Abia in a march of unimaginable Health Reformation

By Eddie Onuzuruike

It has been said for the umpteen times that vision gives insight to mission. Seven years ago, a middle aged man of Amokwe Ugba descent of Ibeku Ancient Kingdom, then Chief of Staff of the government of the day, offered himself for the service of his people in the gubernatorial cadre. Strange as that was due to the fact that Civil Servants were not known to be too courageous in risking their achievements to the fluid political firmament, but something was certain about this new convert; he had a wealth of experience in the service of nation, state, and community. With introspection, what he lacked practically, he made up from in-depth study of peculiar situations and analytical biographies of successful men.

Today, Abia state has become a Mecca of sorts to multifarious medical pilgrims and missions, as would be illustrated below. One of the mission statements in his manifesto that medical care will become available, accessible and affordable from womb to old age has come to reality.

According to Professor A U Mbanaso, Personal physician to his Excellency and Medical Director of Abia Diagnostic Complex, the governor took an irrevocable decision in September 2007, few months after his inauguration as the third democratically elected Governor of Abia State. He decided to replicate what he saw at Howard University Teaching Hospital in United States of America, where all units of a medical facility were available in one location. This led to the partnership with Me-cure of India which started with the most up to date in diagnostic laboratory. Furthermore he unfolded his health master plan which has reengineered, reformed and rejuvenated the state of health in Abia.

The National policy on health domiciled the three facets of health with the different tiers of government in that the local governments are to focus on the Primary Health Care, Secondary Heath Care with the state governments and Tertiary to be handled by the federal government. Obvious imbalance in these arrangements have somewhat forced Abia state Government to dabble into the three to answer to the needs and yearnings of the people. For instance, Specialist Hospitals fall into the tertiary health care which normally should be left for the Federal Government but realizing that previously the only specialist Hospital for the South East was at UNTH Enugu, the distance and other logistic problems forced the state to invest heavily into the specialist hospitals.

Before 2007, dialysis machines were strange medical contraptions to the extent that if they were sent free of charge to most hospitals in Nigeria, people will push it aside as there were no skilled manpower and personnel to operate it. As it was, people in the South East who had renal ailments had to book for sessions in UNTH Enugu or travel abroad at huge cost for attention and comprehensive analysis. Abia Specialist and Diagnostic Complex has come of age operating in three locations. The Ochendo administration has acquired a total of seven dialysis machines. Among these seven machines, one serves as standby spare, another set aside for HIV patients, while Hepatitis sufferers have one to themselves. The remaining four are left for normal patients to avoid complications which may result from contamination of blood.

In addition, the Specialist Hospital and Diagnostic Complex offers a high variety of health package never seen before involving Bio-Chemical and radiological diagnostic investigations. As it is well known and established, a good investigation leads to good diagnosis which will give grounds for accurate care or control as the case may be. These consist of mammography which can scan the female breast and detect cancer at the earliest stage. Computed Tomography, CT scan for short, is a medical technology that uses x-ray and computer to give three dimensional images of the human body. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), medical diagnostic technique that combines strong magnetic fields, radio waves, and computer technology to create images of the body using the principles of nuclear magnetic resonance for total scanning. For the biological mentioned above, this concentrates on the hematological specimen, where one drop of blood can yield 1000 results. As hinted earlier, these are in the three centres of Ugba Health Centre, Aba Road and Amachara

. Amachara Specialist Hospital has proven to the be the luckiest of the three with seven new buildings to cater for different needs including an administrative block, resident doctor's quarters, a modern chest center for TB patients. Exceptionally cheering is the accreditation to train house officers by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria. There are other things too long to be enumerated.

On the Secondary Health Care category, plans have been transformed into action in rebuilding, refurbishing and restructuring our general Hospitals which in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, used to be the health rave of the Easterners. As this piece is being read, action is on in nine Local Government Areas spawning the ambitious project termed One Hundred (100) bed Hospitals in nine Local Government Areas carefully selected from the three Senatorial Zones which translate into 900 beds. These are in Arochukwu, Ohafia, Umuahia South, Okeikpe. Others are in Ikwuano, Aba North, Obi Ngwa, Ugwunagbo and Osisioma. Out of this lot, Obi Ngwa and Ikwuano are being raised from the scratch.

On a balanced scale, the Ochendo Health Vision has touched on all health departments. The former school of Hygiene which metamorphosed into school of health sciences, school of health technology may graduate to College of Health Tech with so many departments including the all important environmental studies. Students from this school are already enjoying all trappings as they subscribe to the NYSC.

The psychiatric nursing in Abia is in a new site with a laudable blueprint. Abia now is the envy of other states for having five schools of nursing and midwifery. Namely: Amachara, Umauhia, Abiriba, Aba and ABSUTH. If not for the embargo placed by the National Council, these schools would have been fully optimized.

Ochendo from inception as Governor took the Primary Health Care seriously intent on placing health care delivery at the doorsteps of Abians. Many may not know that we have a total of 710 PHC centers in Abia as they concentrate their statistics on the newly built ones by the present administration numbering over 250 and forgetting the abandoned and existing Health care centres which have now been upgraded, reconstructed and re-equipped. This means that the 184 electoral wards in Abia have 3 PHCs in the each electoral ward in Abia.

The Abia State University teaching Hospital is given all the leverages to triumph. There exists a management team to stop unnecessary interference and allow due process and accountability. At present it is imbued with modern Hi-tech appliances which places it as first among equals what with 3 dialysis machines, a ramp, and an elevator. There are four new blocks namely: The College of medicine block, maternal and child complex and the commodious admin block.

The ministry of health has an enviable accommodation in the state. Apart from being one of the few in the old secretariat, health workers have enjoyed all fringe benefits, including payments and emoluments with the additional CONHESS and CONMESS salary structures that are still strangers in most states of the federation.

On Tuesday, July 16, NANA, an international Association of Nigerian Nurses in North America paid a courtesy call on the Governor and explained their laudable project which entailed a medical mission involving a seminar with nurses and midwives and tours around Abia. They took time to inform on the killer nature of hypertension which could actually be controlled with drugs and constant monitoring. In affirmation that Abia has joined the world health reckoning of the 21th century, an analysis obtained from the diagnostic center at Amachara was used in United States by Mrs Pat Ukigwe, the leader of NANA, to proffer prescription for her mother. What more can we say or ask for?

With these massive health reforms on ground, there are no doubts that Chief T. A. Orji has achieved his dream which is to govern healthy people. Many whose dirges and obituaries would have been read and sung are living and walking about. Children are recovering, mothers are medicated and old people are cared, controlled and managed. Abia has become a medical Mecca with pilgrims streaming from neighbouring states like Ebonyi, Akwa-Ibom, Cross-River, and Imo State.

On the economic scale, multi million naira has been saved on foreign exchange which has resulted in a reversal of capital flight. To ensure that these grand designs are not bastardized but made to serve future generations, an executive bill is on the floor of Abia House of Assembly to make health matters and all the installations to be backed up with an act of Parliament which would require a certain ratio of the house before amendments are made.

Ochendo has invested in the unimagined. He recently empanelled a 14man committee on drug abuse and control. Already drug addicts are being rehabilitated. According to Dr Okechukwu oga, immediate past commissioner for health, provision of Health Insurance Scheme for Abians is at an advanced stage. Worthy of mention are the collaborative activities of Her Excellency Lady Odochi Orji, the Woman of Valour who has consistently hosted Medical Missions in free scanning of breast for cancer and leading a strong advocacy against teen pregnancy among other things. This is no coincidence but the visionary plans of one man who dreamed and wished that all Abians will imbibe healthy alchemy from one chalice.

Supportive of these noble governmental efforts and the resultant achievements of Ochendo are some NGOs and foreign donor agencies who have become partners in progress. Among these are:

WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, ROTARY INTERNATIONAL, Society for family Health, FHI 360- Family Health International who believe that health and housing are paramount. The NDDC has given needles and syringes and mosquito nets. Shell is helping with training 50 Abia Nurses; Chevron is building the chest Unit. Presently, there is an existing WHO grant for four years in eradication of Malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia. MTN Foundation has donated a mobile clinic and eye an centre.

It did not come as a surprise that Ochendo was on Friday, 19, 2013 honoured by The Nigerian Optometry Association as the Prime Ambassador of Health-care during their 37th annual conference in Abia. Without contradiction, the works on ground have filled up the check list.

Even Rome, one of the most beautiful cities of Europe was not built in a day. Abia is on a Health Hi-tech march and we say welcome to the Hon Minister for health, Prof Onyebuchi Chukwu, who has been dispatched by the presidency to unveil the Diagnostic complex of Abia.

Eddie Onuzuruike.