When I heard that Hajiya Aisha Ummi Garba El-Rufai, wife of the Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai was honoured with the title of ‘’Ambassador of Fistula’’, I wasn’t surprised. I have seen first-hand how passionate she gets on any cause that she believes in and how she devotes her time and energy to get things done. I first met Hajiya Ummi in 2017, after she was named the chairperson of Kaduna Emergency Nutrition Action Plan (KADENAP). She came across as a humble and amiable person and after working with her at close quarters, this impression has not changed. However, I learnt very quickly that she does not joke in delivering positive outcomes to any task that she has taken on. Hajiya Ummi is a focused and result-oriented person and would push down every wall to get results.
KADENAP is not the usual “Pet Project” as was the norm in the past, where wives of State Chief Executives initiate charity-like projects, usually funded by the government, to impact on the people. KADENAP, on the other hand, is an emergency task force, created by Governor El-Rufai to reverse the disturbing statistics of malnourished children in Kaduna State. The idea of KADENAP came about after Hajiya Ummi came across a certain report on the statistics of malnourished children in the State. She was shocked by the figures and brought it to the attention of her husband. I recount her saying they both couldn’t sleep that night. Hajiya Ummi took it upon herself to go investigate and Lo and behold, she was faced with the most unbelievable sight before her. The governor’s wife told me that what she saw could be likened to ‘’the kind of images you only see on TV, in war-torn countries like Syria, Somalia, looking us right in the face, in our backyards’’.
That was the life-changing moment for Hajiya Ummi. She took it upon herself to curb the menace of malnutrition in Kaduna. As a result, KADENAP was created in January 2017 and she is the Chairperson, facilitating the activities of other Ministries, Departments and Agencies that have a role to play in nutrition and infant health care such as Health, Education, Water Resources, Agriculture, Finance, Budget and Planning, ministries, as well as State Primary Healthcare Development Agency amongst others. That was how KADENAP was born. With the deliberate efforts and regular engagements with stakeholders, the number of admissions of malnourished children in the 11 Local Government Areas where KADENAP operates rose dramatically from 352 in 2016 to 24,185 in 2019. Over 64,000 malnutrition cases reported for treatment from 2017 to 2019 with 85.6% of them attaining full recovery.
After achieving this measure of success, Hajiya Ummi channelled her energy to Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) in 2017, when the fight against Fistula gained momentum. VVF, as it is commonly known, is a condition that allows for the continuous and involuntary discharge of urine and faeces. According to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), early childbearing before the age of 18, poor access to emergency obstetric care and poor utilisation of reproductive health information services in addition to harmful traditional birth practices are some of the causes of the disease. This has led women and girls to lose their babies, and most often, the patients are ostracised by their husband and family. Sometimes, a hut is built for the patients, far away from the household, in order to separate them from the rest of family in some communities. There, the patients are left to their misery, untreated, unloved and unattended to, unable to lead normal lives, or contribute in any meaningful way to the society.
The Programme Coordinator of UNFPA in Northern Nigeria, Ms Mariama Darboe said between 400,000 to 800,000 live with VVF in Nigeria with 12,000 to 20,000 new cases each year. In Kaduna, there are currently 12,000 recorded cases of patients with Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF). However, despite the large number of patients living with this disease, the facilities and medical personnel to take care for these patients are not commensurate with the figures. In Kaduna, only 200 patients are treated annually in the single designated centre in the state, located at the Hajiya Gambo Sawaba Hospital, in Zaria. More so, only one ward has been devoted to these special cases. Going by this, it would take over a decade to clear the backlog of patients that have piled up, not to mention the new cases that occur regularly. Imagine patients waiting on queue for 10 years to get this life changing surgery.
These disturbing statistics caught the attention of Hajiya Ummi El-Rufa’i and spurred her into action. Since 2017, she has paid numerous visits to the hospital, providing care packs for them and serving as a beacon of hope to the patients. By this gesture, the patients are shown love, proving that they have not been forgotten or abandoned to their fates.
Through the Ministry of Human Services and Social Development and the Commissioner, Hajiya Hafsat Mohammed Baba, Hajiya Ummi brought the sorry plight of the victims to the State Executive Council, the highest decision-making body of Government. Specifically, they had requested for a sum of N30 million to be included in the 2020 budget, especially to cater for the VVF cases. But the Executive Council, after hearing their plea, increased the amount to N50 million, which has been included in the 2020 budget.
In summary, the ministry will provide food for patients in the hospital on a quarterly basis, to cater to their needs during their four to eight weeks wait in hospital, for pre-surgery, surgery and post-surgery evaluation. By this commitment, the El-Rufai administration is now ready to prevent new fistulas from occurring and combating the huge backlogs of repairs cases. By 2022, the government promised to reduce the cases of women requiring fistula repair in Kaduna State by 98%. To raise more funds in support of the Government’s effort, Kaduna State, in collaboration with UNFPA and Fifth Chukker Country and Polo Club, organised the first-ever high-level Fistula conference in Kaduna on December 19, 2019. At the event, Fifth Chukker donated a sum N5 million and pledged to give the same amount every year for the next five years.
Wrapping up the event, UNFPA conferred the title of ‘’Ambassador of Fistula’’ was conferred on Aisha Ummi Garba El-Rufai for her tremendous contribution to the ‘End Fistula’ campaign in Kaduna state. In addition, Dr Kees Waaldjik, a Dutch citizen who is known as ‘’the Father of Fistula’’ treatment in Africa, was given an award. Dr Waaldjik who arrived Nigeria in the 80s, started has been treating VVF patients in Nigeria, Ethiopia and Sudan in the last 40 years. Similarly, Dr Yushau Armiyau who was instrumental to bringing Waaldjik to Nigeria, was given an award. Likewise, Dr Ado Zakari Mohammed, a Director, Medical Services in the Ministry of Health was given recognition as one of the two Fistula specialists in Kaduna state, who has shown uncommon dedication to the patients. Dr Hussaina Adamu, the current head of the VVF Centre in Zaria, was also given an ward. Similarly, the Commissioner Human Services and Social Development, Hajiya Hafsat was honoured at the event, so was the duo of Hajiya Binta Mohammed and Hajiya Fati Umar, two nurses who rose above the normal call of duty, to restore the dignity of VVF patients. Significantly, Alhaji Umar Buruku was also given an award for standing by his daughter, a VVF patient, through thick and thin, in search for cure, when her husband had abandoned her, owing to her health status.
Before now, Hajiya Aisha Ummi Garba El Rufa’i has been conferred with the title, ‘‘Ambassador for Children’s Education’’, by United Nations Children’s Fund(UNICEF). On December 19, 2019, another jewel was added to her crown as the UNFPA ‘’Ambassador of Fistula’’. With this twin ‘’Ambassadorial’’ titles, the wife of Kaduna State Governor is indeed an envoy for the less privileged and vulnerable in the society.
Nabila is a Special Assistant on Media and Communication in Kaduna State Government.