Niger: “I’m not a doctor, I’m Nassirou”
I met Nassirou on my very first visit to the Aguie stabilisation centre in the Maradi region of Niger.
I had only been here for about half an hour and was still trying to adjust to the subdued atmosphere of a hospital ward filled with severely malnourished children.
Then, all of a sudden, a vehicle screeched to a halt outside and out springs a man.
He runs to the passenger door and swiftly but gently helps a mother and her very frail child out of the car.
While cradling the sick child in his arms, he escorts the mother into the building and calls to another member of staff to quickly fetch her a chair.
Here, right at the entrance of the ward, the registering process begins.
After taking the mother and child’s details and medical history, he continues by measuring and weighing the infant and giving a thorough inspection to determine the type of malnutrition and any complications the child may have.
The unknown man is completely focused at the task at hand. I watch, fascinated.
He is fast and efficient, having done this thousands of times, but remains caring and compassionate throughout his examination of the new patient.
After all is done, the mother and child are registered and settling into the ward, I go over to greet him and introduce myself.
“Hello Doctor, pleasure to meet you”. Immediately he corrects me, “I’m not a doctor, I’m Nassirou”, the serious expression on his face instantly breaks into a broad smile.
I’m confused by the way he expertly handled and diagnosed the new patient, and the respect the other members of staff gave him, I had immediately assumed he was a doctor.
But he’s not – he’s one of our health workers, locally recruited and trained by Save the Children.
Nassirou is one of Save the Children’s health workers responsible for collecting from the rural clinics acutely malnourished children whose condition is too severe for those small and remote clinics to cope with.
Beyond the call of duty
It’s clear this is more than just a job for Nassirou as he regularly goes beyond the call of duty.
He tells me simply: “I do this job because the women and children are suffering and need help. I would do this work 24 hours a day if needed.”
“It is my responsibility as a Nigerien. If organisations from other countries are coming here to help, we need to help ourselves too.”
“It is very difficult for me to see my Nigerien brothers and sisters suffering. If I see a mother or child without enough blood I am ready to give my own blood to save the life of the patient. If they need food and I have money I will pay for them.”
But Nassirou is deeply concerned about what will happen if Niger has yet another year of failed crops.
“Now we can have 40 to 50 admissions per week. If rain stops, imagine how many can we have. We can reach 100 to 120 per week. We don’t have enough rooms. Since now we have 35 beds and they are all full. So if rains stops it will be a disaster.”