I am Gbemisola Boyede, a Paediatrician from Nigeria. I am the Founder and CEO of Ask The Paediatricians Facebook group and Ask The Paediatricians Foundation. I love to share the story of my community Ask The Paediatricians which to me is a beautiful example of using technology and power of community on social media to make a difference in the sphere of child health in a country, Nigeria!
I started Ask The Paediatricians as an online Facebook Group on the 20th July 2015 out of my one-woman's passion to educate mothers on child health issues and correct dangerous myths and beliefs that are causing needless and preventable deaths of our children. I am always appalled at the high figures of child deaths in my country compared to the developed countries. What is even more disconcerting to me was the fact that we know the diseases killing our children and we know and have more than 75% of simple readily available interventions to reduce these deaths quite significantly. Yet year after year at our Paediatric conferences, the figures remain unchanged. I realised that a key stakeholder has been left out at those deliberations of meeting all the global goals - the mothers who are the critical providers and carers of our children whom we need to rely on to know and engage with these interventions be it exclusive breastfeeding or immunisations. Yet no one is really engaging with the mothers!
I decided I don't want any child dying from things we can prevent or know how to treat if I can help it. Many of our children are dying through the sincere ignorance of their parents and carers. So I decided to do something about it. I decided to engage with these critical stakeholders that we have left out for too long - the mothers. Where to meet mothers? Of course where they are mostly - on social media specifically Facebook. As a member of a few Mothers' Facebook groups, I have been seeing mothers asking other mothers health questions about the health of their children. I have seen the various answers most of which are poles apart and so varied they would leave the person asking more confused. Some of the suggested solutions are not only wrong but extremely dangerous and as a Paediatrician, I literally cringed reading them.
This was what led me to create my own group on Facebook using technology where mothers can ask The Paediatricians; who are supposed to be the authorities on child health issues medically speaking; their questions and get professional and reliable perspectives that hopefully will not lead to death of the children. I also proactively began to teach mothers child survival strategies and other good practices that promote child health and prevent diseases. Other professionals join me along the line. We also emphasise the need to seek prompt hospital care when needed as delay in seeking care has been identified as one of the reasons the children die from easily treatable conditions like diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria. Our rider then on our Facebook group was "promoting child health intelligence".
It was always refreshing to read the multiple feed-backs from mothers about how they are changing in their practices as regards the health of their children. Many testified of being able to do exclusive breastfeeding for the first time due to the encouragement they receive on the group. Most are taken their children now for immunization knowing how important they are in preventing some childhood diseases. They confessed to the fact that they no longer follow the dangerous but popular traditional child health care myths and they now seek health care promptly when needed. The Ask The Paediatricians Facebook group grew exponentially within a few years.
Then I started to think of mothers not on social media who don't have Internet access or smart phones. So on the first anniversary of our Facebook group, we started to plan to reach children living in indigent communities and their mothers via offline community medical outreaches. That was the beginning of Ask The Paediatricians Foundation. All our volunteers including medical professionals and non-medical volunteers were recruited from the online Facebook group. We planned the whole programme on a Whats-App group and met for the very first time at the Outreach Venue in Makoko on October 1st 2016. We have 200 volunteers at the first outreach and reached 1000 registered children not counting the mothers and fathers. Thus an online community that existed through technology gave birth into a full-fledged non-governmental organization - Ask The Paediatricians Foundation, which became registered formally with the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria in July 2017. Beyond our outreaches, we also recently launched another product making use of technology to provide speedy response to parents - our ATP mobile app.
Our Vision at Ask The Paediatricians Foundation is to promote good health and welfare of children globally; especially in Nigeria and Africa in keeping with the Sustainable Development Goal 3. Our mission is to provide evidence-based health education and information to parents and carers of children; support vulnerable children through community medical outreaches and other social projects; and empowering and training healthcare professionals working with children. Ask The Paediatricians Foundation has four major strategic operations in fulfilling her vision and mission:
1) Health education online forum via the Ask The Paediatricians Foundation Facebook Group, Facebook Page, Instagram, Website and recently our ATP mobile app.
2)Free Community Medical Outreaches to children living in indigent under-served communities with limited access to health care services and professionals in Nigeria.
3) Health Seminars and Training Workshops for Healthcare professionals and parents
4) Support for Orphans and Vulnerable children.
Our online health education and information is provided via technology through the various social media platform, website and mobile app. The largest of course still remains our Ask The Paediatricians Facebook Group; where Paediatricians and other health care professional provide free health education, information and answers to various health questions by parents and caregivers of children with the support of our trained non-medical professionals moderators. The ATP Facebook group as at March 2020 has over 587,000 members in 100 countries of the world who have testified to the great impact of the Group on improving their knowledge on healthcare of their children with better outcomes. In addition to educating parents and carers of children, we also equip healthcare professionals especially those working with children. Ask The Paediatricians has organised many successful Nutrition workshops for our healthcare professionals.
Our offline communities - Ask The Paediatricians foundation has organised more than 100 successful community medical outreaches after our first one at Makoko in October 2016. We have collaborated with many other institutions including faith-based and non-governmental organisations in providing the medical expertise for various community medical outreaches. Ask The Paediatricians Foundation currently has more than 2000 volunteers in more than 40 State and Zonal chapters throughout Nigeria and reached more than 50,000 children physically and directly in 2019 alone through our community medical outreaches. All our volunteers meet and plan the outreaches on the multiple state WhatsApp platforms again leveraging on technology and only meet just at the outreaches. We have indeed been able to leverage technology to start, groom and grow our volunteers from the online platforms to work offline in the communities. We do two major community outreaches annually in May (Children's Day) and October (Nigeria's Independence Day).
Beyond our focus on health of children, Ask The Paediatricians Foundation is also keen on their welfare including education which we believe is vitally linked to health. We support the Annual Christmas Lunch for underprivileged children in Makoko in collaboration with other partners. We renovated the dilapidated school building at LGEA Primary School Mancha Village Edu LGA Lafiaji Kwara State where children were learning under a tree on bare dirty floor. This project was commissioned on the 20th January 2018. We did ATP Goes to Schools Medical Outreaches in October 2019 and visited 77 schools nationwide and presented First-Aid boxes to many of the schools in addition to the health talks and outreaches.
Daily, Ask The Paediatricians Foundation is impacting lives of many children and families globally and especially in Nigeria through our various health education, information and promotion channels and child welfare projects. Ask The Paediatricians Foundation work has been recognised locally and internationally through many awards for the great impact we are making. We are honoured to be one of the 115 groups selected by Facebook, one of the world largest tech companies for their inaugural Facebook Community Leadership Program in 2018; out of the 6000 applications received worldwide. This award came with a $50.000 grant for our community projects. We are 1 out of 2 communities selected from Nigeria recognised by Facebook for using their technology platform for good. Locally, we are part of the 100 awardees in Nigeria given the inaugural Social Media for Social Good Africa Award in April 2019. Our story has been published in local and international print and mass media including the BBC World Service. Personally, I have also been honoured as one of the 2016 Radiant Woman of Action for the work I do with Ask The Paediatricians Foundation. Ask The Paediatricians Foundation is a member of Global Giving and has been recognised as a vetted and effective organization. For me, my community, Ask The Paediatricians Foundation is an excellent example of using technology to make a difference in the world harnessing the power of an online community to offline impact in the communities. We have been able to do all these amazing work using technology.