Achieving Health For Wealth In Akwa Ibom State
FOR any reasonable government that understands the essence of strategic and purposeful governance, a good healthcare system is at the very heart of its development agenda; hence the wisdom in the popular saying that ‘health is wealth’.
This understanding informed the developmental approach to governance by a great leader like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore who placed a premium on improving sanitation, hygiene, vaccination, and then strengthening the primary healthcare infrastructures of his country.
The governor of a southern state in Nigeria, Mr. Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State understands this. “When the significant sectors of the population are healthy and well educated, they can be more productive, innovative and thus the country can boast of a work force that is better positioned for global competitiveness; a workforce that will drive the economy and provide an improved quality of living for the masses.”
In just a few days of coming into office, Mr. Udom Emmanuel moved to revitalise the health sector of his state, a programme that had ushered the renovation and re-equipping of health centres in the state with long standing history.
However, Nigeria as a country seems to have continuously missed out on the opportunity to harness its huge human capital endowments as greater emphasis has always been on the country’s oil and gas deposits. Besides an ailing economy, the country ranks low on the global competitiveness index. The healthcare system is one of the indicators. Nigeria has one of the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the world, ranking second in the world behind India. Nigeria was part of a group of six countries in 2008 that collectively accounted for over 50 per cent of all maternal deaths globally. In terms of the maternal mortality ratio, she is ranked eighth in Sub-Saharan Africa behind, Angola, Chad, Liberia, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Somalia.
Akwa Ibom State constitutes a significant part of success in the healthcare index report of the region. Host to some of the oldest healthcare facilities in the country, and coupled with the high literacy rate that ensures that more women are enlightened on safe maternal practices, the state has more healthcare facilities per woman than the average figure in the region. However, due to lack of consistent maintenance and upgrade of these facilities, many of them are becoming dilapidated and dysfunctional.
When Mr. Udom Emannuel assumed office as the Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State in May 2015, he made good on his promise of a human-focused development agenda; by visiting some of the critical infrastructures in the state that are of strategic importance to the human capital development of the people of the State. One of such facilities that he visited was the St. Luke’s Hospital Anua, Uyo.
Established in 1937 by the Medical Missionaries of Mary purposely to help alleviate the high level of infant and maternal mortality in the community, the facility had only 12 beds at inception. It rose in prominence and gained recognition as a teaching hospital by the General Medical Council in Lagos and London as training and pre-registration centre for House Doctors. The Nursing School within the facility rose in ranks equal to the Nursing school in the UK as the registered Nurses Certificate from the school was accepted for practice in the UK. The hospital became a reference point for maternal healthcare in the then South Eastern region of the country.
The workforce in the hospital was enhanced by contributions of professionals from the St. John Ambulance and the Quaker team from the UK. The medical laboratory in the hospital was a major training center for Medical Laboratory Technologists in Nigeria. However, the health institution lost most of its glory during the Nigerian three-year civil war that left it in a decrepit shadow of its old splendour. Since then, the hospital has been abandoned by successive governments, both state and federal, as it was left to suffer more devastating setbacks. It was in this most pitiable state that the governor together with stakeholders from the Catholic Archdioceses of Uyo and the state Ministry of Health met the hospital on his (the governor) first visit to the institution where he sought the collaboration and permission of the Catholic mission to renovate the hospital.
In less than 100 days in office, Governor Udom Emmanuel made good his promise to reposition the healthcare landscape of Akwa Ibom State, by extension, the entire South-south region. He achieved this by restoring the School of Nursing from age-long neglect, and by rescuing it from the menace of gully erosion that threatened to sweep away critical sections of the school. In line with the founding vision of the hospital to primarily focus on infant and maternal health care as a critical component of the human development index of the area, the government built an ultra-modern gynecology ward, which he named after one of the pioneer Missionary Dr. Ann Ward who turned a ripe age of 80 this year.
The governor recognises the strategic importance of ensuring that every child has a fair and safe start in life through a modern healthcare infrastructure that is fashioned at eradicating infant and maternal mortality. Mr. Udom Emmanuel’s strategy of ensuring that St. Luke’s Hospital regains its glory at safeguarding the life of every pregnant and nursing mother and welcoming healthier gifted children is a passionate attempt to secure the future of Akwa Ibom while raising positive health indices of Nigeria as a whole.
Amawhe writes from Lagos