From Wilson Okereke, Afikpo
Ebonyi State’s Commissioner for Health, Dr. Daniel Umezurike, has said that the ongoing construction of the Ebonyi State University Teaching Hospital in Uburu, Ohaozara Local Government Area, will soon be completed. He noted in this interview that the signature project of the Governor David Umahi-led administration would make Ebonyi a hub for medical tourism in Africa. Excerpts:
What’s government’s plan towards completing some health infrastructure in the state?
The idea behind the construction of the multi-disciplinary health institutions being Ebonyi State University Teaching Hospital was incubated in 2012, when the Federal Government wanted to expand health care services in Ebonyi State and as a result merged the former teaching hospital and defunct Federal Medical Centre to form the mega Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki.
Since then, Ebonyi State does not have another teaching hospital except now that the project is near completion because we have gone beyond 90 per cent with all the medical equipment already in place.
When the two hospitals were joined to form Federal Teaching Hospital, it equally meant that Ebonyi State University has been operating without a teaching hospital even when it has medical students, resident doctors and other workers, until after Federal University, Ndufu Alike Ikwo (FUNAI), started using the teaching hospital. Governor Umahi, therefore, decided to take the bull by the horns by embarking on construction of the health instituition.
It did not stop at the construction aspect alone. All the medical equipment and other facilities that are of world standard have been purchased by the governor; once the finishing touches are completed, the institution will take off.
What plans do you have for similar projects in the state?
Each of us knew the status of every general hospital and primary healthcare centre in the state before the inception of this government. The past administration, having seen the enormous task that is required to improve the health sector, decided to work with only six mission hospitals and when the Governor Umahi-led administration found out that the six hospitals could not take proper care of health services of Ebonyi people, the government decided to go by the public health facilities.
We have primary health care, secondary health care and tertiary health care and a lot of interventions have been made in those health facilities. I can recall vividly that we inherited about 470 comatose primary health care centres and when we found out that we could not handle them once, we decided to select one from each political ward, making the total number 171 health care centres across the state, in accordance with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. And they were all provided with the necessary intervention, including posting of certified health workers in the selected areas.
The centres were also provided with ambulance tricycles alongside their operators so that whenever one falls sick and calls on the riders, they will quickly move to the area and convey the person to the centre for medical attention. Besides these, a lot of basic medical equipment, which were not available at the centres before, have also been provided.
Has anything been done in secondary health care?
Yes. We have upgraded one general hospital in each local government area of the state, which is also part of the WHO recommendations; there are graphic improvements in each of the general hospitals; we have fenced them, reconstructed and renovated all the hospital buildings.
We have provided them with all the needed facilities and injected new staff in the institutions, the issue of manpower that was formerly noticed in the hospitals, we have automatically bridged the gap, though it does not mean that we do not have challenges but with His Excellency, David Nweze Umahi, at the helm, we have been able to tackle most of the issues.
Sometime ago, Ebonyi State University Teaching Hospital was rated as one of the best in the country but, at a point, it started going down. How do you intend to launch it back to its former ranking?
I earlier told you about how the state’s teaching hospital was converted to a federal establishment, before then, it was functioning well. We will come back to that status or even better because the medical equipment, which we will use, are not common in the West African sub-region. I assure you that the former record will be a tip of the iceberg.
What about managing the institution?
Just as other public institutions, the general organization shall monitor and direct other sectors, with direct supervision from the government. It will be run as public-private enterprise because the hospital will be in partnership with a company that produces the items, which are used for kidney cases. We want the firm to be deeply involved so that the management will comprise business and social aspects. In short, there will be a robust management plan for the hospital and there has been a steady improvement in Ebonyi State health system since the inception of this administration.
Why does Ebonyi have the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the South East despite the efforts of government?
It is simply because we have high testing capacity, that is why we also have cases, the 42 deaths recorded so far was due to late presentation and poor mobility.
Concerning how the vaccines can be accessed, Ebonyi State is not living in isolation, we are still connected to the centre and there is a protocol for the purchase of the vaccines, thus, we need to follow Federal Government protocol.
Sometime ago, all the commissioners for health were invited for a physical meeting in Abuja, where we discussed the modalities towards accessing the vaccine, and Ebonyi State is ready to abide by national protocols.
Our belief is that frontline health workers will take first and elderly/aged people because they are mostly affected and because of the risk on frontline health workers, we prioritized their vaccination.