Ibom Hospital’s plan to reverse brain drain under threat

One of the state-of-the-art equipment at Ibom Specialty Hospital, Itam Local Council, Akwa Ibom State (inset is Dr. Yemi Johnson

Recession, forex scarcity, poor electricity supply may scuttle project

The ambitious plan by the Ibom Multi-Specialty Hospital to reduce the number of Nigerians who travel abroad for medical tourism, and brain drain is under threat.

Medical tourism refers to people travelling to a country other than their own to obtain medical treatment while brain drain is defined as the migration of health personnel in search of better standard of living and quality of life, higher salaries, access to advanced technology and more stable political conditions in different places worldwide.

A United States (U.S.) trained interventional cardiologist and Chief Medical Director of Ibom Multi-Specialty Hospital (IMH), Dr. Adeyemi Johnson, told The Guardian that the vision of the hospital to stop medical tourism and brain drain is being hampered by recession, scarcity of foreign exchange and poor electricity supply that makes the centre to depend on alternative energy sources such as generating sets and not the national grid.

Johnson said Ibom Multi-Specialty Hospital, located in Itam Local Council Area (LGA) of Akwa Ibom State, has some of the world best manpower, deployed to run both administrative and medical proceedings. The specialist hospital was specifically designed to stop medical tourism in Nigeria by offering expertise in cardiology, oncology, plastic surgery, internal medicine, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, among others, through an approach designed to be above what the best tertiary health facility in Nigeria offers.

Johnson, who founded First Cardiology consultants Limited and pioneered contemporary invasive cardiology in Nigeria including the first coronary angioplasty with stent implantation, first non-surgical closure of holes in the heart for children and adults told The Guardian: “Ibom Multi-Specialty Hospital is clearly as you have seen the best built in black Africa, it rivals many hospitals you see abroad, it is very well equipped, state of the art. Some equipment here is not available in many hospitals. We have several specialties that are operational now and many foreign staff, and the active specialty now is the neurosurgery. We have done over hundred neurosurgery cases, plastic surgery, oncology, cardiology; these are the active ones now.

The hospital was commissioned in May 2015 but we started clinical operations in January 2016 and as you know around that time the economy crashed and made things difficult to work for everybody. We had our setbacks; we had to reduce some staff so as to be able to pay salary and things like that. We started on a smaller scale like we planned to; initially we wanted to open up new specialty but with the recession and the cash crunch, and the fact that we buy all our consumables.

“Unfortunately in healthcare we do not have access to foreign exchange at Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) rate. We buy from the black market and it is very expensive. So we still have to sit back and re-calculate what to do and we found a way of making it more efficient. The truth is when you get into a crisis it brings about innovation. With that we needed to reduce the dependence on foreign staff and we have been able to bring in more Nigerians who are highly trained to come and supplement. Luckily we have support from the government and we too understand that government is in short of cash, but we all have been able to find a way and work together and get out of recession and that is where we are now.” When The Guardian visited, it was discovered that the facility runs on 24 hours alternate power supply, as it is not yet connected to the power grid, thereby using up more expenses for the hospital.

Johnson said: “It is the part of the government responsibility to generate power, and national grid on its own cannot help us. We need an independent power solution and I am not an expert on that but I know the government is working hard to see how we can resolve that.”

Johnson said he thinks the biggest achievement of the Hospital so far was the treatment of victims of Reigners Bible Church building collapse which occurred last year December; most whom were badly injured and were brought to the hospital. The cardiologist explained: “We have our own staff here but we were able to bring in with the support of the Governor and Commissioner for Health, a team of doctors from all over the country especially from Lagos and Abuja to help. Surgery was done round the clock and we did over 30 neurosurgery cases and about 40 orthopaedic cases. Volunteers from Akwa Ibom and around the country and the Governor provided transport and logistics support. That I can say is our biggest contribution so far, we saved a lot of lives but unfortunately people died.”

Johnson said the hospital plans to start kidney/renal transplant within a year. “It is not just the expertise, and it is the logistics. Renal transplant requires a lot of departments and we are rounding it bit by bit. Once we get all these departments working in a high level because we want to make sure that everything we do is done in at high level. When I am comfortable with the level of the laboratory, patients’ awareness and surgical programme; because it requires several people to get it done

“On the issue of immunosuppressant that is a very big issue and unfortunately we do not make them here and they are very expensive. In Indian, they have overcome the expense because they make their own drugs. There is no point doing the transplant when the patient cannot afford the drugs. So, part of what we going to do is to find a way to get these drugs. The government and ministry are forward looking at these things we want to put in place and get the drug in at more affordable price.”

The surgeon also said the hospital plans to start open-heart surgery by June this year and a team is going to be put in place.Chief Medical Officer of the hospital, Dr. Adewale Adekanye, said during a media tour of the facility recently: “With the level of facilities and expertise we have in this multi specialty centre, we would have been able to treat the President if consulted or asked to offer such service, just same way other world class health facilities will treat him.”

Adekanye added: “But the problem is that the hospital is still fairly new and majority of Nigerians are not yet aware that instead of going abroad to treat cases like kidney disease, heart disease, cancer, organ transplants, among others, they could save a lot of travel money and other expenses by getting same globally acclaimed standard treatment in Ibom Specialist Hospital.

“While most of our equipment are first in not just Nigeria, but in Africa, the ambience, the five star rooms and other facilities are designed to provide first class treatment in a five-star hotel like manner to its patients, a treat that can only be seen in few world class hospitals. The hospital, which is equipped with 640 slides CT scan, digital mammography, endoscopy surgery, highly sophisticated intensive care units and medical gas plants, is sitting on a large landmass with paperless and fully automated laboratories. It also has a helipad to facilitate easy emergency movements to and from the hospital. The entire hospital system is also hooked up to a global system for best practice.”

According to the Executive Secretary of the hospital, Faith Akpokighe, while most of the personnel are world-class foreign doctors and health workers, there are also Nigerian doctors who have excelled in their previous place of work. “Personnel here were carefully selected because of the professional standard we intend to maintain in our service to Nigerians. This can directly reverse medical tourism in Nigeria and in turn bring in people from other countries to access healthcare here.”

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