No narrative of the evolution of reproductive health in Nigeria would be complete, or even meaningful, without a resounding mention of Chief (Mrs) Grace Ebun-Oluwa Delano. The depth, diversity and duration of her contributions, especially in the entrenchment of modern family planning in the country, are phenomenal and deserve reverential attention.
The nursing matriarch was there from the early years of an indigenous push for family planning in Nigeria. She contributed to its gestation, worked assiduously for its implementation, went to extreme lengths for its propagation, and continues to build lasting legacies towards its consolidation.
Incidentally, Delano’s extraordinary footprints in the field of reproductive and family health field seemed predestined. In the first place, she had been born into a family with reproductive health issues, which had propelled her desire to study nursing and midwifery. According to her, “My reason for wanting to be a midwife was based on the reproductive history of my family, especially that of my mother, who had infertility for 12 years, wasted pregnancies and high infant mortality.”
Secondly, her conception had been unplanned and her survival had not been expected. The situation had been really dire for her mother, whose name, “Durojaiye” (meaning “Stay alive to enjoy life” in Yoruba), suggests that she herself had been born after previous stillbirths. When she unexpectedly conceived Delano at the age of 44 – ten years after having her only surviving child – it was with mixed emotions. She was embarrassed to be carrying a pregnancy at such an advanced age and she was not sure of carrying the pregnancy to term or birthing a living child.
Against all odds, Delano was born on 13 November, 1935, a healthy, bouncy baby. And even though her parents still feared that she might be an “abiku” (a re-incarnation of the previous dead children, who might still choose to join the others), they considered her conception and successful birth a miracle and named her Grace Ebun-Oluwa (“Gift of God”).
Gifted to humanity
While Delano’s parents might have thought they were merely acknowledging God’s goodness to them, they were actually forecasting her future – as Delano grew to not just become a priceless gift to her family but to multitudes of women, children and youths in Nigeria, Africa and beyond! From the point that she came to the realisation that the fertility and fatality issues that troubled her lineage and several other families in the country were caused by ignorance, unhealthy practices and preventable childhood diseases, she vowed to be the one to reverse the trend.
And for someone known to be a daring achiever from her early years, Delano has meritoriously spent the bulk of her lifetime combatting infant and maternal mortality. She is particularly renowned for her relentless commitment to correcting misconceptions, while providing education, counselling, and quality maternal and child health services, especially to the underserved.
Path to impact
With her parents being prominent residents of Kaduna, in northern Nigeria, Delano had her primary and secondary education in Kaduna, Lagos and Ogun States between 1940 and 1955. In 1956, she was sent to England for her nursing and midwifery training. From age 21, in 1956, she had a series of training in nursing and midwifery, including a specialist training that qualified her to provide care to women who preferred home delivery.
It was during her specialist training that Delano discovered that there were several Irish women having many pregnancies, which put them at risk, just like the women in her home country. This inspired her to go for a specialised training on family planning in Euston, London.
Having been armed with ample knowledge and experience that she needed to fulfil her mission back home, Delano returned to Nigeria in 1961. She reunited with her Nigerian husband, whom she had met and married in London in 1960 but had returned to Nigeria before her.
Bustling with the passion to save as many women and children as possible from needless deaths, Delano went to work immediately. Her keenness was so intense that, 48 hours after she had her first baby in January 1962 and had not been discharged from the maternity ward, she went for an interview at the University College Hospital, (UCH) Ibadan, as midwife.
Delano worked as a midwife in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, UUCH, Ibadan, between 1962 and 1970. She gained widespread popularity with the patients, staff and consultants for her exceptional expertise, professionalism and commitment to duty. Professor O. A. Ojo, the first Nigerian head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, consequently invited her to team up with him in the Population Programme of the College of Medicine to set up the first integrated family planning clinic in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Through her innovative and multifaceted efforts, the objectives of the family planning clinic were tremendously achieved, as many women and families came to accept the necessity and safety of family planning methods and devices. The clinic ultimately became a huge success and has now metamorphosed to the present Fertility Research Unit of the College of Medicine, UCH, Ibadan.
Not only did the family planning clinic become the model for the integration of family planning into the departments of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in tertiary institutions nationwide, but its messages and services (as coordinated by Delano) spread from Ibadan to other cities, as well as rural areas across Nigeria and many parts of Africa. Delano soon became a consultant to many other African countries, with much of her work being funded or part-funded by international agencies like USAID, Pathfinder International and the Ford Foundation.
Unsurprisingly, the first family planning textbook to be ever produced in Nigeria for clinical services was solely authored by her. In all, she has presented no fewer than 98 scholastic papers, authored 16 books and co-authored over 14 others, all aimed at improving knowledge and enhancing performance to reduce maternal and infant mortality and morbidity rate in the country.
Birth of ARFH
In 1989, Delano co-founded the popular non-governmental and not-for-profit organisation, Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH), with renowned obstetrician and gynaecologist, Prof. O.A. Ladipo. The association is known for programmes that mobilise people for behavioural and attitudinal changes that promote best sexual and reproductive health practices in order to reduce diseases burden, particularly sexual and reproductive health issues.
Over the years, the association has expanded its activities to accommodate issues, such as adolescent sexual health, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other non-communicable diseases which are currently devastating families and communities in Nigeria and globally.
Awards and recognitions
Chief (Mrs) Delano, has received numerous awards and recognitions for her impactful efforts. In 1993, she was honoured by WHO with the Sasakawa Health Award for innovative work in health development. In 1997, she was honoured by the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria with the “Florence Nightingale Award”, in recognition of her achievements in elevating the status of the nurse/midwives in other fields of endeavour other than nursing.
In 2000, she received the Pathfinder Millennium Award by Pathfinder International, in recognition of her contribution to Pathfinder’s success in improving the quality of life of the under privileged and its programming in Nigeria. In 2001, she was honoured with the 20th Century Distinguished Award by the West African College of Nursing in Monrovia, Liberia, in recognition of her contribution to Nursing Education and Nursing Services.
Delano has received several other awards and recognitions that are too numerous to mention here.These include the chieftaincy title, “Ekerin Iyalode of Ake”, for her contributions to the development of Ogun State.