GEANCO: 40 Years of Hope

by Katryna Starks

“When I grow up, I’m going to start a hospital.” For many, this would be a childhood dream that faded away to something more practical. For Godwin Onyema, the dream has held for over 40 years, and it is about to become a reality.

Godwin grew up in Nigeria, where he worked in his High School dispensary. He was very close with his History instructor and his wife, who was a missionary. They inspired him to realize that he, too, could make a difference. He completed medical school there, but moved to the United States shortly after. He made Chicago his home, where he practices as an OB/Gyn. Godwin’s life progressed. He married. He had children. But he never lost sight of his goal for Nigeria. He researched. He asked questions. He monitored the political and social situation in his homeland. And, when the time was right, he founded GEANCO.

GEANCO is the non-profit that Godwin is using to fund and carry out his hospital project. As the years have gone by, Godwin incorporated his family into his dream, even into the name of the organization. GEANCO is an acronym for the family: Godwin, Ebele, Afam, Nche/Nma, Chukwogozie, and Onyema. These names are the wife (Nma) and children in Godwin’s family, along with Godwin himself.

The need for a new hospital in Nigeria is great. Currently, the WHO ranks Nigerian healthcare 187 of 190. The bottom 3 in the world. Over a million children in Nigeria die each year from preventable diseases. The problem is two-fold. The first is that there is no health insurance or national health system in Nigeria. All health services cost a fee at the time the service is provided. Inpatient services include charges for the doctors and nurses as well as food, room, and supplies. Although Nigeria represents 1/5 of the population of Africa, 70% of them live below the poverty line ($1 U.S./day), meaning that when and where care is available, most cannot afford it.

The other problem is that, for even those who can afford it, adequate care is simply not available. According to Afam Onyema, COO of GEANCO and Godwin’s son, there are only 2 or 3 hospitals in Nigeria that are on par with western facilities. As a result, Nigeria’s elite, who can afford the best care, go to other countries to get it. Nigerians spend over 200 million dollars a year on medical tourism.

Augustine Memorial Hospital, GEANCO’s current project (named for Godwin’s father), will assist Nigerians on several fronts. It will be a state-of-the-art facility, which will draw some of the wealth from medical tourism back into Nigeria. It will also be a pay-for-service facility, but poor patients can apply for charity and receive care as well. Patients who are too poor to pay and cannot receive charity will also benefit from Augustine Memorial’s presence. Augustine will be a teaching hospital with a community focus. Not only will it provide exemplary care at its own facility, it will hold trainings for local doctors to take back to their facilities, improving care throughout Nigeria. Augustine Memorial’s initial focus will be on HIV and Malaria prevention and treatment, as well as prenatal and birthing care. Expansions will include surgical, laboratory, and pharmaceutical services as well as cancer care and burn units. Although Augustine Memorial will have the newest technology to provide care, they will also stay abreast of the low-tech ways to treat and prevent disease in order to raise the level of care provided by local doctors and by the community itself. Education regarding malaria prevention, vaccinations and prenatal care will greatly reduce the incidence of disease in local communities.

The entire GEANCO project will require 25 million dollars, which is just 1/6 of the cost of building a hospital in America. The first phase will only require 5-6 million dollars to complete. Land, equipment and supplies have been donated already, but more help is needed to see this dream come to fruition.

“Anyone who chooses to labor with us is now part of our Family. We welcome you!” – Godwin Onyema

For more information about GEANCO and how to help, visit the website: http://www.geanco.org/

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