of us in the community.

Gwada Market

First trip to Church with our host family.

Young Farmers Club.

A warm welcome getting off the bus in Gwada.

My final days in Nigeria; as we concluded our work and stay in Nigeria, everyone became emotional, tears filled the eyes of volunteers, team leaders and even project officers. Three months we spent together, working, laughing and enjoying our stay together. And this was coming to the inevitable end.

Reverse culture shock; upon returning home there were simple things you never quite took notice of before, such as the constant power, running water and the luxurious warm showers. These were all overwhelming for the first couple of weeks after returning from Nigeria as these were luxuries we never had. On my first day back I woke up to all the lights being out and the TV off, this in fact was because I was the only one home, however, my mind naturally listened for the sound of the power not hearing it assumed this meant that the power was off, going by in the dark letting my phone run down almost the whole day until my mum returned home and turned a light on did I realise where I was and that power in inevitable.

The house Material made by our counterparts.

our team Debrief material.

Nigeria will always remain one of my favourite places, where I have built the most memories. I now question why I was scared in the first place, as the country was an amazing place to visit, with some of the kindest people I have ever encountered. The fear comes from the idea of being in a developing country and the news around these locations, but in fact this only targets one section of the country and Nigeria like most developing countries are very large and shouldn’t be judged based on small areas of the country.

Katie’s resources blog

Last week we completed a resources workshop, where we were placed in groups with resources placed within an envelope, we were given the task to make something that we can give to a new student attending the university using only the resources that we were given in the envelope. However, each group was given different amounts of materials. Some groups with loads of materials, who received all of the praise and some groups with little to no resources who had their work looked down upon and completely ignored when presenting ideas. Doing this values workshop appeared to give a wider more universal meaning that the simplicity of just one classroom, upon doing this task it became evident that the groups that were getting all of the attention, seemed to thrive of this attention and therefore seemed to work a lot harder to receive this approval that they were so easily receiving. In contrast when the groups who received almost no supplies such as myself, seemed to work more for ourselves, rather than trying to gain the approval we so obviously weren’t going to receive, we worked to make ourselves proud of what we could achieve. The two levels of groups seem to be a microcosm for privileged and under privileged children within the world, this privileged group – the one who received all the equipment – were completely unaware of the treatment they were receiving in comparison to the underprivileged children – the group with little to no resources – knew about what was happening and that they were being treated differently but just accepted this fact anyway, this appears to be the way in which society works, where less fortunate people have an issue they believe it is just the way it’s supposed to be and therefore just do the best they can with what they have. Not only did this seem to have deeper meaning for the groups but a deeper message for teaching, that not every place you go is going to have the same resources the same background, however this doesn’t mean that the children can’t perform to as a high a level as children in a school with more resources. As Graham Hill says in his Ted talk “sometimes less is more”.