Rita Melifonwu, Ashoka Fellow, Founder and Chief Executive Stroke Action Nigeria shares her stroke support story

What has inspired you to be involved in stroke support?
My stroke support journey started as a teenager when my best friend’s father had a stroke in the 1970’s. When we went to visit him in the general medical ward at the teaching hospital it was frightening to see a previously active man paralysed, unable to speak and restricted to the bed. This made me want to know more about strokes so I ended up volunteering in Cheshire Homes in Uwani Enugu, Nigeria. Later my paternal aunt had a stroke whilst out shopping in Onitsha Nigeria. Without any ambulance to take her to the hospital or stroke unit care she had a tough time. Since then, I saw my father in law, my maternal aunt and my first cousin all have a stroke.  Apart from my maternal aunt, all these people have died. I came to realise early that stroke can happen to anyone and is no respecter of persons. I resolved to do everything I can to help prevent strokes.

How did the project come about?
As a senior nursing sister in London, UK, I soon realised that the majority of the black and minority ethnic patients on my ward either have one or two stroke risk factors, such as diabetes and hypertension, or, already have suffered a stroke. I then embarked on a massive strategic advocacy for better stroke awareness, prevention and care. This led to my winning the UK Department of Health’s Mary Seacole Nursing Leadership Award and establishing Stroke Action UK as a local stroke support organisation in Enfield Borough in March 2000. The charity supports stroke survivors, carers and at-risk people offering stroke advice, information, prevention advice clinic, rehabilitation and support to cope with life after a stroke. It is this model of care that has now been replicated as Stroke Action Nigeria since 2012.

What does stroke support look like in Nigeria?
Prior to the establishment of Stroke Action Nigeria in 2012 as a national stroke support organisation, there was no organised stroke support in Nigeria. Stroke patients were admitted into general medical wards if they were lucky to get to the hospital, and then, discharged home without any organised stroke care and community based support. At the inauguration of Stroke Action Nigeria on World Stroke Day 2012, we recruited and trained 28 Stroke Ambassadors (healthcare professionals, stroke survivors, carers, lay people). The Stroke Ambassadors were then supported to establish stroke support groups across eight states in Nigeria including: Abuja FCT, Anambra, Benue, Delta, Edo, Imo, Lagos, Ogun States.

Most recently however, there has been new stroke support organisations established by other people and this is good news for stroke survivors and carers in Nigeria.

What have been the highs so far for your project?
First and foremost, stroke survivors across eight states have access to basic stroke information, prevention advice and befriending through local stroke support groups. Furthermore, citizens have access to opportunistic community based health checks and prevention advice provided by our committed Stroke Ambassadors. We also have two Life After Stroke Centres in donated buildings in Abuja and Onitsha enabling stroke survivors and their carers to do extraordinary things.

Signing an MOU with the Federal Ministry of Health in 2013 was added value as it helped us to commence an annual Power to Stop Strokes Campaign incorporating the Stroke Assembly Conference and Walk and Run Against Strokes activity, as well as the inauguration of the first ever multi-disciplinary Nigeria Stroke Reference Group. These achievements enabled us to win the 2015 World Stroke Day Award.

What have been some of the outcomes of the projects?
For the first time in Nigeria, stroke is receiving national media and political attention due in part to our strategic advocacy. New stroke units have been established in Benin, Ilorin, Ibadan, Ife and Lagos. New stroke support groups have also emerged.

Stroke survivors and their carers are attending our Life After Stroke Centres to get ongoing support with their stroke recovery journey. Our Stroke Ambassadors are doing the best they can to facilitate the stroke support groups and Life After Stroke Centres with little or no financial support. There is so much work to be done and resources are needed to achieve positive outcomes.

A significant outcome is my appointment as an Ashoka Fellow for Health in July 2017. Over the coming years, we will be supported by the Ashoka Foundation to scale up our operations and make more impact.

What has been the feedback from stroke survivors to the project?
Stroke survivors and their carers are telling us that they are benefiting from the services that Stroke Action provides. We are seeing increased awareness and knowledge of strokes, optimal management of stroke risk factors, improvement in emotional wellbeing, and physical functioning, and reduced social isolation. 90% of the stroke survivors told us that attending our Life After Stroke Centres in Nigeria was the first time they have come out of their homes since having a stroke.

This month at the Onitsha Life After Stroke Centre we celebrated a 34 yr old graduate female stroke survivor whose Barthel Index Score increased from 7 to 9, and a 72-year-old whose score increased from 15 to 17 in one month. This is their first time of receiving stroke rehabilitation and support.

Adelle, the daughter of a stroke survivor in Lagos said “….my mother has fully recovered. I thank you for all the help you gave getting her well”.

What has been the response from others – community, doctors, politicians?
In Onitsha, His Royal Majesty, Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha donated a building that is home to the Onitsha Life After Stroke Centre. We also received the 2017 Achievement Award from the Onitsha Indigenous Community.

We have several doctors who became Volunteer Stroke Ambassadors because they value the contribution that Stroke Action makes to stroke care in Nigeria. Some of the doctors include Consultant Physician Dr John Mba who donated the building that hosts the Abuja Life After Stroke Centre, Professor Sunday Bwala, Chief Consultant Neurologist who is honorary adviser and the chair of Nigeria Stroke Reference Group; Dr Ogugua Osi-Ogbo Consultant Gerontologist who is our Lead Stroke Ambassador in Abuja; Dr Ann Ojimba, Consultant in Public Health Medicine who is our Lead Stroke Ambassador in Delta State and Dr Biodun Ogungbo, Consultant Neurosurgeon who is a Director of Stroke Action Nigeria.

Support from the Honourable Minister of Health to sign the MOU was a milestone with Politicians. Due to the transient nature of political appointments and competing priorities for politicians in Nigeria, building sustainable relationship with politicians is an area that more work needs to be done.

For more information on Stroke Action visit: http://www.strokeactionnigeria.com/  

Rita Melifonwu, Ashoka Fellow, Founder and Chief Executive Stroke Action Nigeria shares her stroke support story Reviewed by Sarah Belson on Saturday, March 03, 2018 Rating: 5


  1. wihh nice info
    kunjung balik, di web kami banyak penawaran dan tips tentang kesehatan
    Ada artikel menarik tentang obat tradisional yang mampu menyembuhkan penyakit berat, cek yuk
    Obat tradisional Stroke

  2. I work with a hospital,dedicated in stroke and other neurological problems ( Regions stroke and neuroscience hospital,IMO state,Nigeria) how can we get involved or be partners with you?

  3. Please take a look at the membership section of the WSO website https://www.world-stroke.org/membership/why-join-wso


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