From George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
In many rural communities of Imo State, accessing quality healthcare has become a major concern for the dwellers. Many of the primary healthcare facilities are in very bad shape due to neglect by both the local authorities and the state government.
A classic example is the Obitti Health Centre, Ohaji in Ohaji/Egbema Local Government. The facility was built by the Ohaji/Egbema LG Caretaker Committee and commissioned by former Military Administrator, Navy Captain James Aneke, on October 13, 1994.
The health centre had functioned efficiently as ailing members of the community especially expectant mothers were treated there since it was equipped with the necessary medical facilities and manpower. However, five years down the line, the Obitti Health Centre, which could not cater for the teeming population of the community, started deteriorating due to neglect by the local authority whose responsibility it was to ensure that it was effectively maintained.
Till date, government authorities have made little or no effort to rehabilitate the decayed and neglected health centre even as the only publicly owned healthcare facility situated in the agrarian community.
Regardless that the now abandoned health centre is located close to Walter Smith Oil Drilling Company, the management of the firm did not revitalize the facility as part of its corporate social responsibility. The situation has left the community and its people in a quandary.
Surprisingly, the leaders of the community have not made effort to draw the attention of the management of either the Imo Rubber Estate Plantation (IREP), Obitti, or the Imo State Primary Healthcare Development Agency, to revamp the dilapidated health facility for use by the community.
To compound the situation, the area lacks electricity power, drinkable water and good roads in spite of its natural endowments in both gas and hydrocarbon, which contribute about 30 per cent revenue to the purse of the state government.
Obitti houses the IREP, adjudged to be largest rubber estate in West Africa. It occupies a vast expanse of land, generating about N10 billion to State government annually and the Oguali 1 and Oguali 2 oil fields. It is rated as the deepest gas location in West Africa, and as an oil access road.
Currently, an indigenous oil servicing firm is prospecting oil in Obitti and yet government shies away from providing the area with social amenities and developing it industrially. Daily Sun gathered that there is no form of government presence in the agrarian community including human capacity development.
Some indigenes lamented that the once vibrant health centre has been taken over by weeds and animals. They called on government to revive the Obitti Health Centre. Chikaodi Okwudiri, said: “Obitti Health Centre has stopped functioning for many years. Grass and animals have taken over the place. Little facilities there are no longer working, even ordinary beds.
“One cannot access treatment here because there is no drug neither will you see any nurse to attend to you. Let government intervene to salvage situation. We are suffering a lot here due to neglect by the local government authority.”
Another member of the community, Ogu Ikemba, a farmer, captured the level of dilapidation thus: “The place has been abandoned, see the roof of the building is dilapidated. There is no staff or patient admitted here and this is far from being a health centre.”
Mrs Nnenna Ekezie, a trader, said: “Our community lacks electricity, secondary school and affordable healthcare system. We do not know where we are going with this terrible situation of things. I am just tired. Government should come and help us.”
A teacher, Ohanu Chima, said: “Our rubber plantation and mineral resources should not be in vain. The authority concerned should rise to the occasion and save the community from perpetual hardship.
The Imo State Primary Healthcare Development Agency (IPHDA), said it is committed to reducing infant maternal morbidity and mortality with preference to the rural areas. Its Executive Secretary, Rev Sister Mary-Joannes Uzoma, lamented that the high rate of infant maternal morbidity and mortality:
“Agency would ensure that it promotes and develops primary healthcare centres in order to reduce diseases, deaths among infants and their mothers, just as we will reach out to all communities across Imo State to hear from them about their health challenges as well as to tackle them.”
Also, chairman of the agency, Dr Joseph Chinemerem, pledged that the agency would rehabilitate moribund health centres in the rural communities and properly equip them as part of the strategic strengthening of primary healthcare system.