The Head of NAHCON Medical Team to the 2023 Hajj Operation, Dr Usman Galadima.

Examining NAHCON’S Promise on Pilgrims’ Healthcare: A Personal Experience

By Abdulrahman Abdulraheem, in Madinah

One of the fundamental principles in Islam is the fulfilment of promises. Islam frowns seriously at making promises and failing to deliver on them, especially contracts that are entered into willingly.

In several of his injunctions in the Glorious Quran, Allah frowns at the breaking of all kinds of covenant, both the ones between Him and His servants and the ones between two or more brothers. The Quran in Chapter 62 Verse 2-3 says: “O you who believe! Why do you say that which you do not do? It is most hateful to God that you should say that which you do not do.”

The greatest of mankind, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was also quoted to have likened anyone who makes a promise and fails to fulfill it to a hypocrite. Abdullah ibn Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “There are four characteristics, whoever has them all is a hypocrite, and whoever has one of the four has a feature of hypocrisy unless he gives it up: when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise he breaks it; when he makes a pledge he betrays it; and when he disputes he resorts to foul language.”

Hypocrites are of course not among Allah’s favourites who He said He would be proud of on the day of judgement.

In contrast, making promises and failing to fulfill them is the stuff of Nigerians especially the leaders – both political office holders and public servants. The practice has eaten so deep into the norm that Nigerians don’t bother to believe what politicians say and promise when seeking votes. In Nigeria, no one believes the fantastic things marketers say when they want to sell their products and services.

Journalists in Nigeria have therefore been trained to be career doubters. Journalists are wired not to believe what people in government say except they see concrete evidence to buttress the claims.

So I believe I am not the only member of the National Media Team (NMT) on this year’s Hajj who doubted the possibility of fulfilling all the beautiful things said by officials of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) about how prepared they were to give pilgrims a standard health care service in Makkah and Madinah. Since preparations for this year’s Hajj started about two months ago, the Chairman of NAHCON, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, and his surrogates – commissioners, spokesmen, members of the medical team etc – have used different fora to explain the measures they have put in place to ensure that pilgrims are treated to world class medical care by core professionals in very serene and conducive clinics in strategic places in Saudi Arabia.

The Commission also started on time to give intending pilgrims useful orientation about how to take care of their health to reduce incidences of avoidable illnesses in the Holy Land.

Through virtual platforms and physical sessions, intending pilgrims were warned of the weather condition in the country which was, and still is, in excess of 40 degrees, and to avoid diseases caused by extreme heat, they were urged to avoid loitering, stay indoors and drink enough water to prevent dehydration.

Intending pilgrims were also urged to quickly report to the medical team if they feel strange symptoms so they can be treated immediately.

By its nature and history, Hajj is a physically demanding and energy-sapping exercise, though spiritually rewarding and worth it. That could be why Allah (SWT) in His infinite mercy did not make it mandatory for all Muslims. Rather, He made it compulsory for only Muslims who are financially and physically capable of going through the rigours of it.

Falling sick and even dying in the course of performing this religious obligation is not an uncommon occurrence. Since Allah (SWT) has decreed that people from all parts of the world must converge on this land to worship Him, stampede is a possibility just like people contracting different contagious ailments from one another. Changes in weather, food and water also predispose pilgrims to all manners of illnesses. That is why every country must have solid provision on ground to give the best care to their pilgrims when they need it. That was what NAHCON promised Nigerian pilgrims. Let us see if that is what the Commission’s medical team is delivering.

My Experience

Journalism keeps me awake round the clock and leaves only few hours to sleep and do other things. I however try to do the basics to keep fit and healthy – play ping pong, run around with the kids and play football with them on Saturdays, and occasionally indulge in pleasurable reading, watch (Nigerian) movies and listen to our home-made songs just to relax the mind and keep away from stress.

I am fortunate not to ever have been admitted in the hospital all my life. I have also never gone through any form of surgery before nor received drip or blood transfusion into my body. But I am prone to headache, malaria fever, flu, sore throat and the likes and it happens quite often these days.

In fact, I was just recovering from one when I was told that Allah called and duty also called, that I had to join the NMT to this year’s Hajj. After weeks of necessary preparations and documentations, I boarded Flynas Aircraft with Niger state pilgrims from Abuja to Madinah in the evening of Saturday June 10.

We arrived Madinah in the wee hours of Sunday and while passing through routine checks, one of the Immigration officers gave us a tablet to swallow but because there was no water there and again I was wondering what the tablet was meant for, I just put it in my bag.

It was when this nagging headache, back pain and sore throat started the following day that a doctor who was in the same hotel with me told me the tablet was a preventive medication which could have helped me to cope better with the harsh weather condition and change of environment that caused my illness. I felt bad when he told me he swallowed his own tablet immediately and the 59-year-old was coping better with the 45 degrees heat in the city of Madinah.

That was when I now swallowed mine but it was like campaign after election as my situation got worse on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the doctor couldn’t treat me as he had only equipment to check my BP and heartbeat. According to his findings, my BP was 110/73 which was perfect and my heartbeat rate was also in very good condition. He therefore diagnosed that there was no serious underlying problem behind my condition, that it was just the strange environment I found myself.

He then advised me look for NAHCON’S official clinic in Madinah. I immediately called the NAHCON official who we were told from Abuja would be responsible for our welfare. To show how seriously NAHCON takes the health of pilgrims in this place, he told me the clinic was in the NAHCON office building in another part of the city and he would come with a bus to ‘evacuate’ me immediately. Before I could finish typing my hotel name and sending to him via WhatsApp, he was already downstairs waiting with the driver. When I came down from the 11th floor of my five-star hotel, I saw a White Toyota Bus with Media written on it and I quickly jumped in.

Driving through the beautiful city which I saw last in 2014 when I earlier performed Hajj, I couldn’t help but marvel at the infrastructural upgrade and visible urban renewal that have gone into the city since that year.

The clinic is occupying the entire first floor in the NAHCON building. The first nurse who attended to me asked questions about my details, symptoms, checked my BP and weight and got to work. My BP was now 120/80 and weight was a little above 80kg. She put all the details of her observation together and sent to the doctors on duty electronically. No one needed to carry any archaic file from one office to the another.

Meanwhile, while I was interacting with one of the many doctors on duty, another man walked in and introduced himself as a psychiatric doctor, that he was on NAHCON duty as well and that he was called to attend to a patient. The doctor who was attending to me quickly rose to take his colleague to the room where his expertise was needed.

I later got to know that a pilgrim was being taken care of in the facility and the case was mental in nature. This shows that mental health cases are more prevalent in Nigeria than we are willing to admit. It was however gratifying to know that NAHCON realised this and was fully prepared, having come along with that particular expert all the way from Nigeria.

If the nurse and doctor who attended to me were professional and attentive, the pharmacist was diligent, thorough, kind, jovial and friendly. She spent half of the thirty minutes I spent with her eulogising my name and surname and constantly reminding me of how special the combination was. I wanted to blush but my wish to quickly get to the hotel, eat and take the drugs according to her direction overwhelmed that desire. But I appreciated her kindness with words. It was Maghrib time and immediately after prayer, I was driven to my hotel.

Meanwhile, while I was putting this piece together, the Head of the NAHCON Medical Team, Dr Usman Galadima, revealed to us that the Commission would operate seven clinics in the city of Makkah. He added that three of the clinics were already in operation while the remaining four would come up in a matter of days.

With the three functional clinics, Dr Galadima said they were treating an average of 300 pilgrims everyday and when the four other clinics come up, their task would become easier.

The 2023 Hajj season is coming close to its business end as pilgrims troop in from different parts of Nigeria. I will be on the look out to see how far the NAHCON Medical Team sustains its impressive start. But as far as the scorecard of the team is concerned, for now, I can say so far so good… A beautiful case of promise made and promise kept.

Abdulrahman Abdulraheem is the Managing Editor of PRNIGERIA and ECONOMIC CONFIDENTIAL.