Blog: Tastes of heaven; part 2; west african spice

Dr Mhoira Leng
30th July 2013

A few weeks ago I made my second visit to West Africa and my first to the power house of Nigeria. I had been promised a warm welcome with plenty spice so after a lengthy visa process taking several months I arrived in Lagos surrounded by the energy and colour of a fast growing city of over 8 million. Relaxing before travelling on to my destination of Ilorin in Kwara state, I thought I would test the food; 'pepper fish and jollof rice please' and almost found my chilli match. For those of you who know me that is no mean feat and confirmed I would love this place.
Dr Israel Kolewole and his team at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH) were welcoming hosts
and  ably demonstrated the leadership and commitment needed to make their palliative care programme into one of the centres of excellence in Nigeria. Nigeria has had steady but slow development of palliative care and scarce availability of essential medications and trained staff. This is now changing and with the leadership from the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of Nigeria and the help of partners such as Hospice Africa Uganda and Treat the Pain significant progress is being made.
In Ilorin Dr Israel is one of the leaders being supported through the Leadership Development Initiative and I was visiting to see what he has been achieving and to offer mentorship. He is a senior colleague with a Masters in Palliative Care who is a anaesthetist and specialist in pain management. He is committed to ensuring palliative care is integrated and made available to those in need. He has established an enthusiastic team with several trained nurses and plans to support them to access Diploma and Degree courses in Uganda.
We spent time on clinical rounds in the very impressive University Hospital and in meeting key leaders and
colleagues. Dr Israel had developed and submitted and innovative curriculum for Postgraduate Diploma in Palliative Medicine at the University of Ilorin and I was delighted to be hosted by the Vice Chancellor and Dean who not only made a public commitment to ensuring this programme becomes a reality but also that palliative care is integrated into the undergraduate medical curriculum. This will be the first postgraduate training available in West Africa and establishes Ilorin as a key centre for Nigeria and the region. Congratulation for this breakthrough although I realise much work lies ahead! Check out the link to the article on the University website.

The Chief Medical Director of UITH, Prof. A. W. O. Olatinwo, is committed to seeing holistic and quality care offered in his hospital and community and sees palliative care as providing key leadership  This is such an exciting combination of senior palliative care leadership with a major hospital leader understanding and wanting to integrate palliative care. He arranged a senior meeting of his staff in the hospital and allowed us to present integrated palliative care and then listened to his colleagues before making
a public commitment to moving PC forward. There is already a new Hospice building on the hospital site which Israel hopes to be the focus of a day care and community outreach programme. Topping off my visit was a meeting with the Ministry of Health district office who committed to PC in all hospitals in the region and the charity arm of the presidents wife in Kwara state who were asked to support women and children's needs. All in 5 days!

Many thanks to Dr Israel and his family as well as Abiola, Aligeh and the rest of the wonderful team. They were amazing and generous hosts including praying for me in my hotel room and when I left, taking very good care of any security issues and helping me explore my new found pleasure in Nigerian food and dress. This amazing gown not only was a wonderful present but make travel back to Lagos a dream; dress like this in Nigeria and even the airline check-in staff ask for a photo. 

Back to the food; if you get the chance make sure you try efo riro, pepper soup, egusi, fried plantain, jollof rice, amala, fufu and of course pounded yam. I might give the pomo (cow skin) a miss next time.

For me personally there was also the opportunity to connect with a special person in my past; my maternal grandfather Robert Forrest. He worked in public health in Nigeria, including Kwara state, for more than 20 years in the 1920's to 40's. My Nigerian friends gave me honourary Yoruba status and were delighted to phone and greet my mum in the UK who has many memories of visits to her father. Those journeys were by boat and fraught with the dangers of malaria but after a 4 day journey home (care of many delays) I can empathise a wee touch.