One of the key components of the five-point agenda of the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel is provision of qualitative healthcare to the people of Akwa Ibom State. The priority attention given to healthcare is borne out of the governor’s understanding that developments in other facets of life would be meaningless in a state that cannot boast of a healthy population.
He set out on assumption of office in 2015 to reform and reposition the health sector to be able to play the role expected of it as one of the two sectors that hold the key to human development (the other is education). This was against the background of the fact that the sector had virtually broken down, with dilapidated infrastructure as evidence of many years of abandonment.
Governor Emmanuel signalled his recognition of primary healthcare as pivotal to the delivery of qualitative healthcare services by signing into law a bill to establish the Akwa Ibom State Primary Healthcare Board, appointing the executive secretary and also constituting the board of the agency to enable it take off fully.
The primary healthcare agency has made it possible for the state government to effectively tackle common health challenges like malaria, diarrhea and malnutrition, with considerable reduction in infant and maternal mortality rates in the state.
With assistance from the American Presidential Malaria Initiative (PMI)/United States Agency for International Development, the government is going to distribute 3.3 million long-lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLIN) to every household in the state to combat the scourge of malaria. This is arguably the highest number of beneficiaries in one state in the federation when juxtaposed against the state’s population. Recruitment of 16,000 indigenes of the state for the campaign is about to begin.
Under the Saving One Million Lives Performance for Results (SOML P for R) programme, the government has been able to address adequately health issues such as malnutrition, HIV/AIDS and immunisation, as well as provision of essential drugs and development of infrastructure to strengthen healthcare delivery in the state. In order to reduce the HIV/AIDS prevalence in the state, the government received 727 test kit packs to enable easy and instant counselling and testing of all women attending antenatal clinics. This is to ensure that any woman that tests positive to the disease is immediately placed on treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
The Akwa Ibom State government takes infant health seriously, because of its desire to nurture a healthy youth population to give practical meaning to the time-worn maxim that children are the future of tomorrow. To this end, it has in place the Maternal, New-born and Child Health (MNCH) programme that involves weekly practical sessions on maternal, newborn and child health, which are conducted to emphasise the importance of primary healthcare, including nutrition and immunisation.
In recognition of the strategic importance of infrastructure to the realisation of the goals of SOML, the Udom administration has embarked on provision of such basics amenities like water, office and residential accommodation as well as other infrastructures that are required to make the programme achieve its objectives. It has completed mini water schemes at primary health centres (PHCs) in Ediene Atai, Ikono Local Government Area, and Ikot Edem Udo, in Onna Local Government Area, while a similar project at Idung Iniang, Eket Local Government Area, is ongoing.
Provision of various infrastructures in PHCs scattered all over the state is ongoing. The maternity block at Ediene Atai is currently being renovated, so also is the marketing block at Ndem Ebom, in Uruan Local Government Area, where a perimeter fence is being constructed, and staff quarters in Ibong Otoro, Abak Local Government Area
Perhaps in no other area is the intervention of the Udom administration in healthcare delivery more visible than provision of critical infrastructure in secondary health institutions around the state. Many years of official neglect and near abandonment had made hitherto famous hospitals a shadow of their former selves, perhaps worse than “mere consulting clinics,” which the late Sani Abacha, then a Brigadier-General, described Nigerian hospitals in a coup broadcast toppling the government of the late Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983.
The hospitals included St. Luke’s Hospital, Anua, Uyo Local Government Area; Methodist Hospital, Ituk Mbang, in Uruan Local Government Area; Iquita Hospital, Oron, Immanuel Hospital, Eket, and Etinan Hospital, to mention a few.
In just a little over three years, the Udom administration has not only turned around the fortunes of those hospitals in terms of infrastructure and equipment, it has also constructed new ones to increase access to healthcare all over the state.
The state government has embarked on a massive reconstruction and renovation exercise that has no precedent in the state, literally bringing back to life health institutions that had long been passed for dead. They include remodelling of the Etinan General Hospital, including provision of modern theatres, an accident and emergency (A&E) department, maternity and general wards, as well as road network and reconstruction works at General Hospital, Ituk Mbang, where modern theatres, A&E department, staff and patients’ quarters, and perimeter fence have been provided.
The General Hospital, Ikono, has been reconstructed, fully equipped and inaugurated in the first phase of its development. Work is ongoing on the second phase. A similar exercise has been carried out at the General Hospital, Ikot Okoro, Abak Local Government Area. Reconstruction work at Awa Comprehensive Health Centre is nearing completion, while those involving General Hospital, Iquita, and Immanuel Hospital are ongoing.
Provision of infrastructure has involved reconstruction of the Oxygen Plant at Ikot Ekpene, to enable it supply oxygen to other hospitals in the state; procurement of automated external defibrillators and ECG machines for use in emergency response to cardiac arrests and other cardiovascular diseases, as well as equipment of the Emergency Operation Centre at Ikot Ekpene, and furnishing of flats for call duty doctors.
The Udom government ties provision of infrastructure to manpower development and training in its effort to deliver qualitative healthcare to the people of the state. This explains its huge investment in training.
The administration has so far trained and refreshed 20 biomedical engineers who would handle maintenance of the sophisticated equipment it is installing in hospitals around the state, and provided training and residential quarters for 98 house officers in state hospitals and the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital. It has trained and certified 100 doctors and nurses in Basic Life Support and Advanced Cardiac Life Support, conducted by medical emergency training experts from the United States.
A major feature of the Udom administration’s healthcare delivery programme is quick and timely intervention in emergency health situations, which has seen the state arrest unforeseen developments before they get out of hand. Such timely interventions resulted in the prevention of the spread of Lassa fever and Monkey pox diseases when they reared their heads in other states.
The government conducted a 21-day free eye care outreach mission in partnership with MTN, which had 15,350 beneficiaries, 1,150 eye surgeries and distribution of 200 pairs of glasses.
If Governor Emmanuel has achieved so much in less than four years, it can only be left to the imagination how much he would achieve in another four years, in his effort to bring qualitative healthcare delivery to the doorstep of every Akwa Ibomite, wherever in the state they may reside.
•Clement, a journalist, writes from Lagos.