From Joe Effiong, Uyo
Primary healthcare centres (PHC) in Akwa Ibom State have been substantially neglected despite government’s efforts at boosting the hitherto comatose healthcare delivery system in the state.
Investigations by Daily Sun show that, while the state government is investing massively in upgrading state-owned general hospitals, it has neglected PHCs to such an extent that, in some parts of the state, pregnant women are left with no option than to patronise traditional birth attendants (TBAs).
Like primary education, primary healthcare, which is supposed to be under the local government council, has in practice been the responsibility of the state government, which pay staff and equips the centres with facilities and drugs.
It was observed that some of the PHCs in the Akwa Ibom State, many of them built by local government councils, have since been abandoned, with wild grass and reptiles taking over the premises. Whne our correspondent went on a tour of the facilities, he found out that, apart from the PHCs in Uyo metropolis, especially the one along Wellington Bassey Road, about 300 metres from Government House, many others in other LGAs of the state were in deplorable conditions.
Daily Sun spoke to some residents who decried the situation where emphasis was placed on secondary and quaternary health facilities and equipment, while not much was done about improving facilities at PHCs, which are closer to the people and patronised mostly by the very poor and low-income earners.
Some of the patients also complained to Daily Sun that some PHCs had become extortion centres, alleging that the free healthcare programmes for pregnant women and children under five years initiated by government exist only on paper.
“You can’t go there to treat your baby of malaria without spending between N3,000 and N5,000. It’s the same with pregnant women,” a patient, Mrs. Udeme Effiong, said.
A visit to Primary Health Centre, off Uruan Street, inside Ewet Housing Estate, Uyo, showed a place in dire need of help. It lacked the capacity to provide essential health services, in addition to other issues such as poor distribution of health workers and essential drugs to administer to patients at any given time.
A senior healthcare worker at the centre who craved anonymity told Daily Sun that patients stopped coming to the centre because of poor services, poor condition of infrastructure and lack of essential drugs.
At the Primary Health Centre, Ikot Akata, Mkpat Enin, the roof of the quarters for medical workers had long been blown off by wind, while the main building had lost all its doors, windows and the roof of the main hall was leaking badly. There was no health worker as at the time the reporter visited the hospital.
A similar fate had also befallen the PHCs in Ikot Iko Ibesikpo and another at Ndiya in Nsit Ubium, where patronage is almost zero due to lack of maintenance by the state and local government.
The only PHC in Mbiabong community, in Itu LGA, was also in a sorry state. The centre has not been renovated nor drugs supplied for a long time amid low patronage of patients.
A staff who spoke on the condition of anonymity described the PHC as a glorified “chemist’s shop” with little or nothing to show as a medical centre.
“There is nothing much taking place. The drugs are always in short supply and that is the situation we have found ourselves in for a long time. So, we prescribe for patients and ask them most of the time to purchase from pharmacies outside. And talking in terms of renovation, you can see for yourself,” the source said.
Some PHCs in Ikot Ekpene senatorial district, however, appear to fare much better, as they benefitted from international donor agencies like Maria Stopes, Helen Kela and Bill & Melinda Gate foundations.
The neglect of primary healthcare by successive administrations in Akwa Ibom State has forced pregnant women to continue to patronize traditional birth attendants.
A good example is that of the PHC in Ifa Ikot Okpon, Etoi, in Uyo LGA, which has a TBA home located opposite it. Our correspondent observed heavy patronage of the TBA by pregnant women, instead of the PHC.
Mrs. Glory Peter explained her preference for the TBA: “I am Mrs. Glory Peter. I have five children and four of them were delivered here. I love being here anytime because Mma is very nice and experienced in maternity services.
“If you ask all of us here, you will be surprised to hear everyone speaks good about this Mma. She is caring and pays serious attention to all of us during and after labour, once you are here. Her fee is quite affordable, though it varies according to the personality of persons involved.”
The Akwa Ibom State commissioner for health, Prof Augustine Umoh, in his reaction, said: “Primary healthcare is not neglected. The #EndSARS protests only slowed down our efforts, as the AKPHCDA building, drugs and property were destroyed.
“However, we have picked up again, and we are commencing training towards health facilities assessment as a condition for assessing the BHPF, which is meant to reposition primary health care. Government policy on care of pregnant women and children has not changed. Above efforts to reposition primary health care shall address these concerns.”
Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, in various fora, said the state government has embarked on massive renovations and reconstruction of state-owned general hospitals, at least one in each of the 10 federal constituencies in the state such as in Etinan, Oron, Ikot Okoro, Ituk Mbang, Awa and Eket, even as the state’s multi-specialty hospital, known as Ibom Specialist Hospital, has been equipped with up-to-date facilities.