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Woodbury family returns from mission trip in Nigeria

Queen Obasi, left, tends to patients in her native Nigeria during a December mission trip. Submitted photo1 / 3
Hundreds of patients wait to be seen by the Obasis and volunteers. Submitted photo2 / 3
Queen Obasi set up a mobile lab on her mission trip to Nigeria in December. Submitted photo3 / 3

While some families save up to vacation at a waterfront resort or an exotic island, a Woodbury couple plan a medical mission trip every year.

Queen and Cyprian Obasi, Nigerian natives who've lived in Woodbury for 27 years, have seen first-hand what others go through in the poor African villages that lack health care and education.

As founders and members of the African Community Health Initiative in Minnesota, the Obasis support their own annual mission trip every summer.

They were asked to go for a second time in 2012, and they recently returned from a trip they took over the holidays.

"We go from village to village," Queen Obasi said, adding that they bring a mobile lab with supplies needed to treat patients.

A nurse at St. Paul Public Schools and Allina Health, Obasi has been identifying those who suffer from diabetes, malaria, sexually transmitted diseases, hypertension and other long-term illnesses every year since 2006, she said.

In December, the couple worked with other volunteers to see 1,046 people in the 10-day span.

In addition to giving medication they transport from the United States, Queen and Cyprian Obasi provided more than 120 eyeglasses and held educational seminars to teach proper hygiene and nutrition.

But what stands out to them the most is the number of people who suffer from malaria and STDs.

"We concentrate more on the chronic diseases because of the prevalence," Obasi said.

According to the World Health Organization, the mortality rate for children under the age of 5 was 143 per 1,000 in 2010, while the number of reported deaths due to malaria was 197,216.

But Queen Obasi said a lot of the reported data does not include a number of patients who do not seek care, which is why it can be misleading.

Since 2007, the African Community Health Initiative screened about 14,512 patients. Of those 1,447 were diabetic and 3,595 were hypertensive, according to data provided by the non-profit organization.

"These people cannot afford medication ... I mean, they live under $2 a day," Obasi said. "Even if you're dying, you have to be able to deposit money before they see you."

Which is the reason why the organization found a building to start a maintenance program where patients can stay on track, she said.

The couple is hoping to raise enough funds to open the medical center in Nigeria so local health care volunteers can continue to see patients, provide medication and maintain proper treatments.

Obasi said while working in Nigeria, she teaches patients how to maintain their blood pressure and blood sugar. The group provides only one week's worth of medication at a time, forcing the patient to go back for more meds, while getting screened at the same time.

"It's been working out really, really well," Obasi said, adding that so far in the villages they've visited, the death rate from stroke victims has gone down.

To know that someday the maintenance program will be up and running will add to the Obasis' prevention mission, as well as provide supplies and support.

"But funding is a big problem," Obasi said.

As members of Christ Episcopal Church in Woodbury, they've received donations from other church members to help purchase supplies.

However, opening the centralized location will take more time until it's ready for patients, support group and classes, she said.

The African Community Health Initiative is comprised of 10 board members, including the Obasis.

The Obasis are the only family who plan an annual six-week trip, Obasi said.

And when a Nigerian politician found out about their mission in Nigeria, he asked if they could go for a second time in 2012 to help the sick in his hometown of Ogoniland.

"Right now, they need our support. We've got to be there," Obasi said.

The family is already planning to go in July with daughters, Vivian, who's seeking a master's degree in community health, and Lisa, a pre-med student.

"The people that we see, oh my God, overwhelmed and happy," Obasi. "Very appreciative."

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.