Sunday Magazine

Abia medical centres: Tales of abandoned, neglected facilities

•Doctors work on empty stomachs, owed 13 months salaries

 

•We‘ll witness revolution in facilities –Govt

 

Coronavirus is the most talked about ailment in the world today, including Nigeria. Ninety five percent of publication on health and related issue is on the pandemic. Before now, there were other diseases such as malaria, typhoid wreaking havoc on mankind, They will still remain with us after coronavirus might have been defeated. States are putting up facilities with which to combat Coronavirus. They showcase such facilities to the media, get deserved and underserved applauds. EMMANUEL IFEANYI writes on the health facilities in Abia State to ascertain their standards during COVID-19 era and possible standard post COVID-19

 

 

A community leader in Nkwor- Amiyi Autonomous Community, Okoko-Item, Bende Local Government Area, Abia State, Comrade Uche Emeku Udensi, is a sad man. Not that any calamity has befallen him. It is far from it. Udensi is saddened by the sorry state in which the Umunneato General Hospital has fallen into.

 

Umunneato General Hospital takes a pride of place in his life as it was where his life and that of his mother were saved during the civil war. His mother told him the story of when he took ill and was rushed to the health facility. The dedication of the doctors and the nurses as well as the state of the health facility thrilled him. All of that is no more, as the hospital is now a shadow of it used to be.

 

“The only thing left at Umunneato General Hospital right now is the Psychiatry department. Some nurses also come around there to learn one thing or the other, but as for medical care nothing exists there. “I’m not happy about the situation at Umunneato General Hospital. My mother  told me as a little boy that during the Civil War, my life and hers were saved there.

 

My mother told me that if not for that hospital and an Irish doctor who was very dedicated to saving us, we would have died. He treated me for free. “This hospital serves the people of Item, Igbere, Alayi, Ugwueke and almost the whole of Bende LGA and the people that transit that route. You’ve gone inside there, I’m sure you saw there’s nothing to write home about there,” Udensi said. Umunneato General Hospital is a replica of the sordid state to which government health facilities have fallen into. From Primary Health Centres to the secondary health facilities, the story is the same.

 

 

There is nothing to write home about the hospitals. A visit to some Primary Health Centres in Bende Local Government Area and Isuikwuator Local Government Area all in Abia North Senatorial District, is a story of neglect and total collapse of what supposed to be the local population’s first point of call for any health complications. Udensi while speaking on the conditions of Primary Health Centres in Bende LGA precisely in his Item community, said that the Primary Health Care Centres which should act as emergency unit or at best first aid are none existent in the local government area.

 

 

Hear him: “At Okagwe-Item, there is only a Primary Health Centre there. You only see two persons who said they are nurses. That Health Centre is located in one of the nine villages that make up Item Community. “Everything there concerning health is gone. At Okoko-Item, it is the community that runs the health centre and maternity there. The European Union helps in supplying drugs to those health centres.” Udensi called on the Abia State Government and well meaning individuals to look into the health of the rural people.

 

He stressed that a sick rural population without good medical care will surely rob off on the urban areas economically. Sunday Telegraph reports that in Abia’s three senatorial zones, eight federal constituencies and 17 local government areas, getting a decent government owned hospital is as difficult as getting gold on the surface.

 

Encyclopedia Britannica defined a hospital as an institution that is built, staffed, and equipped for the diagnosis of disease; for the treatment, both medical and surgical, of the sick and the injured; and for their housing during this process.

 

If the above definition is anything to go by then, majority of the General Hospitals in Abia State may be many things, but definitely not hospitals as they are nowhere near the local standard of that definition. From investigation carried out, only the Specialist Hospital at Amachara, Umuahia and the Federal Government owned Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Umuahia came close to looking like a hospital.

 

Although the facilities at Amachara are not really close to what is being projected by some government agents, it is still the only state owned hospital right now in Abia that is ready. This was also proven when the state government chose the same Specialist Hospital to house the only functional COVID-19 Isolation Centre in the state. A visit to the Isuikwuator General Hospital at Mbalano presented a horrible sight. There was absolutely nothing good to talk about it. The place is only hospital in name. “The only functional section at the Isuikwuator General Hospital may be the Mortuary because that place is a shame to everyone of us from this area,” Elder Michael Ikemefula, a retired Civil Servant and a village head in Mbalano community, Isuikwuator LGA said.

 

Ikemefula said that the hospital which was originally designed to handle the medical cases of all communities in Isuikwuator, has become a source of shame to his people. On the Primary Health Centres in the LGA which Sunday Telegraph visited, Ikemefula said, “The Ahaba Primary Health Centre is an embarrassment. If you want to die no matter how unserious your illness is, just go there. “They have absolutely nothing. When you went there what did you see? Was it not just a sign post describing all kinds of medical services, which they don’t even have what it takes to attend to one.

 

The only thing that is existing at Ahaba Primary Health Centre are the two tired nurses there. “The Cottage Hospital, Ahaba is in a mess. The whole of Isuikwuator is just living at the mercy of God. We’re like a forgotten people. I’m not saying government should do everything for us, but I think they can do better. Do you know that the General Hospital has no resident doctor?

 

“They are two doctors there, but if you go there in the night you are on your own. Even in the day, pray you are lucky to come when the doctors are around. At times by 10AM nobody even nurses and none-medical staff will be seen there. “That Hospital is strategically located very close to the local government Secretariat for a good reason. Our pregnant women, our wives, our children, old men like me and old women, depend on that thing you see there to survive, but are we really surviving?

 

He answers: Not really, because we are alive by the grace of God only.” At the Isiala-Ngwa General Hospital, located very close to Okpuala Ngwa Secretariat, Isiala-Ngwa South LGA, the story is not different. There, another deplorable and neglected important health institution. Findings showed that the hospital which sees 150-200 patients every month is understaffed with majority of her important medical wards dilapidated and totally uninhabitable.

 

The Okpuala Ngwa General Hospital has only three doctors, 10 nurses, one pharmacist, two ophthalmologists and two laboratory scientists. The man power shortage at the hospital affects both patients and staff as it does not allow them to observe shifts as should be the case with proper staffing.

 

The deplorable state of male wards inside the Okpuala General Hospital which ought to take care of the medical needs of all the residents of Isiala-Ngwa North and Isiala-Ngwa South Local Government Areas can make one’s heart bleed. From the entrance to inside most of the buildings have been abandoned. It is far cry of what used to be a bee hive of activities, everything about the Okpuala Ngwa General Hospital is pitiable.

The only existing and equipped ward in the hospital is the Mother and Child Ward renovated by telecommunications giant, MTN. The hospital has vast space of land that can be used to erect more buildings if need be, but most of the existing buildings are in embarrassing state of disrepair with  their ceilings and windows pleading for urgent replacement.

 

One of the workers who spoke to Sunday Telegraph on condition of anonymity, said that the Okpuala Ngwa General Hospital did not get any reasonable supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from Abia State Government during this period of Coronavirus. At the Abia General Hospital located in the heart of Abia’s commercial hub, the story is even more pathetic. The popular and strategically located hospital gave a clear picture of a state where health is not considered as a priority.

 

The Hospital which was once served as the Abia State University Teaching Hospital is now abandoned, with offices of medical staff looking like an old village hall. The gate actually looks very nice and attractive, but a trip inside paints a picture of a white sepulcher. Dilapidated buildings and poorly reconstructed ones are the common thing for every visitor to see.

 

A visit to the kitchen and laundry department showed that those two have ceased to exist as a result of neglect and no payment of salaries by Abia State Government. Almost all existing facilities are gone. Abia State Government in 2018 announced that the hospital has been refurbished for better medical services, but that is far from the truth.

 

Most of the buildings renovated two years ago have gone bad as a result of shoddy jobs done there. On a visit to the Okeikpe General Hospital in Ukwa West LGA, Sunday Telegraph reports that the situation at the Aba General Hospital is a child’s play. The Okeikpe General Hospital which is meant to take care of the entire Ukwa West and Ukwa East LGA is deserted and empty. The situation of the Okeikpe General Hospital which is located adjacent the Ukwa West LGA Secretariat in Okeikpe is not helped by the deplorable Obehie- Akwete-Azumini-Ukanafun highway which is the only access road to it.

 

The Owaza Cottage Hospital also in Ukwa West is another place better imagined than visited when in need of health care. However, one thing that cannot be taken away from the Owaza Cottage Hospital is its nice structure and location. It has a ward with empty beds, no doctor and about two nurses. The hospital is as bad as abandoned notwithstanding its beautiful environment. No patient was seen as the place looks forgotten. A visit to the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) Aba, one of the medical facilities mapped out to be used as COVID-19 Isolation Centre showed that it is the only Hospital where work is truly ongoing. The IDH was built during the colonial era and has been abandoned for many years.

The emergency ugly visit of Coronavirus pandemic pushed the state government to try and renovate the hospital. Aside from poor facilities, another major problem facing medical personnel in Abia State is non-payment of salaries by the state government. Some doctors in separate interviews with Sunday Telegraph said that government’s attitude towards their welfare is a huge source of concern to them especially as they are owed 13 months’ salaries.

 

Medical Director, Okpuala Ngwa General Hospital in Isiala Ngwa North Local Government Area, Dr. Bamachy Onyemachi, said the staff work on empty stomach as they have not been paid their wages in the last 13 months. Dr. Samuel Ukoh, the Medical Director, Aba General Hospital said the foremost challenge of their work in Abia now is the poor remuneration and salary debts owed them by Abia government.

 

Ukoh who described the location of the Aba General Hospital inside the city’s metropolis as strategic, said that if Abia government should equip the hospital appropriately, it would improve the lives of residents in the city. He said, “They slash our salaries, they pay some staff and leave others; there is no vehicle to move or bring patients. “Even during the COVID-19 lockdown, we were all on duty and many of our staff without vehicles were trekking to work.

 

“Another challenge facing us is that they have not been implementing our Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS). Our male surgical ward, old maternity wards are in dilapidated state as well.” The Medical Director, Aba Cottage Hospital, World Bank Housing Estate, Dr. Chima Okeugo said his hospital functions with equipment mostly donated to it by non-governmental organizations. Okeugo, who is the Abia State Chapter Chairman of the National Association of Government General Medical and Dental Practitioner (NAGGMDP), stressed that some issues the government failed to attend to was troubling the system.

 

He said that huge salary arrears owed medical staff in Abia was hampering progress and asked the government to pay them their 13 months’ salary arrears and other benefits. The Abia NAGGMDP Chairman also lamented the imposition of non-career personnel at the leadership levels in Abia’s Health Management Board (HMB) as a problem which needs urgent attention to save the system from collapse.

 

Okeugo pleaded with government to allow for career progression among the HMB staff to encourage accountability, healthy competition and hard work among them. Abia State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jonathan Osuji said that the State government has responded positively towards the improvement of the health facilities during the COVID-19 period.

 

Osuji went on to say that Abia State and the entire Nigeria will witness revolution in new medical facilities as the COVID-19 era has brought about serious improvement in many health facilities. He said that the state has increased her testing capacity through the procurement of some necessary machines needed for the tests.

 

He said that Abia has purchased and received different types of testing machines will help in COVID-19 result turnaround and will now afford her to test a lot of samples. Explaining more on the testing machines, Osuji said Abia now has a 4 Module GeneXpert Machine that gives her four results every 45 minutes. He added that the implication of this is that if the laboratory experts work for 10 hours, using GeneXpert 4-Module they will be getting 40 results. The Commissioner said that Abia can also boast of a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine donated by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) which gives 75 results in one hour.

 

Osuji also said that a 16 Module GeneXpert is already being placed to be fixed at the Aba General Hospital. He explained that the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH), Aba is now for Isolation and treatment of COVID-19.

 

 

“Post COVID-19, the entire country not just Abia State will have a revolution of new medical facilities because if we can stay in this country and get ourselves treated without going outside then all the facilities we are looking for outside, the government will make sure they are provided so that we can have good health facilities and the manpower to handle  those facilities,” Osuji said.

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