Interrogating Bala’s health agenda

By Rogers Edor Ochela

As Nigerians prepare to roll out the drums and cymbals in celebration of the nation’s 54th Independence anniversary come 1st October, 2014, expectations are rife that analysts will put several public officials on the spotlight on account of their stewardship. It is on this note that I have elected to interrogate Senator Bala Mohammed’s health agenda in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). We interrogate public officials bearing in mind that epochal moments in great democracies all over the world are issue defined, not just by the presence of towering and inspiring political leaders, but by great issues that represent a clear break from the past, the old method. In order words, the defining moment of great democracies all over the world are issue defined.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) by President GoodluckEbele Jonathan in 2010, the state of the territory’s health sector was simply nothing  to write home about, efforts of preceding administrations notwithstanding. The situation was so pathetic that residents of the territory were constantly reminded of December 31, 1983 Sani Abacha’s coup broadcast, which described the nation’s hospitals as “mere consulting clinics.’’

So, when Senator Bala Mohammed took over the driver’s seat at the FCT, he did so with the aggressiveness of a man determined to right the obvious wrongs that had conspired to sentence the territory to a virtual state of underdevelopment. Three years down the road, the Kauran Bauchiis unmistakably working to leave the territory better than he met it. In a nutshell, providence is smiling on his efforts to reposition the territory in all ramifications.

In this piece, I intend to briefly x-ray the ministers’ laudable efforts to re-engineer FCT’s healthcare delivery system with a view to ensuring that residents have uninterrupted access to qualitative health services.

On assumption of office in 2010, Bala ignited the refurbishment of all the General Hospitals in the six Area Councils in the territory and went a step further by ensuring the procurement of drugs and equipments for them, a development that has succeeded in endearing these hospitals to the populace. To make these efforts more meaningful, the Administration recruited doctors and other highly experienced medical personnel to man the hospitals.

The most inspiring of the minister’s achievements in the health sector is the introduction of the Mobile Integrated Primary Healthcare initiative (Mailafiya), which earned the minister the ‘’Most Outstanding Leadership in Africa Award’’ from the Constituency for Africa, CFA in Washington, USA last year. The success of this project has been so profound that several countries across the globe enamored of it have wholeheartedly adopted it.

According to the minister, ‘’our aim in creating the MAILAFIYA programme is to establish a world class model of primary healthcare delivery through an integrated  data managed mobile health strategy, especially in the inaccessible areas of the 8,000sqaure kilometers that comprise the FCT.’’  The central plank of the initiative is the recruitment and posting of foreign doctors to rural areas in the FCT with a view to boosting the territory’s health care delivery system.

It is a strategic health programme aimed at addressing the healthcare needs of rural communities and fast-tracking the attainment of MDGs 4, 5, and 6 in the FCT. It was conceived as a means of addressing the wide disparities in health services between dwellers of urban centers and the rural poor as demonstrated by the baseline survey conducted in 2007 by the FCT MDGs Project Support Unit; existing health access problems due to factors both natural and preventable in the midst of available technology and adoption of new technology (ICT) to improve on the poor status of Primary Health Care Management data base through Partnership with the private sector.

The minimum eight essential and inter-related components of the primary health care model as recommended by the WHO include public education and participation regarding prevention and control of health problems; promotion of food supply and proper nutrition for all; adequate supply of safe water and basic sanitation for all; comprehensive maternal and child health care, including family planning; global immunization against major infectious diseases; prevention and control of locally endemic diseases; appropriate and accessible treatment of common diseases and injuries and provision of essential drugs to all.

Still talking about equipment, the FCTA has also procured state-of-the-art Endocopic towers manufactured by Karl Storz, Germany, to improve the quality of healthcare in the territory. The equipment has since been installed at Asokoro District hospital, thereby making it possible for the hospital to carry out minimal access surgery like appendicectomy, cholecystectomy and ovarian cystectomy to mention just a few.

Other new medical services provided by the Bala Mohammed led administration include: Intensive care services; computerised tomography services; digital fluoroscopy; heamo-dialysis services; automated laboratory investigations and mammography. These services were previously non-existent in FCTA-owned hospitals until the inception of the present administration.

The main advantage of this new surgical procedure over open surgery is that it is minimal access surgery resulting in a small scar and the patient’s shorter stay in the hospital.  Also, more patients could be treated over a given period of time compared to open surgery.

Laudable as these achievements are, the point must however be orchestrated that it has not been a bed of roses all through as there are challenges of increased patient attendance at the hospitals as result of the comprehensive health services available as well as the limited bed space for admission of patients in the hospitals.

Another fundamental challenge is shortage of staff, which has created a wide disparity in the ratio of patients/ health workers. It is expected that this challenge will be alleviated by the recent approval by the Minister for the replacement and appointment of healthcare workers, just as the challenges of space and accommodation of patients would be frontally tackled when the Karu and Zuba General Hospitals are eventually opened.

These developments have also necessitated the need to open up more healthcare facilities for the ever-increasing number of people in the territory and its environs. To further boost provision of healthcare services, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) has approved the sum of N900 million to be spent on recapitalising the territory’s Central Medical Store. The approved fund, which would be spread over a period of three years, is to fast track regular supply of quality and cost effective medical supplies to the residents of the FCT in line with the National Drug Distribution Guidelines.

Efforts are equally been intensified to establish School of Health Technology in the territory before the end of 2014,which  will help to curb the challenges faced by primary health care centres in the FCT.

The school will help to produce trained manpower for the health sector in the territory.

Rogers Ochela,  a former newspaper editor, now media consultant is based in Abuja.

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