About the Film
When prayer is not enough, people turn to Lady Madonna.
Lady Madonna is a documentary feature chronicling the humanitarian works of a dedicated team of healthcare providers at Madonna Hospital. A modest Nigerian hospital in the rural city of Umuahia, their mission is to serve anyone who comes through the doors. Faced with the daily challenges of keeping their doors open while serving a community that can not always pay for the services received, the hospital staff is often stretched to the limits to make the most of the narrow resources at their disposal. Operating under what some might call “battlefield conditions,” the hospital and the medical professionals there persevere in the face of all adversity.
We follow Dr. Ogbonna, a family physician and the lead doctor at Madonna Hospital as he tries his best to serve the community of Umuahia while keeping everyone laughing. Limited by the resources of this Catholic mission hospital he works tirelessly to compete with the Federal Medical Center, a local government hospital that is often too expensive for the average uninsured Nigerian and requires cash payment before any treatment or exam is performed. Dr. Ogbonna and the team at Madonna Hospital seek to provide the same standards for quality of patient care without requiring the patient’s ability to pay up front. Through his leadership and an incredible group of doctors and nurses, Madonna Hospital is able to meet and at time exceed those standards though at times it comes at a cost to the hospital and its staff.
From high blood pressure, to maternity care, and treating patients with HIV/AIDS, Madonna Hospital is a last bastion for those in the community unable to afford care at FMC. Those who can, pay something, while those who can’t are not turned away. Rather, the staff at Madonna Hospital work with patients and local charities to find the funding to provide care. Alongside Dr. Ogbonna and the rest of the staff at the hospital we follow three sets of patients, a hernia patient requiring an operation, a machete wound patient unable to pay his bill, and a pair of premature twins and their mother struggling to survive the first critical weeks of life outside the womb, through their healthcare journeys.
Started as a one-room eye clinic by Doctors Without Borders, Madonna Clinic quickly outgrew its humble beginnings. With the help of a Colorado based non-profit, the West African Development and Support Organization, the facility was expanded and a second story was built. New equipment and donated medications were shipped from the United States that allowed the clinic to expand. Now a fully functional medical facility, Madonna Hospital finds itself in direct competition for patients and personnel with the larger Federal Medical Center of Umuahia. Unable to match the salaries that FMC offers prospective doctors and nurses, Madonna Hospital struggles to maintain staff but offers a wider range of experience for those who do take the pay cut to work there.
When a group of American doctors visit the hospital on a medical mission, a wave of new patients arrive seeking care. This is a boost to the hospital’s reputation, but brings with it old stereotypes and the remnants of centuries of colonialism. The local population looks to Madonna Hospital because they are associated with Western NGOs, but it is difficult for the hospital to stand on its own. Over the course of their visit, it becomes clear that the hospital is more than capable of the task before it, but the lack of resources hinders their ability at times to do all that they can. Sometimes saving lives and sometimes losing them, caring for the community takes its toll. With lives in the balance every day, the hospital pushes on to provide the best care they can with the limited resources they have.
Stories that Matter
The stories we tell can change the world
Healthcare is one of the great moral issues of our time. We have the scientific knowledge and technology to treat a wide array of medical conditions, yet many of the most common and readily treated illnesses go undiagnosed simply because of a lack of access to medical treatment. We see this every day in the United States when people come into an Emergency Room with chronic illnesses that could have been treated with preventive care.
We have all seen (and been made to feel mildly distrustful of) what “Socialized Medicine” looks like, but it’s rare to see what “Capitalized Medicine” truly is in practice. With a cash up front payment model, Nigeria’s “Fee-for-Service” system is as purely capitalistic as it gets. While it is true that the United States also has a fee-for-service payment model for doctors, we have a highly modified form from the Nigerian model that includes provisions for, among other things, mandatory treatment at emergency facilities.
When someone comes into an Emergency Room in need of an amputation related to diabetes and can’t pay their bill, that procedure costs the hospital tens of thousands of dollars. That cost is then passed on to anyone that has health insurance. If, however, we can catch that diabetes early and treat it effectively, not only do we save those costs, but we save someone’s leg. If we treat high blood pressure and hypertension early, we can prevent catastrophic heart attacks and strokes while improving the quality of life of those individuals. These are not expensive things to treat if caught in time. As the son of two healthcare professionals, the solution seems obvious. Get people access to preventative care.
Unfortunately, the payment model for much of America is based not on the health care outcomes, but rather on the number of procedures done or tests run. Like the Nigerian system, American doctors are paid under a fee-for-service structure that rewards tests and operations. Unlike the Nigerian system, Americans believe in a social safety net. We have emergency rooms where anyone can go for treatment. We believe that our seniors should be automatically covered at the end of their lives when they need care most. With politicians continuing to argue over the Affordable Care Act, unless we in the States want to dismantle our Emergency Room system or cut Grams and Gramps off of Medicare to become more like the Nigerian system where people really are on their own, we need to have more and better access to care for all in order to prevent eventual medical outcomes that are more severe and more costly to treat later in life.
As the debate continues over how best to utilize the medical resources of our country, I want people to see the full range and realities of the spectrum. I want them to see how the policy choices of their government can drastically alter the lives of ordinary people. Most importantly, I want them to see that the modest efforts of non-governmental organizations are making significant differences at the local level and that these programs could be easily scaled to larger models if we decided as a society that they were worth our while. I am constantly inspired by the efforts of these volunteers and their commitment to making this world a better place.
Producer/Director - Chris Cloyd