At his return to the United States from the Nigerian Civil War in 1969, Chief Njaka met with his mentor and friend, late Fr. Charles Casassa, S.J. then President of Loyola University and narrated to him, his risky experiences back home, the tragedy of the war and its affect on his people and the country. It was at this meeting that Chief Njaka reiterated his desire to improve healthcare and education for his people. He informed his mentor that he would like to open a hospital in his community that would provide quality medical care to improve living conditions and good health of the people and introduce scholarship programs for young Africans, to encourage excellence in education and pursuit of further studies with colleges in the United States.
In 1975 [thirty-five years ago] Otuokere and his American-born wife left Los Angeles to return to Akokwa, a remote town of approximately 45,000 people in Imo State, Nigeria. There he received permission from the then Nigerian government to open a medical center. The concept for the hospital was to bring medical services to the people and to teach his people the usefulness of quality medical care. Otuokere's goal was to begin with an outpatient clinic and later to expand to other rural areas through the establishment of both mobile units and outpost clinical centers manned by trained medical corps and personnel and visited regularly by a physician. Following would be an establishment of an obstetrics department and a surgical wing for inpatients. Otuokere's strategic goal was that the medical center and its outlying units would eventually serve a local district of 450,000 people.
On February 17, 1975 the outpatient clinic of the Njaka Community Medical Center was opened to the public with an expatriate Indian surgeon and gynecologist and a hospital administrator onboard. After only a year in existence the hospital expanded to a 35-bed hospital with an operating theatre; laboratory room; a records office; pharmacy and a store.
On February 18, 1980, the permanent complex for the Njaka Community Medical Center was opened with a 100-bed and 17 buildings that comprise the full spectrum of basic medical services including outpatient services, inpatient medical services (with male ward, female ward, maternity ward, children ward, isolation ward), laboratory, pharmacy, X-ray, Emergency Room services, surgical services, eye treatment center, maternity services including neonatal care, dental services, staff housing, and mortuary and embalming services.
The Governor of Imo State, Chief Sam Mbakwe , graced the opening of the 100 beds new Njaka Community Medical Center, N.C.M.C, complex and donated 50, 000.00 Naira (Nigerian currency) to the hospital, which was used to build another male ward in the hospital complex that was named after the Governor, Chief Mbakwe, now deceased. In his words, Chief Sam Mbakwe described the hospital as, “the best modern hospital in the State since the end of the civil war”.
Also established were training programs for paramedics, auxiliary nurses, medical assistants, laboratory/dispensary attendants and nurse-aides. The University of Lagos, Nigeria Teaching Hospital Basic Health Department under the leadership of Professor O. Ramsome Kuti adopted N.C.M.C and recognized the medical center as a model hospital in Nigeria. It also aided the hospital in the training of auxiliary nurses by recognizing N.C.M.C certificates for its trained nurses. When Dr. Kuti became the Minister of Health, under the Federal Government of Nigeria, he frequently used N.C.M.C as center for conferences of the Federal Government Hospitals within Eastern Zone of Nigeria. He is now deceased.
The Njaka Community Medical Center has provided Akokwa and its outlying rural communities with over 27 years of high quality medical service beginning at a time after the war when there was no medical service available. Chief Njaka established the Medical Center with his own personal expense as a service to his community to fill a need for medical services that were lacking after the war, he did this selflessly, caring and generously at his own expense for no remuneration. He has never taken remuneration for his services to his community.
Historically, the Njaka Community Medical Center has a reputation for excellence, and attracted patients from all over Nigeria. The medical center grew to serve the local district of about 450,000 people through its expanded out-post clinical centers where the trained medical corps personnel were sent on regular visits to ensure that medical services are available for all including those who cannot afford basic medical services.
Chief Njaka personally endowed the Njaka Community Medical Center hospital with yearly grants, together with personal friends like Fr. Charles S. Casassa, S.J., Charles J. Ramirez, Nicholas B. Lebedeff, Mrs. Ethel L. Lee, Fr. Donald P. Merrifield, S.J., Michael Pomo, MD., Dr. Anne Coleman, Chief Hilary Agim Ihenachor, Ph.D., Col. Albert M. Randall, M.D., (U.S.A.F Retired) and a host of other friends who kept faith with him in keeping AMES alive. They were able to raise some funds for the AMES foundation. Medical supplies and equipment for the Njaka Community Medical Center were also donated by hospitals in Los Angeles and Inglewood, California.
The hospital was able to fully support itself, recruiting local and expatriate doctors from the United States, Philippines and India. Transportation was definitely the hardest problem but Chief Njaka was able to purchase two vans that provided mobility for patients. Nevertheless, the Njaka Community Medical Center was committed to social benefits of the wide range of medical services to the rural community by providing needed and effective medical services and providing health education. Chief Njaka introduced and effectively offered through N.C.M.C free medical services on every last Thursday of the month, which brought more response from patients to attend the hospital. It took a good time to educate the rural communities served that, medical services were no longer a privilege but a right; and that slogan made the N.C.M.C program of health care delivery a great success. Free vaccination programs were also offered at the hospital and outpost clinics free without government aid.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of resources to maintain sustainability, the Njaka Community Medical Center which was opened February 17, 1975 was forced to close in May 2002 due to lack of funds.
Since the seven years closure of the medical centre, there has been a major increase in the cause of grave epidemic outbreaks in the rural communities. Limited access to health services has increased the vulnerability of the population to the most frequent diseases including diarrhea, diabetes, AIDS, acute respiratory infections, parasitic disease etc. Poor health robs the children of schooling and the adults of earning power. Healthy individuals and a healthy community advance the social, economic and environmental well being of any community. There is a growing need for sustainable healthcare services.
Here at AMES, we welcome your support which is essential to our ability to operate in rural communities that are otherwise forgotten. You can help make a difference by making a tax deductible donation online or direct mail to the P.O. Box address listed on the "Support Us" page, to help move forward the large-scale project of renovating the existing hospital buildings, purchase of furniture, medical equipment, medications, consumables and take-off funding. You can also support by donating medical supplies and equipment. We welcome medical doctors, nurses and other health providers who can offer their services with their rotational visits to the rural N.C.M.C hospital.
Your contributions will cultivate the resources needed to promote quality healthcare and education. Together we can exceed expectations.
Again, thank you for your kindness and for your support of the American Medical and Educational Services in Africa (AMES) foundation. There is no better work that any of us can do than to lend a hand to AMES as it works to improve health care and education in the rural areas of Africa and its outlying communities. Thank you.