Recently, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) through its Primary Health Care Development Board (PHCDB), carried out the first round of June 2014 Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Care Week (MCHCW), between June 9 to 13, as part of its integrated package of interventions towards improving health of women and children, in FCT. Stanley Onyekwere, in this interview with the Executive Secretary, FCT PHCDB, Dr. Rilwanu Mohammed, x-rays the exercise and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
Tell us about the first round of June 2014 Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Care Week (MCHCW)?
The Week was flagged off by the hon. minister of state for the FCT, Olajumoke Akinjide, on behalf of the hon.Minister of the FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed. The main purpose of the exercise was actually to sensitise the public that when they are sick they should go to any health care facility in the Territory. That’s was why this time we didn’t take the programme from house to house, or to the mosques, churches, market places or playing grounds. We want people to know that when they are sick, they should go to the nearest health care facility to them, even if it’s private, at least the medical personnel would be able to see and give him or her good advice, before the person gets the needed medication. Secondly, we advised them on issue of proper hand washing. This is because hand washing has been a problem – as result we have pockets of diarrhea here and there, due to outbreak of the disease. We have done a lot of demonstration to the communities, their women and children. And it is very important that the week has taken care of that. We also take care of exclusive breast feeding campaign- we are telling mothers that it’s good to breast feed their new born children. This is because; breast feeding is the first immunization of any child from God. You don’t need to go and buy anything, but you (mother) should exclusively breast feed your child for at least six months, and later you start complementary feeding. During complementary feeding, we expected any mother to actually use the food that it is in their house- that’s why we also taught them through demonstrations during the MNCW period for them to learn how best to use the food they have for their children.
How would you assess the exercise, in terms of coverage of the target beneficiaries?
We have gone round, but we recorded only about 38 percent coverage, as of today (Friday), that’s four days of the excercise, and we have not yet collected the complete data yet. It’s very low but the quality of work has improved, and we are now getting exactly what we did set out to do during the period. We carried out a lot of services particularly vitamin A coverage, which is given to children under the age of five years. We also gave out deworming tablets to children under the age of five; and the coverage for these two is a little bit low as we have not reached 40 or 50 percent. So we have realized that there is a lot of gap. All these commodities are available at the various healthcare facilities in the FCT; and they are given free of charge to mothers and children. We also have antenatal drugs, like folic acid and some drugs for mothers, to prevent them from malaria. Also, HIV/AIDS counseling is being done in the various healthcare facilities, for free. So we are really happy about how the people in the territory are coming out to access available healthcare services.
During the period, there were some few schools, which did not bring out their wards, and in order to reach them at their schools, we extended the exercise by two days (Monday and Tuesday) as part of our mop up campaign.
What were some of the challenges you encountered during the exercise?
Part of the challenges we faced during the period, was that some of the commodities got exhausted, particularly deworming tablets, at the local government level. They couldn’t even find it in the open markets to purchase- that was the peak of the problem we had. Actually, they wanted to purchase the commodity but the large chunk of the drugs was not available. So they had to go as far as south eastern part of the country, precisely Onitsha in search of the commodity, even as at Friday (the last day of the exercise), some people were yet to get additional commodities. We (the Board) purchased all the commodities, which we gave them. And the ones we gave them were what they used for the programme at the local government level, as they couldn’t get another source of supply. So, we are planning that next time, to ensure we don’t have shortage of these essential items,we should make arrangement on how to get them early, so that we would be able to get them at the right time and give them to the various communities especially those at the grassroots level.
Are you concerned about the low coverage of the target beneficiaries of the programme?
Although, the coverage for four days was at 38%, I am happy with the outcome, as people are getting more and more awareness on their health and they are coming to do immunization as at when due. We are happy. During the exercise, we were able to reach out people in the nomadic areas. We are doing well, and I am sure that malnutrition that is even present in the FCT would be a thing of the past. This is because, sometimes it is not the issue of being wealthy- whether you are a rich man or not, but when you don’t know how to mix the same food, and give it to the children. Or you say that you don’t want to breast your children, but that you want to your children formula milk-like SMA gold that is expensive, the children would not get enough and they would be malnourished. Also, we are deworming children every six months. So we are coming back again by November. Therefore, we want the public to also give us the same support or even more, for us to be able to give them what is supposed to be given to them.
Specifically, of what benefit is the programme to the society?
There are a lot of benefits. In FCT, we believe that when you have a healthy populace, the society would be much better for all. There is no way that you can do anything when you are sick- when the father is sick or when the mother is sick or when the child is sick, there is the house they are in can be anything to them. They cannot go to the farm; they cannot go to work or other places where usually go to. So, there is nothing you can when youwhen you are not healthy. Therefore, we want the people especially children to be healthy, because they are the future of tomorrow, and if they are not healthy, there is every chance that they will die at infancy.
Unfortunately, we are losing them unnecessarily through these preventable diseases due lack of immunisation. Children are dying because of measles and tuberculosis; and we are supposed to have vaccination free of charge. So we are supposed to take the full advantage of this government free health intervention programmes and services for women and children in our midst.
Since FCTA created the Board, why is that it is proving difficult to get the legislators to give legal backing for its existence?
We are on it. There was a provision in the National Health Bill before the National assembly, seeking enactment of law backing the Board’s existence, but it was removed. We are going back to the assembly, to present our case through the FCTA legal department. It was remove on the premise that FCT is like a state; so we should present the Bill separately. So, as of now, we have now legal backing, and we don’t know when we will have it.
But, of what importance would a legal backing for the Board be?
Of course, it’s of great importance for us to have legal backing our existence, because as a body when you don’t have any legal backing, you don’t have any statutory power; you can’t sue and be sued. But FCT-PHCB is working, because FCTA decided to create the Board, and we rarely have board members. Although, we enjoy the support of the FCTA, we don’t have legal power to have a legal department in the Board, to handle legal matters for the Board. So if somebody should take us to court, we don’t have that right to defend ourselves as an entity. And as a government agency, if you are a legal entity, you have certain amount that you can spend on procurement and other things to facilitate your work. But because we are not having that legal backing, so we don’t have a procurement unit. Therefore, we are going to call stakeholders, so as to look at the Bill seeking legal backing for the Board, and then send the Bill back to the Assembly again, for consideration. But we are appealing to FCTA and the National Assembly to give the issue the needed attention it deserves.