By Anselm Okolo
It’s been glory times for health in Sokoto state in the last five years.Though modest in acknowledging how he has changed the face of healthcare in the state since assuming office as Governor in 2015, Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal says “our plan is to holistically change the face of healthcare in our state” and the “objective was three pronged”.
A tough task he admitted at onset, but “we decided very early to make healthcare the bedrock of development in our state. To institutionalise our pursuit, we knew we had to do something completely different from the past efforts, we planned for a holistic programme that will ensure a multi – pronged approach to address access to services for all, quality in health diagnosis and treatment and lastly availability of quality personnel”
Reaching deep into experience, Tambuwal knew to attempt doing it alone as government would be a recipe for failure. “I decided it was important to get everyone in the state involved in our plan”, Governor Tambuwal pointed out in an exclusive interview recently in Sokoto adding “we have gotten everybody involved in a contributory manner” and “the results are available for review across the state”
Located not far from the Total Filing station, bypass Mabera, Mujaya, Sokoto is the ultra – modern head office complex of Sokoto Diagnostic Centre. The centre is a joint project of the state government and a private sector health systems and infrastructure company E – Health Africa.
What may not be common knowledge to all is the fact that Sokoto state and other states in northern Nigeria lies within a region known as the meningitis belt. This zone is so called, due to the high risk of bacterial meningitis epidemics occurring in the region. The epidemics affect hundreds of people and can be fatal if patients are not diagnosed and treated quickly.
Governor Tambuwal understood this very well and was determined to ensure the situation was reversed. To ensure proper treatment of meningitis cases, a fatal condition in the state, he knew it was vital to have a quick and reliable diagnosis. “Unfortunately, such diagnostic capabilities were not available in the region” he said pointing out that this prompted the urgency in initiating the joint venture with E – Health Africa.
“It was important to raise our ability to quickly diagnose infectious diseases and proceed with treatment”, Governor Tambuwal explains adding “this placed the state on a solid foundation when COVID – 19 broke out, with the diagnostic centre and others centres for medical investigations in the state, we were able to do a lot of tests on COVID – 19 that helped stabilize the situation”.
Construction of another ultra – modern Medical Diagnostic Centre is being finalized at Farfaru, Sokoto to compliment the work of this laboratory.
With diagnosis settled Governor Tambuwal moved on to access and affordability to services for all. That culminated in the establishment of the Sokoto State Contributory Health Care Management Scheme to guarantee access to health services to citizens of the state especially the poor with a N100 million start up contribution.
Sokoto has an estimated population of 5.3 million people with about 4.5 million without health insurance. In efforts to ensure the actualization of universal health coverage for the indigent, poor and vulnerable, the scheme has been a life saver and makes the state the only in the whole of the north with a contributory health insurance programme.
According to Dr Shehu Balarabe Kakale, commissioner for health (2015 – 2019), “establishment of SOCHEMA Agency with a legally binding Bill is the greatest achievement under this present administration led by Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal CFR. It is a legacy that I am proud to live behind as the commissioner of health, I believe it is a machinery of reforming and a revolution of healthcare services towards minimizing out of pocket spending to the barest minimum for the attainment of a sound Universal Health Coverage in our Communities”. The Scheme has since expanded to cover students of tertiary institutions in the state.
To deeply position the health systems in the state for quality and quantum performance, Governor Tambuwal launched a streak of quality assurance initiatives within the health sector of the state. It included strengthening of Disease Surveillance and Emergency Response Unit, akin to what is obtainable in advanced societies with emphasis on diseases prevention rather than on curative. The activities carried out through a system of networking between Federal, State and Local Government Areas, has been very useful in curtailing the spread of Gastro-Enteritis, Measles, CSM and Malaria in the state.
Malaria an endemic disease in the tropical zone to which Nigeria belongs got additional attention under the quality assurance initiatives with the establishment of Malaria Control Agency, the first of its kind in the North West geo-political zone.
He also set up the Sokoto state Emergency Response Team (ERT) and introduced the Central Ambulance Service to further and ease evacuation of the sick and victims of accidents for treatment in real time.
To compliment the operations of the ERT and the ambulance services, Tambuwal established the Emergency Operations Complex at the Sokoto state Specialist Hospital Sokoto. The complex is comprised of an Accident and Emergency Unit, Blood Transfusion Unit, Wards, Medical Equipment Workshop and Poly Clinic Department.
With the 5 – star facilities and services available in the state, Tambuwal established the Healthcare Financing and Medical Tourism Development Unit to ensure that people from outside of the state could tap into the services and even generate revenue for the state. To truly make the state a first choice destination location for medical tourism in the country, Tambuwal embarked on a massive renovation and re-equipping of facilities at secondary and primary health care centres across the state.
Under the programme Primary Health Centres in Limani, Sabon Garin Dole Araba, Dingyadi and Salame were given a befitting look at the cost of N282,284,578. Also Primary Healthcare Centres at Sabon Birni, Balle, Dange and Kware to General Hospital were upgraded at the cost of N585,287,608. At the end of the first phase of renovation/upgrade programme about 18 General Hospitals were covered. Also renovated is the Maryam Abacha Women and Children Hospital, Sokoto.
So also is the State Central Medical Store at Runjin Sambo, Sokoto, which is today reputed as one of the best in the northern part of the country.
Convinced that health delivery is beyond physical structures, Governor Tambuwal moved the state House of Assembly to enact the PHC Under – One – Roof policy to improve the Primary Healthcare services in the state.
To guarantee transparency and allocation of funds to projects and health services, the state government adopted the best practice of developing a Strategic Health Plan. Working with some Development Partners, the state developed and launched the Strategic Health Plan 2016 – 2020.
According to Dr Muhammed Ali Inname, current commissioner of health, “health sector financing and programming in Sokoto has been guided by the Strategic Health Plan, which has ensured that over 20% of the state’s annual budget is allocated to health” adding “I can assure you that there are not many states doing so on yearly basis in the country”
Also implemented without fail annually by the state government under the leadership of Governor Tambuwal has been the over N2 billion naira workplan to improve education, health, hygiene and sanitation jointly developed by the state and UNICEF. The value of the workplan had increased since it was first developed in 2016 to N2.8 billion for 2019.
To ensure stability in service delivery by health workers in the state he approved the CONMES Salary Scale for Medical Doctors, Dental and Veterinary Doctors working in the state to curtail brain drain.
For these and many more achievements Governor Tambuwal was in 2016 recognised as the best performing Governor in Nigeria in 2016 under the National Logistic Supply Chain Integrated Programme.
Since returning as governor in 2019, Tambuwal has raised the bar on his achievements on his first term, even higher.
Anselm Okolo is an Abuja based journalist firstname.lastname@example.org