By Tayo Odunayo
Recently, I was in Ijebu-Ife, a sleepy rural community in Ijebu-East Local Government of Ogun State, on an invitation of a friend to witness the official handover and commissioning of an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) donated by the Czech Republic, in collaboration with Otunba Femi Adewunmi, the Atunluse of Owu-Ijebu. The 12-bed world-class facility, worth 400,000 euros (approximately N200 million), has among other units, neo-natal incubators for children born before full-term of their pregnancies, emergency and surgical theatre, isolation centre for adults and children, monitoring unit, decontamination room, maternity ward, paediatric and emergency etc. This project, I gathered from the event, is being replicated in two other states of the federation. The catch for me in this project is not just the cost or the philanthropic disposition that brought about it, as these are usuals from diplomatic missions – not that they matter less anyway – but the thought of siting it in such a rural community as Ijebu-Ife.
As I made it into the General Hospital, where the health facility was situated, and was met by a mammoth crowd, people who also came to be part of that historic occasion, I started wondering what they could be thinking of the project. The people were upbeat with traditional dance troupe’s performances. These are mostly rural dwellers, who are more inclined to resorting to the unlimited versions of agbo (traditional Yoruba syrup concoctions of various types with large spectrum of potency) and hardly go to orthodox health centres until, maybe, their health conditions degenerate beyond the capability of the agbo.
Could it be because the governor of the state, Prince Dapo Abiodun, was billed to be in attendance, and the people wanted to honour him with their presence? As the event went underway and speakers took turns to acknowledge and celebrate the facility, it dawned on me that the people had long suffered the unavailability of, and had long longed for, such a facility which most of the speakers referred to as an investment. Oba Adefesan Oguntayo, the Ajalorun of Ijebu-Ife, in his vote of thanks said he was highly impressed by the facility that is being commissioned. “I have gone round the facility and the equipment I saw was world standard and I know what this project can do for our people. I thank the Government of Czech Republic and Otunba Femi Adewunmi for this donation.” In his address, the governor of the state, represented by his deputy, Mrs Nimot Salako-Oyedele, said that the facility will greatly expand the capacity of the (general) hospital, make advanced healthcare available locally to our people and save more lives. Otunba Femi Adewunmi agreed with the governor. While enjoining the people of the area to make adequate use of the facility, Adewunmi, who was represented at the event by his sister, Mrs Temitope Jemerigbe, said that his decision to collaborate with the Czech Republic to deliver the ICU to Ijebu-Ife was borne out of the desire to deliver healthcare to the rural communities.
“Most of the healthcare facilities in the rural areas of the state lack specialist equipment to treat patients who require intensive care attention. Such patients would be required to do the tortuous journey to the urban communities or the state capital to get the adequate attention that they need. In some cases, we lose such patients even before they get to these ICU facilities. With this facility situated right here in Ijebu-Ife, such patients from this and neighbouring communities could easily access this facility and get the specialist attention they need.” The position of Adewunmi drove home the import of situating the facility in the rural town and explained the excitement that I saw that very day. Majority of specialist health facilities, not just in Ogun State but throughout the country, are situated either in the state capital or in urban towns. Everyone who wishes to make use of them must have to travel from wherever they are to these urban towns.
An intensive care unit is where the critically ill patients – those patients who require or likely to require advanced respiratory support, patients who require support of two or more organ systems and patients with a chronic impairment of one or more systems who also require organ support for an acute reversible failure of another organ.
ICU may look like a tertiary health facility but, in actual fact, it should not be too distant from any community. This is because, apart from accidents that may turn an erstwhile healthy person to a candidate for an ICU, there are other health conditions that could easily aggravate to the point that may require an intervention in an ICU. Corona virus, heart failure/attack, stroke renal issues and many other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are examples of such issues that may require ICU intervention. Although, it makes business sense as urban dwellers are more likely to afford and utilize these facilities, I am of the view that the issue of healthcare should be within the realms of welfarism, and should not be based on purely business sense. The question is, ‘are the health conditions likely to require treatment in an ICU only limited to those living in urban centres? Put differently, are rural dwellers immune to such health conditions? The answers to both questions are ‘no’.
As Otunba Adewunmi noted, some rural dwellers who require specialist medical attention are lost as they journey from their homes to the urban areas where such facilities are situated. It is the cost of this journey – possible loss of life, deterioration of patients’ health, loss of time and money – that justifies location of this facility in Ijebu-Ife. The life of one person that is saved in the facility is the biggest return on investment (ROI) of that project.
From what I saw at the event, I am very optimistic that the indigenes of the area and their neighbours will optimally avail themselves of the opportunities the facility offers in raising the health status of their communities. What is more? The facility is located less than two kilometres from the Lagos Benin expressway and would also serve the travellers on that route, who may be unfortunate to have a road mishap that require urgent treatment in an intensive care unit. It is, therefore important to call on other well-meaning corporate institutions and private individuals to emulate the Government of Czech Republic and Otunba Femi Adewunmi in putting the rural dwellers in their scheme of things – especially in the area of health amenities – so their welfare and health status could be elevated.
Odunayo writes from Lagos