Joe Effiong, Uyo
Two years ago, the General Hospital, Ikot Okoro in Oruk Anam Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, was literally, a ghost town. In fact, the mortuary was the only facility that functioned basically for the embalmment of corpses.
And even then, relatives of the dead were skeptical to dump the remains of their departed ones in the dilapidated, makeshift shanty which functioned as the morgue.
This gave rise to the springing up of many mortuaries around the hospital since people preferred their services to the one rendered by the hospital; while the hospital itself was very good at churning out corpses of the unfortunate people who had come for treatment but ended up dead.
Yet, the development did not rob the general hospital of its title of being a corpse dump as other health services had grounded to a halt due to neglect, wear and tear, as well as government under funding.
The Commissioner for Health, Dr Dominic Ukpong, while defending his ministry’s 2017 budget in the state house of assembly, specifically mentioned Ikot Okoro hospital and Emmanuel Hospital, Eket, as those with the highest number of abandoned corpses, which needed extra budgetary al- location to enable the state carry out mass burial:
“We spent a lot to conduct mass burial for abandoned corpses at Immanuel Hospital in Eket. Every hospital in Akwa Ibom that has mortuary has a high number of abandoned corpses. In Ikot Okoro, for instance, we have over two hundred corpses.”
The commissioner’s presentation forced our correspondent to visit the two hospitals. While Emmanuel Hospital, an hitherto mission hospital owned by the Lutheran Church of Nigeria , before it was taken over by the state government, was still bustling and rendering services to in-patients and out-patients, Ikot Okoro, was almost dead and needed urgent resuscitation to bounce back to life.
The medical superintendent of the hospital then, Dr Ukwak Bon Ekarika, said: “The governor came to the hospital and saw things himself about six months ago and said he was making plans to renovate the hospital to make it fit as a health institution. If you look around, you would see that thy have brought some blocks there.
“The only problem there is the delay because they are joining the renovation of the hospital with the construction of the road leading to Urua Anwa, instead of concentrating with the hospital. The governor is very much aware of our plight; you know the wife comes from this place. I don’t even have an office in the hospital to sit down as a medical superintendent.”
When asked the number of patients that got to the hospital weekly, Ekarika said it was very abysmal and that something needed to be done to even motivate the patients to come there. He said he ran the hospital from his pocket as there had been no subvention to the hospital in the last six months.
Our correspondent was told that only one patient was admitted in the male ward that week. How the patient managed to sleep in such a ghost town when the staff were even uncomfortable staying beyond 4 pm; where there was no light, no staff and even other patients to talk with, was baffling.
But Ikot Okoro General Hopital is now a delightful sight to behold. Though the rehabilitation work is still in progress, it seems the patient have already been motivated to return there for treatment.
The current medical superintendent, Dr. Ime Usanga, said though they could not admit patients into the wards till all the necessary equipment have been installed, that the staff are already having their hands full of activities as they now have more patients than they could cater for.
He confirmed that government had sent in x-ray and lab equipment as well as theatre lamps, and that once they and are other equipment are installed, the hospital would commence full operation.
The village head of Ikot Okoro, Chief Ukana Peter Umana, told our correspondent that by reviving the hospital, government has breathed back life into the community: “The community is excited because we thought that the life of that hospital had come to an end. Before the rehabilitation, people used to travel to far distant areas like Mercy Hospital, Abak or Ekpene Obom Leprosy Hospital to receive treatment. But now, the story is different. Its coming back to life has also improved the economic life of the community.
“This hospital, according to the history of this community, had its first batch of patients in 1958. So it’s a long standing hospital. Why I say is that there is one of my relations who was delivered of her child in the hospital, as the first batch of pregnant women admitted there. And it was in 1958.”
He, however, advised government to ensure that the new equipment installed in the hospital would be secure by equally reviving the police station, situated near the hospital, so that even the staff would feel safe to live within the hospital and work even in the night.
The village head thanked government for coming to their rescue, especially by constructing the Abak-Ikot Okoro road.
Ukpong said Ikot Okoro General Hospital was only one of the hitherto grounded health facilities that the state government has decided to actively intervene to revive the comatose public health sector in the state.
He said so far work neared completion in the rehabilitation of 10 general hospitals. They Include the General Hospital, Etinan, General Hospital, Ibiaku Ntok Okpo in Ikono, Methodist Hospital, Ituk Mbang, in Uruan, Emmanuel Hospital Eket, Iquita General Hospital Oron and Comprehensive Health Centre, Awa Iman, in Onna Lcal Government Area.
“In Awa, we want to do phase two so that we can also train nurses there and house officers. In Ikono, there is a lot of ground. We want to train nurses there and also train house officers. So a lot of construction and more plans would come to those places.
“The state has 42 general hospitals; and those 42, we have only interned in about 10; and even that it is only the phase one. The next phase would take care of quite a number of the rest. For instance, in Ituk Mbang, there are some blocks there we have not touched. We are coming back there to repair them,” the commissioner said.
He said comprehensive health centres and cottage are equally general hospitals but with different kinds of equipment: “Then you have the primary health centres; there 426 of them in the state. They are not manned by doctors but by experienced nurses; they take care of certain kinds of services like HIV screening and testing, and a lot of maternity cases, especially when pregnant women want to deliver. Even though they are supposed to be manned by nurses, we still have NYSC doctors there because youth corps members are supposed to work in the villages.
“The primary health centre was initially the responsibility of the Local Government Health Service Commission. The person who was in charge was Dr Val Attah, not a medical doctor, a former permanent secretary who was handling that. Now that service was not doing well; salaries were owed by the local government, nurses were not cared for and insecurity was the order of the day. Some miscreants attacked some f the nurses in those health centres while patients were robbed. Because of that, people could not work at night so they ran away.
“People could not go there. That is why you had many women going to traditional birth attendants or prayer houses to give birth. Now to salvage the situation, the state government had to intervene to give money to pay salaries.
“That intervention cannot be sustainable. We had to do what the Federal Government advised us to do. That is why the state government had to enact a law call which brought about the local government health commission invested with the primary health development agency. It now it now the responsibility of the federal government it manage it through us..
“We had to pick one primary health centre in each of the 329 wards of the state will be working with the funding agencies like the WHO, USAID and others who send huge amount to the federal government to spend on primary healthcare.”
With the new equipment installed in the rehabilitated hospitals, Ukpong said the state is in dire need of trained personnel from nurses to doctors because, especially like the nurses, the nursing council had withdrawn accreditation for all nurses trained in the state for about four years:
“We had not produced nurses for four years whereas within the four years, some of the nurses had reached the age of retirement and were retiring. So we have inadequate staff. I›m using nurses; I’m not even talking about doctors.
“But what we saw on ground on the nominal role of nurses was huge but we didn’t have them in the hospitals. Then the state government set up investigative panel which l was the chairman to find out why we had so many thousands of nurses and doctors and yet there was none in the hospital.
“When we investigated we realised that a majority of them were ghost workers; and even those who were working, one person was receiving the salaries of five people. Some people died and it was not reported and they would go and collected the dead people salary and add to their own.
“We decided to make use of BVN and we got about four of them and the rest ran away only to be shouting that they were being owed salaries. But when we ask them come and collect your salaries, they wouldn’t come. The process made the wage bill shrank, and we were able to pay salaries without owing.
“So we are now trying to recruit qualified nurses. We have been able to make the nursing council restore our accreditation. So we are training nurses now but not at the speed we want. We are taking people gradually.”