Our Health: Our Wealth …A Silent Revolution Cascades Into A Huge Success Story, Forcing Many To Wonder How Come, In Just Two Years?

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History has demonstrated that the most notable winners and achievers usually encountered heart-breaking obstacles and challenges before they triumphed.  They won because they refused to be discouraged by challenges and defeats.

The legendary Bertie C. Forbes may have had in mind Rt. Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Governor of Rivers State when he encapsulated his philosophical thought in the aforementioned thought-provoking proclamation.

Zig Ziglar even put it more succinctly when he wrote: “the person who will not stand for something will fall for anything.  Perhaps that is why Governor Amaechi, since his inauguration on October 25, 2007 decided to take a bold stand on the health system mainly, to revolutionalise the hitherto moribund sector to the admiration of all irrespective of their inclinations.

Amaechi’s pace-setting projects, programmes and policies in the health sector have, indeed, attracted the attention of stakeholders in the medical world who are now wondering if a medical personnel could do better if found in such position.

An objective appraisal of the score-card of Amaechi’s dispensation within the past two years of the inception of the regime shows that the governor from the onset knew where he was coming from and where he is heading to.

All nations of the world believe that health holds the key to industrialization and the economy of any modern society. In other words, a country’s, stability in economic development and advancement is to a great extent is determined by how widespread and reliable its healthcare delivery services, are using money, staff, equipment and drugs in different combinations to allow appropriate delivery of health interventions.

Interestingly, this reality poses a lot of challenges for the economy of Nigeria, especially against the realities on ground occasioned by economic meltdown.

Arguably, the health system in Nigeria over the years had virtually been moribund, with several health centres and hospitals overgrown with weeds and annexed both by reptiles and miscreants as residential areas, for lack of use.

Investigation reveals that Nigeria’s health system in terms of

            performance ranks 187th among 191 developing nations with poor health.

The rating is not surprising as the nation‘s health institutions, including the Federal Government owned tertiary health institutions, existed as mere consulting outfits.

It is, therefore not surprising also that the country’s maternal mortality ratio is one of the highest in the world at 800 per 100,000 persons.

Currently, several of the tertiary health facilities at the Federal level are ill-equipped and mal-functional.  A visit to the Abia State University Teaching Hospital, for instance, paints an indifferent picture in health care delivery by the Federal Government.

This is, however, worse than the situation at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH) which relatively is better equipped in terms of facilities, perhaps, because of the more industrialised nature of Rivers State, endowed with oil and gas resources.

In Rivers State, for instance, after the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in October, 2007, the Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi-led administration came up with a more result oriented drive in the health sector to promote good health through the execution of programmes and projects that impact positively on the less-privileged in both the rural and urban areas.

To actualise its vision, Governor Amaechi on November 7, 2007 swore-in a medical practitioner, Dr Sampson Parker as the Commissioner for Health who after a tour of various health facilities in the state swung into action to revitalise the system and translate the Governor’s vision into reality.

Two years after, projects embarked upon include: infrastructural development which are classified under primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare, manpower development; re-organisation of the central medical stores, commissioning of Auto-Disable syringe factory; as well as the introduction of the three-key internationally acclaimed strategies to check HIV/AIDS in Rivers State.

The state government first ensured that one hundred and sixty model primary health centres with state-of-the-art furniture and medical equipment, ambulances, including regular supply of water were put in place.

These centres, according to Dr Parker were distributed across all the local government areas of the state, with 105 of the centres built on a public-private partnership (PPP) by  Brunel Engineering Construction Company Limited, while others are being built by local contractors.

In order to ensure that the centres are functional, doctors were also posted to where they are supposed to be.  In addition, the state government approved the employment of 200 medical doctors midwives and nurses to encourage professionalism and excellence in the medical profession,” Dr Parker said.

Under secondary healthcare, the commissioner said arrangements have been put in place to carry out massive renovations and in some cases complete rebuilding and re-equipping of the general hospitals spread across the 23 local government councils.

“Meanwhile, we also carried out some minor renovations and completely built new ones like the Niger Hospital and the Dental Hospital,” he explained.

At the tertiary care level, the state government also carried out massive renovations, rebuilding and re-equipping of key medical units in the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital (BMSH). For instance the radiology and the clinical laboratories departments have undergone massive retooling, with the Clinotech Group of Canada acting as technical partners.

Also, a surgical theatre unit of three operating suites, a laundry unit, a sterilisng unit and an oxygen manufacturing plant with an adjoining intensive care unit was put in place at BMSH.

The wisdom behind the massive renovations, and re-equipping by the Amaechi-led government, parker said, was to prepare BMSH to be the nucleus of “our Teaching Hospital from which our medical school will emerge”.

In revamping of the health sector, manpower development, which is key in the running of the sector, according to Parker, was, over the years ignored, hence, the recruitment of manpower in the health sector is currently taking place to enhance the operation of the existing health facilities and others now under construction after a long period of embargo on employment.

Also, a general workshop on staff reorientation for hospital and departmental heads was carried on between 4th – 5th August, 2008, while, the training of House Officers and other interns is ongoing.  This, he said, has made it necessary for the government to acquire extra quarters for them.

“The post-graduate training of doctors in family medicine is in full swing as the BMSH is fully accredited to do so.  It has just graduated the first set of specialists.

“We have sharpened the technical skills of surgeons to be able to carry out knee replacement surgeries. This is done in collaboration with surgical missions from Belgium and Switzerland.  More of such missions are planned in various areas of surgery, especially with the completion of the modular theatre at BMSH.”

“Preparations have also reached an advanced stage to commence open heart surgeries in collaboration with Kanu Heart Foundation at the BMSH by the end of October, 2009,” Dr Parker further explained.

In line with the present administration’s policy of continuing projects embarked upon by previous administrations, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi commissioned the Auto-Disable Syringe factory on October 27, 2008.  He also released the sum of N600 million which was the amount needed to complete the factory.

The Auto-Disable Syringe factory, a project initiated by the Pan African Health Foundation (PAHF) Nigeria, a Port Harcourt-based Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) was abandoned midway to completion.

The factory has the capacity to produce 160 million syringes annually but the state government has expanded it to produce 180 million syringes which the Speaker, Federal House of Reprehensive, Rt. Hon. Demeji Bankole said will be of immense benefit to Rivers people in terms of economic empowerment and job creation.

In its commitment to eradicate the spread of malaria in the state, the state government, he said, purchased and distributed one million customised long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets, while N300 million has been budgeted for 2009 to control malaria scourge.

Also, over four million doses of anti-malaria drugs comprising ACTs (general malaria drugs) and sulphodoxin pyrimethamine (for intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in pregnancy) at the costs of over N216 million have been procured and distributed, according to the Project Manager, Malaria Control Project, Rivers State Ministry of Health, Dr Justina Jumbo.

The Director, Public Health, Dr Gabriel Abam also said in a bid to address malaria problem in the state, the government held its first summit on malaria from November 27th and 28th, last year.

“Government sponsored the state Ministry of Health to embark on massive campaign in the urban and rural areas so as to inform registered members to collect the treated bed nets for the prevention of malaria,” Dr Abam said.

In the area of ancillary services, the government has put in place a number of facilities to ensure that health services function without serious hitches.  The central medical stores, for instance, has been re-organised and it has established distributorship with most major pharmaceutical manufacturers and companies.

“Drug stock level went from N12 million in 2007 to over N40 million as at May 2009, while monthly sale of drugs has increased from N3 million in 2007 to over N100 million as at May 2009,” according to Dr Parker.

In the area of HIV/AIDS pandemic, the Rivers State government has introduced three internally acclaimed strategies to check the trend. These strategies include: care and support, mother-to-child transmission, and behavioural change communication.

According to the HIV/AIDS Programme Manager, Rivers State Agency for the Control of AIDS, RIVSACA), Dr Chimezie Okeh, in the area of care and support, a forum had been established for people living with HIV/AIDS.

It has become a fully established NGO known as life-line organisation.  This, he said, is based at the resource centre in Niger Hospital, Port Harcourt.

Through this forum, the programme manager said, people living with HIV/AIDS are enlightened through seminars and workshops on how, for instance, to live politely, with the virus, improving nutritional hygiene, and how to monitor their immunity, thus reducing or checking the effect of the infection.

Meanwhile, Anti-Retroviral therapy is given to people living with the virus free of charge, in spite of all the prevention, care and support.

In the area of prevention, Dr Okeh said behavioural change communication has been put in place to educate people on what HIV/AIDS is all about.  The target, he said, is the youth, both in and out of school.

The Commissioner for Health also stated that the Ministry in collaboration with World Bank empowered about 38 NGOs financially to carry out HIV/AIDS interventions in the 23 local government area of Rivers State.

A document made available to The Tide by the Rivers State Ministry of Health also indicates that a total of N95 million was released to carry out HIV/AIDS Control programme by the state government and the sum of N23 million was released for RIVSACA to implement programmes, while ARV drugs were purchased at N83 million last year.

It was observed by the Chairman, Nigeria Medical Association,, Rivers State Branch, Dr Dango Kalio that the health system, apart from recording a landmark achievement by Governor Amaechi’s administration, also amounts to a breakthrough.

The health ministry is also perceived as being the sector in which the Amaechi-led administration had been most ambitious in terms of development.

This explains why Rivers people are now confident enough to go for treatment in government-owned health facilities, a situation which had hitherto become a mirage given the decay in public health facilities.

But in all, stakeholders are agreed that the Health Sector in Rivers State has never been better and more ambitious, as the NMA Chairman, Dr. Kalio aptly captured it.

 

Goodluck Ukwe & Sogbeba Dokubo