Setting up a diabetes clinic in Nigeria

June 4, 2007

The author serves as a missionary/pharmacist in Nigeria.

As a clinical and integrative pharmacist, I am always interested in how professionals can better manage disease states using a more holistic approach. This approach includes a balance of prescription drug use with diet, nutrition, exercise, supplements, and other complementary approaches. This concept is just as valid in Nigeria as it is in the United States.

Each year WHM sends thousands of dollars' worth of equipment and supplies to Nigerian hospitals. Because diabetes is a highly prevalent disease in Nigeria, we recently allocated more than two dozen Freestyle and Accu-Chek blood glucose monitors along with 9,000 glucose strips, lancets, and auxiliary equipment. Many of these valuable glucose monitors were donated by the manufacturer and by Global Links, a charitable organization that recovers surplus medical supplies, equipment, and furnishings from hospitals and redistributes them to many Third World countries. Nigerian hospitals do not have access to such technology and are hampered when screening patients before surgery, women in labor, or just identifying those patients with severe diabetes. This year I gave many lectures on specialized treatment for diabetic neuropathy. In addition to drug and supplement therapy, our organization donated three Anodyne Therapy Systems for neuropathy treatment.

The opening day of screening clinics is always met with excitement. In Jos and Bauchi, the local radio station had aired announcements about our free screenings. The response was unbelievable. Nearly 500 people showed up the first day and crammed into a hall outside the clinic room hours before the doors opened. People were clamoring to be the first in line to have their finger pricked, a reading from the glucometer, a blood pressure measurement, and foot check. Small record cards were given to the patients so that they could keep track of their scores and report them to their personal physicians.

After two weeks, our team had screened well over 2,000 patients. In general, we discovered a higher-than-normal rate of adult-onset diabetes, especially in men between 30 and 40. The main cause is not clear. I suspect that many Nigerians have a predisposition to diabetes from heredity; however, their diets are high in starch and heavy in calories from sugar-laced soft drinks.

It was helpful that in each hospital where we volunteered, we were aided by doctors, nurses, and R.Ph.s from the staff. In the end, we had the satisfaction of knowing that our team had saved lives. Since we started doing diabetes screening clinics at the Jos University Teaching Hospital six years ago, we were notified by the chief diabetes physician that no patient had died of ketoacidosis or diabetic coma because the hospital now has the means to identify patients at risk. This is what our mission is all about.

The friendships and relationships we made with many Nigerians will always be a memorable part of our trip. I hope that as ambassadors of our bountiful country, we can play a small part in helping to improve the quality and quantity of life for many Third World people.

WHM is looking for participation from volunteer pharmacists. Please contact me if you are interested or visit my Web site. It is truly the humanitarian experience of a lifetime!

THE AUTHOR is a clinical and natural pharmacist from Pittsburgh. He owns and operates Nutri-farmacy in Wildwood, Pa., and has a Web site at http://www.nutrifarmacy.com/.