Can we get to meet you?
Bomi Ogedengbe is a 66 year old Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology; in fact I am the first black or indigenous female Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in West Africa. I work in the department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, College of Medicine, University of Lagos. My interest is in reproductive endocrinology and fertility regulation (contraception) and it also includes my pet niche which is the reduction of maternal mortality through the reduction of unsafe abortion which is linked to contraception (because if you use contraception, you will prevent most unwanted pregnancies and unwanted pregnancies are what lead to unsafe abortions). So I have done a lot of work in that area- training people in how to evacuate the uterus and how to minimize the complications that come from abortion. Abortion is one of the five major causes of maternal mortality and that is why I have sort of taken an interest and also providing family planning to prevent more unwanted pregnancies. Most of my training was abroad in the United Kingdom (UK). I went to a convent, then I went to Oxford University, I came home for 1or 2 years then went back to do my post graduate. So my experience of medicine has always been that of developed countries, so in coming back to Nigeria, I was shocked to find the sort of things that women died of here which over there just did not happen. So, I will say that my effort will be to try and do all I can to improve the health of women- reproductive health mainly so that we can reach what it’s like in the developed countries. I respect women, but unfortunately they don’t have enough say in their lives, there is not enough education, so they do not understand many things. I believe they should educate women so they can make a free choice. I feel that men should respect women more, I am not a female chauvinist I can assure you, I still cook for my husband, I still clean the house, I don’t expect him to sweep or anything like that but a woman’s life doesn’t get much respect in this country as it should and yet there are many conferences that have shown that the social and economic progress and development of any nation depends on the health of the woman. You have heard of the Beijing conference, International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), Millennium Development Goals. Everybody knows that women’s health is so important- it’s universally known, so we just have to do more about it.
Should abortion be legalized in Nigeria?
Yes. When I say yes- you see how our young girls are dying and it is not only restricted to young girls you will see mothers of 3, 4, 5 children dying from abortion, Why? Because they don’t know anything about family planning. If they know about it, they don’t know where to get it from and they can’t afford another pregnancy. Their husband will just say I don’t want to know, just do something about it and out of ignorance they end up with complications so it is not restricted to the young person. They are dying because the people who are doing it are quacks. As I said I trained in England. On each of our operating list, we used to have two (2) or three (3) termination of pregnancies because it is legal there. Nobody died and there was never any complication and you give family planning or contraception immediately to prevent another unwanted pregnancy. The reason they are dying here is because there are quacks. So when I say it should be legalized, I mean there should be a law which says who can do it, where, under what conditions- like in the hospital, up to what gestational age (i.e. how big the pregnancy can be), in a clean environment, by somebody who is skilled and then provide family planning so that it doesn’t happen again. As it is now, the law says that it is not a crime if you are doing it to save the person’s life. It’s silent on who does it, where they do it. All sorts of people are doing it- people who are unqualified. If they ask what happened, they say: I did it to save her life and they go scot-free. Very few people have been arrested for committing abortion and it is a crime in Nigeria. So when I say legalized, not just do it as you like, but put up a law that will protect the woman from death if a woman needs an abortion. The pregnancy could have come from rape; the person who raped her could have been a mad man. The pregnancy she is carrying now from two (2) to three (3) months, you can see abnormalities say the babies are double headed four legs and six arms and now say that woman should know this and carry it till nine (9) months and deliver it. Why? So under certain circumstances I believe that abortion should be allowed just for the woman’s mental and physical health, but you must put up a law that will control how it is done where it is done by whom it is done and then prevent anymore unwanted pregnancies.
What would you describe as your greatest achievement?
I will go back and reiterate that I am the first black female to become a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in West Africa and that is amazing. There has been one (1) or two (2) of my younger ones who have followed after me. Another is that I was the second female president of the West African College of Surgeons (WACS) in all its 50 years. The last one being 20years ago and that one was just amazing because I am very committed to WACS. I think those are the two main things.
What would you describe as your greatest challenge?
I will like to look at it from two (2) points of view. Look at it from the social point of view. For me as a woman you will find that many years ago very few women went into O & G because it is not an easy specialty. Babies come at all times of the day and night. You are caring for two people and maternal mortality accounts for 1/3 of death among women so 1/3 died because they are pregnant. You can start bleeding and lose all you life’s blood within 30mins. So it is a very hard specialty to do. Now in most developed countries, women who goes into Obstetrics & Gynecology are not married and those who are married may be they don’t have children because it is so demanding. Here our own culture however, is that to be a mother, you must look after your husband, look after your children, look after your in-laws, your relatives, cook for people, clean for people; so it is very difficult from the social point of view. In fact my colleagues who we all graduated from Oxford and Cambridge at the same time, got their chair- became professors 10years earlier than me - because the man will just get up, be writing papers and his wife will bring him food to eat. His wife will wash up and so on. So he could concentrate totally on his career, whereas for a woman, you have to do both and that is very difficult. Now from the medical point of view, I find the greatest challenge is coping with the poverty that exists in Nigeria. Which I think is what leads to all this maternal death If antenatal care and delivery in Nigeria could be free, maternal deaths will come down. However in making it free, you have to provide the doctors and the facilities. Primary Healthcare Centers have to be fully equipped with what is supposed to be there. The hospitals have to have what they are supposed to have and then make just that aspect- antenatal care and delivery free. Maternal deaths will come down. Our people are very poor and that is why many of them would go to the cheapest place or go to quacks. And there is a limit to how much money I can give to anybody and if I say to a woman, come in for Caesarean Section (C/S) and I know that if she doesn’t have that C/S she would die and yet I know that for her to have that C/S she needs maybe fifty (50) to Sixty (60) thousand Naira just to deliver one baby and invariably they are the low social economic class, what does one do? I find that very difficult to cope with. I am always aware of how little many of them have. If the government or the powers that be were to stop putting billions in their pockets, and just invest in health for a change, It wouldn’t cost so much; they will still have plenty to put in their pockets, even if we could just equip primary and secondary health centers it will make a lot of difference.
What are your plans going forward?
Teaching and training for as long as I can and passing over my experience. I am old school and I came into this country when things were easier. So the next generation has a completely different view of life. What am hoping is to imbibe in them the good points that we enjoyed so that their morals and focus will not only be on money. At the moment unfortunately, poverty is everywhere things are hard, and it is because things are hard people are striving, struggling and forgetting principles. The goal posts are moving and the ideals are gone. It just let me survive. I don’t think I have finally succeeded or convinced the younger generation- my junior colleagues that the least important thing is money, but the most important things are morals, obeying the two commandments: Love God and your fellow human being and do what is right. It’s because of their experience in life that they don’t think that way and I don’t think am succeeding. Even on the road, in the street, people still laugh at me when i say something like: but this is wrong now. They will say mama, this is Nigeria, this is Lagos as if am talking rubbish, mama go. These are the things I will continue to do until I drop. It is not so much on the medical side.
What is your advice to young doctors?
I will say to them, don’t do medicine unless you really have a passion for it and when you do medicine, don’t forget the Hippocratic oath and know that the doctor as well as the lawyer are the two professions that are trusted everywhere. In that they have to be completely free of blemish. If you want something certified- I don’t know if it is still the same, it has to be signed by a doctor or a lawyer- meaning that those people will never lie. They are honest and therefore we must maintain that impression amongst us. To women I will say that if they are going into a specialty (not everybody is as strong as I am); it might be easier to go into a specialty that is not so demanding, so that their family doesn’t suffer. I have advised many in that way and they have always thanked me. Many would say, I want to do O & G like you, but I would reply that it is not easy. Am glad the women are coming up, they mustn’t forget their ‘wifely’ and maternal duties because of their profession .They must try and weigh the two, it’s possible. I have shown that it can be done. If they are not married, I will tell them to look for an understanding husband; my husband is an extremely understanding man and I think that is the secret. Also, he is not in medicine and I think that maybe helps. Some says it is better for doctor to marry doctor because they will understand more, I don’t know, because I didn’t marry a doctor. I married an accountant. Their husband has to be very understanding and don’t have too many children- 1 have 2 boys. If you have too many, it will be too difficult for you. Put the family first. I never work at home. If I have some work to do rather than going to do it in the house, I will go to the library, club or something like that or stay late at work so that is doesn’t distract me, when am in the house, am a house wife. I don’t know if it easy, not everybody can do that.