It is no longer news that Imo State Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma took over a failed state. A state misgoverned for the preceding period of eight years to the extent that the citizens, sometimes, felt that their fortunes would never change. The key sectors of the economy such as Health, Education, Agriculture, Infrastructure, and Rural Development, among others, suffered major setbacks with really nothing to show during those locust years.
Here, some reflection might help: after the inauguration of Governor Okorocha in 2011, a lot of Imo citizens heaved a sigh of relief believing that the much-awaited messiah had finally come. The jubilation knew no bounds and cut across all strata of the State. During his inauguration, Okorocha promised the people selfless service and good governance with the much-needed dividends of democracy as an outcome. This writer was present at that event. Today, only the people of Imo can judge whether the promises were kept.
One of the most conspicuous legacies of the abysmal Rescue Mission experiment in the state is the health sector. All the primary, secondary, and state-owned tertiary health facilities were left comatose at the time the regime exited. The only functional government hospital in Imo State is the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, which belongs to the federal government. Thus, it is not surprising that the facility has for a while been overburdened despite the efforts of FMC Management to deal with the situation. While in office Okorocha embarked on the building of the so-called 27 ‘General Hospitals’ on major highways across the state in the hope that the world would see and applaud the white elephant projects despite the danger crossing the highways portends to the patients. The existing 17 general hospitals located in various local governments serving the rural communities over the years were left to deteriorate needlessly when they could easily have been ‘rescued’ and modernized. Unfortunately, despite the several billions of naira spent on building the new hospitals not a single one was completed and made functional after eight years of the so-called ‘Rescue Mission’ administration.
The fact remains that Imo people need health care desperately, while medical students, as well as those in other health care professions like Medical Laboratory Science, Nursing, etc. also need an environment conducive to training.
So where does Gov Uzodinma go from here? As a man who has his eyes on the ball, he needs to reflect on what the people need and articulate the best way forward despite the enormity of the problem. The recent report submitted to the governor by the committee set up to look into the Imo State University Teaching Hospital will be a handy tool towards repositioning the flagship institution, to offer quality healthcare service and training at the highest level. The old general hospitals in various local government areas should be renovated and re-equipped. Various LGA chairmen could be directed to put in place a technical committee of experts to carry out needs assessment of various primary healthcare centres in their domains.
The findings will assist the government to deploy its lean resources effectively towards resuscitating those health centres. By enabling the rural people to access some level of health care within their communities a lot would have been achieved as the health centres, when functional, will offer first-level healthcare. Common illnesses like malaria, typhoid, diarrhea as well as screening for high blood pressure and diabetes, etc. could be managed while patients requiring further attention could then be referred to the general hospitals in the local governments. This way everyone will not need to head to the FMC, Owerri, for every ailment thereby helping the centre to concentrate on its core mandate of providing tertiary healthcare delivery service and training.
It is also important to mention that the present government inherited a demoralized workforce. This is especially true of the various categories of healthcare providers in government employment. Therefore, there is a need to do proper staff audit to determine the manpower requirements of the health sector in Imo State and at the same time motivate the existing personnel to become more productive. As the Holy Bible affirms, As the Bible enjoins “A labourer deserves his wages.” Those looking after the sick and elderly need to get commensurate remuneration at the minimum as the need for their commitment to duty would be crucial to the success of the health sector.
From what we have seen so far Governor Hope Uzodinma appears to be committed to turning the fortunes of the citizens, and does not appear to be swayed by the superficial or mundane. These are good attributes, so let his actions speak louder than his voice, and the healthcare sector could witness a positive change under this government. A healthy man is a happy man!
Sir Nlemadim, Chairman, Board of Fellows, Association of Medical Lab Scientists of Nigeria, writes from Lagos.