While Maryam Bello was growing up in Mpape, a community in Abuja, Nigeria’s seat of power, she saw firsthand how dire poverty and a barrier of distance often resulted in preventable loss of lives, especially of people who were less privileged and couldn’t access essential healthcare services.
She wasn’t alone. Dr. Charles Umeh also had a similar experience while growing up in Onitsha in Nigeria’s Anambra State, and this ignited his passion for the medical profession, where he later graduated with a degree in Medicine and Surgery from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, in 2015.
The experience of witnessing this healthcare disparity motivated both Bello and Umeh to create a solution that would bring essential healthcare services closer to their local communities. In 2019, they connected through one of their mentors, and since they were prompted by the desire to make a difference, they joined efforts to initiate the Parkers Mobile Clinic, an initiative dedicated to providing essential healthcare services to underserved communities in Southeastern Nigeria and beyond.
“We initiated Parkers Mobile Clinic as a response to the pressing need for adequate healthcare services in rural communities, and our primary motivation was to proactively reach out to those in need rather than expecting them to overcome the obstacle of distance to seek medical assistance,” Bello said.
The World Health Organisation or WHO indicated that in 2021, about 4.5 billion people were not fully covered by essential health services worldwide, and it is this population that the Parkers Mobile Clinic aims to to help with access to essential health services.
How they operate
Through the Parkers Mobile Clinic initiative, Bello and Umeh have established strategic partnerships with local healthcare organisations, non-profits, and the private sector. The collaborations have enabled them to maximise the impact of their work while extending their reach to more underserved communities.
Initially, the initiative actively engages with local communities to understand their unique healthcare needs and conducts regular outreach programs where they provide mental health support, nutritional counselling, micronutrients to children and pregnant women, reproductive health services, family planning tips, and lifestyle education to address various aspects of health.
“Through our support for pregnant women, we aim to enhance maternal health, reduce childbirth complications, and foster healthier starts for infants. With these efforts, we are actively contributing to a more equitable, healthy, and sustainable future for our communities,” Bello explained to Prime Progress.
Also, the clinic operates with the support of a dedicated network of volunteers, including healthcare professionals, educators, and community development advocates, and it’s these collective efforts that allow them to serve a broader range of individuals in need of primary healthcare services.
Engaging with communities
To identify and engage with the targeted beneficiaries effectively, the initiative carries out surveys, which gives them the privilege of finding out the gaps in healthcare services that need to be filled within the communities.
While the initiative is committed to making essential healthcare accessible to underserved communities, its services are often provided at zero cost. However, it also offers additional paid services that are affordable, ensuring that those who can contribute financially have the option to do so while maintaining inclusivity for those who require free services.
“Our goal is to strike a balance between financial sustainability and equitable access, making healthcare available to as many people as possible,” Bello admitted.
According to Bello, since the inception of the initiative in 2019, they have impacted the lives of over 15,000 individuals through effective primary healthcare delivery.
Grace Okafor is one of such beneficiaries. Grace is a poor widow and diabetic patient living in one of the villages within Onitsha, where the Parkers Mobile Clinic is located. While she struggled with an aliment and had no access to healthcare services due to lack of funds, the initiative came to her rescue in 2020.
“Parkers Mobile Clinic has been doing a routine medical checkup for me every 2 weeks. A nurse checks my blood pressure, and blood sugar, and also gives me medications. So this is something that always makes me feel excited,” Okafor told Prime Progress.
In 2021, a 35-year-old pregnant woman named Cecilia Joseph required medical care, and when the initiative came through for her in one of its community outreach programs, she felt relieved.
“Their services were good and free. They continued providing me with essential care during my pregnancy until my safe delivery,” Joseph said.
The initiative is not without its challenges, according to Bello, the lack of adequate logistics, that is due to a lack of funding is hindering their reach to remote rural areas and reaching more people.
“Another challenge we face is the quality of data. Obtaining accurate and up-to-date information is essential for delivering services effectively, but data collection in rural areas can often be unreliable and incomplete,” Bello shared.
Despite the challenges, Bello said that they are working towards a sustainability plan, and this includes diversifying their sources of revenue through partnerships, grants, and donations.
“By securing financial stability, we can continue to deliver essential services and expand our reach to impact more lives effectively,” she concluded.