By Tunde Akanbi
Kwara State under the new captainship of our amiable Governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq will definitely have a number of issues to address, however, the most paramount task will be the task of prioritisation.
Repositioning of the health sector must as a matter of urgency be on the front burner not just because it is a cardinal focus in the APC manifesto but because it constitutes one of the most crucial social contract between the elected and the electorate.
It is heartening that Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq appears to be etching his footprints in the sands of time in turning around the health sector with his immediate approval for payment of N232million in counterpart funding, aimed at deepening access to primary healthcare, health insurance and nutrition for under-three children in the state.
According to the Chief Press Secretary to the Executive Governor, Rafiu Ajakaye, the approved N232million includes N100m counterpart funds for Basic Healthcare Provision Funds (BHPV); N50m for Accelerating Nutrition Results in Nigeria (ANRIN); and another N82m to access global grants for malaria.
Good as this may sound, let me confess that i am passionate about the fate of an ongoing project in the state that had suffered extreme neglect since the exit of the international funding partners, Sightsavers.
It is on record that Sightsavers enacted a turn around in the fortune of Kwara as a medical haven in sight restoring surgical services during the ten (10) years of support while it partnered with Kwara State government to establish the Kwara Eye Care Programme with headquarters in Civil Service Hospital and renders services at Sobi Specialist and Offa Specialist hospital in addition to several outreach visitation to many other communities like Omuaran, Okuta, Patigi, Shonga, Share and other communities that enjoyed the presence of the international partner between 2003 and 2013.
Unfortunately, since the partners no longer provide financial resources, our children serving the state as Ophthalmologists have passionately struggled to ensure the survival of the project without commensurate attention by the government whose image is being boosted through these professionals tireless input and impact.
The eye is one of the most important if not the most important organ of the body. In fact, it is the most important organ of sense. With the eye, one perceives up to 80 percent of all impressions by means of sight. If other senses such as taste or smell stop working, it is the eyes that best protect one from danger. Many eye problems and diseases can be treated if caught early, but sadly, where are the doctors or the ophthalmologists to take care of these disorders?
A visit to the eye clinic of Civil Service or Sobi specialist hospital on a Monday or Wednesday when the experts are at work will reveal how our citizens, indigenes and friends from neighbouring states even including the writer of this piece scramble to get the attention of our own state employed Ophthalmologists .
In one way, it reflects the acceptance of the quality service they render while on the other hand it exemplifies the poor attention of the host government in addressing challenges faced by the practitioners who struggle to deliver service and the ordeal they go through in delivering services in a computer age.
The Project currently thrives under the headship of a renowned Opthalmologist and a former Chairman of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) in the state, Dr Abubakar Ayinla, who is usually swarmed by patients numbering more than two hundred, i salute his commitment, doggedness and courage in coordinating a resource deprived capital intensive eye care project for the state, yet the state can do better.
It sounds incredible to hear that only two Opthalmologists renders services in each of the eye centres in the state. The current global recommendation is one doctor to 600 population, and despite the inadequate number of eminently qualified doctors and nurses in the state and the country at large, a huge number of them are escaping to other countries or states because the government has refused to invest in them.
According to another Ophthalmologist at Civil Service hospital, Dr. Mrs. Biola Tota, after the days’ work, she completely gets fatigued because of the rigour of attending to numerous patients in the eye unit.
I am worried, considering this stance, how Kwara can meet up in meeting the health needs of her communities. It is known that over 4.25 million adults aged 40 years in Nigeria are visually impaired or blind as a result of one blinding eye disease or the other. Prominent among what leads to blindness are cataract, glaucoma, corneal diseases, trachoma and trauma. Most eye care professionals reccomend that one should undergo a comprehensive eye examination every one to two years, depending on one’s age, risk factors and whether one currently wears eye glasses or contact lenses.
To take care of the eye or to attend to a patient with eye challenge, the Doctor needs nothing less than one hundred percent concentration. But in a situation where the salary that is paid is not comparable to those of other colleagues working with federal institutions in the same town, who have little patients to contend with, could be frustrating.
So, one other health issue that needs the immediate attention of the administration of Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq is to ensure that our eye clinics are properly equipped with modern and state of the art facilities as would have been done by any international partner in this age.
The state is well endowed with Ophthalmologists, yet it will need to employ more and invest in their retraining to render modern surgical services. Their is need to improve on the infrastructural state of the eye clinic at Civil Service Hospital, Sobi specialist hospital, General hospital, Ilorin and Offa specialist hospital.
Government will need to empower the management team to address other areas of needs in the eye industry like public enlightenment, community outreaches, school eye health visits and entrench fullfledge support for the indigent patients that abound in our communities.
This can further enable all categories of people to get access to care. The haves paying for test, investigation and care accordingly while the have-nots are supported to get free or highly subsidized tests, investigation and care including surgeries. This is germane not just for the eye industry but for all spectral of health care as a social contract with the citizens.
An idiom says, a stitch in time saves nine.
The recent midnight unscheduled visit of Governor Abdulrazaq to the Sobi Specialist Hospital, Alapado in Ilorin has further demonstrated the fact that the chief executive of the state really meant business.
With his visit, if backed up with action without much interferences from some greedy politicians , the hope and destiny of our doctors , nurses and other health workers in the state is being rekindled while the fear of mass exodus of our health workers would be a thing of the past.
According to the governor ” Am concerned about the poor salaries of the doctors and nurses, I appreciate them for choosing not to leave the state despite the unfavourable condition but I promise to look into all necessary factors that will make telemedicial and health insurance work in Kwara”.
Beyond the eye, the health care workforce needs to be potentiated.
“We want to work here but there is no conducive environment; we are overworked. We are poorly remunerated, our hospitals are ill-equipped while most of us use our personal equipment to attend to patients even at government hospitals, and still we are not paid salaries that are commensurate with the high load of patients’ burden”. These are the remarks of some frustrated health workers that were interviewed.
*Akanbi, an Ilorin based journalist and media consultant