Dr. Saka Haruna Audu, the Kogi State Commissioner for Health, whose name is on the lips of Nigerians as a weeping commissioner, in an interview with MUHAMMAD BASHIR in Lokoja, gave reasons why he wept. He equally explained the impending health hazzard that may befall the state, following the looting and vandalism of medical facilities by hoodlums who masqueraded as #EndSARS protesters
Kogi was one of the states that was said to be free of the virus, yet it benefitted from the relief material, how do you explain that?
Kogi State was relatively spared of the impact of COVID- 19 in the sense that we did not close down our state as others did. However, we were affected nonetheless by the effect of the lockdown on the national economy which necessitated that we also benefit from the relief materials that were shared.
The governor of Kogi State has consistently argued that COVID-19 was overrated in the country. Do you also toe the line with your principal?
It is unfortunate that there has been a lot of misconception as the true intent of the Kogi State Governor, Alh. Yahaya Bello seemed to have been misrepresented by the media. He had continuously called for caution in the handling of the pandemic and the need to avoid spreading propaganda and allowing people profit from unnecessary exaggeration of the pandemic.
Is it not obvious today that he was right all along? How bad has Kogi State faired despite his stance? Worse is that the effect of the lockdown still lives with us, even manifesting in worst forms as we saw what hunger drove many people into, taking a cue from the ugly turn of the #EndSARS protest which eventually became more or less an #EndHunger protest.
The effect was devastating on Nigeria which tethered on the brink of anarchy. This was the foresight the Bello had, that instituting a lockdown at such a period will have dire consequences on Nigeria and her economy. Didn’t this prediction come to pass? The Federal Government’s response to COVID-19 in Kogi State was a necessary one unarguably, but it was disproportionate, crippling virtually every facet of our economy. Unenviably, Nigeria has the worst maternal and Under-5 child mortality rates in the world. Despite that and a myriad of other challenges we were facing, we diverted all health responses to COVID-19 allowing other areas to suffer.
This was the governor’s call for caution that was misrepresented and sometimes twisted. At least one in every 22 pregnancies in Nigeria has the risk of resulting in death either during pregnancy, childbirth, or post-partum/post-abortion period.
This remains the highest in the world and should be a cause for worry to all wellmeaning Nigerians. We have not mentioned the challenges of malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/ AIDS, measles and the annual Lassa fever or cholera epidemics, yet we chose to direct all our efforts solely to COVID-19, and today we seem to have moved two paces backward and it is becoming clear that ignoring our warnings came at a steep price.
While taking steps to combat the spread of the pandemic, the approach should be holistic, one that ensures the least effect on other aspects of the state, especially its’ economy. If you want to lockdown the country because other countries are doing same, do you have the resources to reach every home with palliatives? We all saw what became of the palliatives. Didn’t we? Our call has always been for caution: a call which has been largely misconstrued.
On the wanton looting, vandalisation and destruction of medical facilities by arsonists, how long do you think the state would recover from the multi-billionnaira loss?
It is hard to tell now.
At your press conference recently, you lamented that the MRI/CT scan machines were destroyed. Can you shed more light on that?
Apart from CT Scan, digital mammography and radiography, MRI, laboratory/clinical equipment, clinical/office furniture, COVID-19 Test Kits, etc that were either carted away or vandalised, the drug supply chain and cold chain was destroyed. For example, we have a stock of mectizan an anti-filariasis against river blindness which were totally carted away. The drugs in the store for neglected tropical diseases alone worth hundreds of millions of naira! The free drugs for TB & Leprosy were also all stolen. While we are yet to quantify the cost, they are estimated to worth hundreds of millions of Naira. All the drugs for HIV were carted away. Then there were essential drugs that were taken away. It is a huge loss to Kogi State, one the state will struggle to recover from. Recently we were certified Polio free, but now that we are unable to sustain routine immunisation, we can only expect the worst. We pray there would not be a re-emergence of polio in Nigeria. Truly the loss to Kogi State is humongous!
Your emotions during the press conference have been widely misconstrued, what do you say about that?
It is understandable that Nigerians typically have a long standing mistrust of their leaders and are typically inclined to misconstrue genuine concerns of their leaders as deceit. So, I am in the least bothered by the outbursts and insinuations that trailed the conference. I only pray that in the long run I would have been the only one to shed tears over the issue.
Many Nigerians are impatient readers as they are poor listeners. Many who listened to the conference probably concluded that my show of concern was with regards the palliative looting spree.
Who in his right senses will shed a tear on live conference over cartons of indomie and bags of rice? My concern came from the gloomy picture I foresaw for the State because of the vandalization of the State Central Medical Store, in a state where we have fought tooth and nail to improve health care service provision. While we had strived hard to move some steps forward, the incident took us many paces backward and the coming days will in practical terms make obvious my concerns.
I wept because of that poor man from Ibaji Local Government Area (LGA) who was on routine drugs for onchocerciasis, who may irreversibly lose his sight to river blindness due to inevitable interruption of Ivermectin medication.
I wept because of that tuberculosis patient in Ankpa LGA, whose anti-tuberculosis drug will be discontinued. I wept because of that poor pregnant woman from Okene LGA whom we have been supporting with free Antenatal drugs, who will no longer have access to this. I wept because of that child in Yagba East LGA who will no longer receive routine immunisation because of the dastard act of vandals and hoodlums.
I wept because of the peasant farmers who have been depending on our health intervention that will now be exposed to increased infant and maternal mortality across the state. I wept because I feared the extent of damage was beyond what the state had the capacity to respond to in the required short period of time to fix. I wept because of the damage done to our health sector which we had been painstakingly nurturing for the past five years.
It was therefore more or less a cry for help being faced by a precarious situation. All the energy, time and effort put in place to revamp the Kogi State health hector took a great hit from that unfortunate incident, and if these don’t touch the heart of anyone who means well for the state, I wonder what will.
Do you think some of the machines vandalised by hoodlums in the state can be fixed and put into use?
We are currently discussing with some of the suppliers and manufacturers as regards repairs, but unfortunately some equipment are beyond repair.
Many wondered why these machines are kept in warehouses instead of installing them at the state diagnostic hospital?
Point of Correction: The machines were not kept at the warehouse but in the State Central Medical Store where all medical and drug commodities are exclusively stored in the State. Close to 80 per cent of equipment carted away were meant for the Confluence Advanced Medical Diagnostic and Imaging Centre (CAMDIC).
The centre is not yet viable for installation as civil work was still ongoing. At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic across the country, the centre was temporarily adopted as an Isolation centre. We had installed 100 beds and life-saving equipment in CAMDIC as part of our efforts to combat COVID-19 spread as well as other diseases that may overwhelm our temporary isolation centres. Some of our health development partners had even come in to help us complete the project on PPP basis but as it stands now the situation is dicey.
You will understand that when a contract is awarded, the supply of hospital equipment is usually faster than the civil work aspect of the project, which explains why those equipment were kept there pending the completion of the civil aspect of the project.
How do you think the federal government can come in to assist in recovering from these loses?
We sincerely hope so as we are in dire need of Federal Government’s assistance to the State.