Dr. Chinonso Egemba, aka Aproko Doctor, recounts OGHENOVO EGODO-MICHEL about his career, achievements and other matters
To tell about tell us about your educational background
I went to Sunshine Primary School Lagos and St Michael’s College Lagos for my primary and secondary education respectively. For my college education, I attended Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Anambra State.
When did you realize you wanted to become a doctor?
I always wanted to become a doctor since childhood. I grew up reading a lot of medical books and there were a lot of them in my house then. One of my favorites was “Where There’s No Doctor”. So I had an interest in medical science until I started studying medicine. In fact, I wanted to be a surgeon.
How did you establish your brand, Aproko Doctor?
At one point in medical school, we were told to interact with a patient, which is called an internship in medical terms. I came across this man, who was hypertensive and had had a stroke. We got the information we needed from him and sent him to the doctor. The doctor spent almost an hour with him. When I returned (to the hospital) almost time for my final exams, I met this same man again in the ward. The only problem this time was that he had another stroke. It made me sick and I asked him a few questions. This experience made me realize that sometimes people don’t know and other times people talk to the doctor but don’t understand. So I wanted to use what I could to help out and pass on as much information as possible. The only way I could do that at that time was through awareness campaigns.
I started going to the villages to talk to older women and men to educate them on what they needed to know. Later, I realized that I had to go beyond that and that prompted me to audition on the radio. I went to audition at Blaze FM, but didn’t get called back as promised. I was also not selected in the next radio audition I did. That left me with one last option, which was social media. I started designing flyers and sharing graphics with relevant information about them and that’s how I got to where I am.
How did you manage to penetrate social networks as a doctor?
I think my storytelling skills coupled with my ability to break things down to the bare minimum allowed me to progress. I have this gift for explaining things well. No matter how smart you are, you will understand me correctly.
Do you also offer online consultations?
Yes. I offer online consultations even though I have online and offline patients.
What was the highlight of your time as a resident doctor at Imo State University?
I had a lot of interesting experiences. I did my house work at Imo State University, Imo. After that, I had to look around for work. One of my highlights was a child who was brought to the hospital in white paper. He was having convulsions and his mother was putting urine and cow dung in his eyes. The child’s condition continued to deteriorate and there was no one to help get the child to a proper hospital. The experience is remarkable because I had to offer help to the child myself and it is only one experience among many.
Some doctors have criticized you for giving unsolicited medical advice on social media. How do you respond to people like that?
First of all, I understand that my work is unconventional but important. I was able to build a community of people who now take their health seriously. I think the results speak. When people come up with lots of threads, I just tell them the results. Many people are now more cautious about their health and are aware of certain medical conditions. The reason I am doing this is that the health system in Nigeria is overwhelmed and one of the ways we can help reduce the number of people in hospitals is to focus on prevention.
Some doctors said I was wasting my time giving unsolicited advice at first, but over time the results spoke for themselves. Today, more and more physicians are taking health promotion seriously and getting creative to ensure that the message reaches as many people as possible.
Where have you practiced as a doctor?
I practiced at Imo State University, Avon Medical Practice and Simeon Hospital Abuja.
Doctors are leaving the country in droves to seek greener pastures abroad. Has this thought ever crossed your mind?
Yes, the idea crossed my mind and at some point I was preparing to take the exams and leave the country, but it helped me reach a lot more people and get recognition. So I had to focus on health promotion, using creativity and new media.
As a Red Cross volunteer and participant in numerous health campaigns, what is your motivation?
I doubt that I can particularly identify what motivates me. However, I have always been driven to give. When I started, the objective was not wrong but rather to ensure that people have access to the right knowledge and this is the same attitude that I adopted in volunteering activities. I always do it through the 100k Club. We paid the medical bills of people who couldn’t afford it, and we also ran health campaigns. For example, we recently screened 411 women in Lagos for cervical cancer and treated about 71 of them.
What is the 100,000 Club?
The 100k Club is a non-governmental organization whose goal is to provide total prevention and end health poverty. We recognized that there are two groups of people; those who cannot pay their medical bills and those who do not have access to quality health information and services. So many of our campaigns focus on prevention. Aside from cervical cancer, we also screened men for prostate cancer. Our most recent campaign took place at Ojota’s fleet in Lagos, which focused on malaria prevention. We screened and even treated people at the car park.
What notable contributions has your brand made to the Nigerian medical field?
We were able to show that there are easier ways to communicate behavior change, especially to the Nigerian community. We were able to communicate effectively with people, speaking their own language and being creative.
Your Twitter profile indicates that you are an actor. What are some of the movies you’ve starred in?
I starred in a Netflix movie called “Strain”. This is a film focused on sickle cell disease awareness. Also, before, my brand used to air short skits in which I played different characters to raise awareness among Nigerians about many issues. I played the role of an aboriginal doctor, a policeman and even a curious neighbor to spread the word. They can be viewed on YouTube.
Do you plan to venture into other businesses that are not related to medicine?
I intend to further develop myself in the media and help many qualified healthcare start-ups gain worthy exposure in Nigeria. I seek to effectively merge the world of media and medicine.
Given your active participation in the #EndSARS protest, what is your position regarding the 2023 general election?
If I have the chance to play partisan politics, I will, but I will seek a party whose political values correspond to mine. If you really want to change things, you have to be political. Young Nigerians have come to a point where they are now aware of the power of their votes. Before, the prevailing notion was that our votes did not count, but now we realize that our votes still count and we will use it. Who I will vote for, I have decided but I will not reveal the identity.
What is your opinion on horoscopes?
I don’t believe in horoscopes. I believe that we are who we are because of nature and nurture. Some experiences make us who we are.
What is your most memorable event since your childhood?
My most memorable event from my childhood is a bit dark. I woke up one morning to find that my mother’s store had been robbed.
How do you balance work and family?
It’s difficult. I’m not going to try to downplay it. Most of the time my attention is needed somewhere and for a while my relationship takes a turn for the worse until I deliberately take time for it.
What is your favourite sport?
Formula 1 is my favorite sport. The last time I was in Nairobi, Kenya, I was in an F1 simulator, racing. So if I have the opportunity to participate, I will always do so.
What are three things people don’t know about you?
I am very reserved. Most people assume I’m what I appear in my videos, but I’m usually very quiet. Second, I really like books. I like books beyond medicine, because I like to learn. The last is that I like who I am (laughs).