The primary essence of government is to protect lives and property. Apart from the physical protection which connotes well equipped security apparatuses and personnel, there is also the protection of life through efficient healthcare system. This is of immense importance as its absence allows diseases to strut innocuously but with the collateral consequence of avoidable population decimation.
A trite saying asserts that “health is wealth”. Aside from the various shades of meaning deducible from this expression, it could also be inferred that a population with good health is a gain to the workforce of that society. A contrary is also a deficit and places such society at a disadvantage.
A more narrow but pragmatic narrative on the imperative of good healthcare system can be seen in the case of individuals. Of course only a healthy person can achieve set goals. A wise saying parodies this in our local parlance which could be loosely cast as “the sick cannot keep pace with his peers”.
There is therefore a relationship between health as a factor and the economy of any society. It is why good leaders invest enormously in the health sector to achieve optimum health for the people in the understanding that it is a critical resource to economic buoyancy of the society.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Premier of Western Nigeria in the 50s paid priority to education and health. When he declared free education in that region, he guided the people through what they should prioritize in schools as courses of study. They included Law, Medicine, Banking and Finance, etc. Medicine like education was given premium consideration to ensure the maintenance of a healthy workforce. He often noted that it was the absence of education and lack of access to healthcare that bred superstition that was germane to untimely and premature death of the people.
The primacy accorded good healthcare delivery system is very eloquent in the Western world. Apart from ensuring that hospitals are well equipped with efficient medical personnel, the system also ensures that access to facilities is not hindered by bureaucratic obstacles. The health insurance policy makes access to healthcare easy for all. Those societies value and respect the sanctity of life of their citizenry in recognition that only a society of healthy people can produce a healthy workforce.
Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State, an urbane former banker, has focused intently on the health sector even though it was not part of his 5–point agenda. Apart from his zeal that has necessitated the slogan, “working beyond the promise”, it is safe to say that the governor having studied and had reasonable grasp of the fundamentals of good governance, sees the imperative of providing for the health of the citizenry as a non-negotiable given. It was why at the blast of the whistle for the commencement of his tenure, he headed to St. Luke’s Hospital, Anua, where he gave the hospital a massive facelift. He also added to the complex a brand new building named after Dr. Ann Ward, an Irish female gynaecologist and Reverend Sister who once worked in that hospital.
Today, the hospital which was established in 1937 wears a fascinating look owing to Governor Udom’s magnanimous gesture. It must be stated that the said facility is not owned by government. But for him, it is a facility that Akwa Ibom people use and so must enjoy government’s intervention.
The governor’s vision for the health sector seems to align with the postulation of a Swiss writer, Henry Frederic Amiel which noted, “In health, there is freedom. Health is the first of all liberties”. His vision can therefore be said to be that of an unencumbered citizenry that have internalized the cutting edge “Dakkada” creed that is already evolving Akwa Ibom indigenes into global icons. Swarmed by the achievements recorded by Akwa Ibom youngsters everywhere on the globe, the governor understandably seeks to create a liveable environment for the people with access to state-of-art facilities including that of health.
Governor Emmanuel’s attention to healthcare sector smacks of a revolution. Containers of medical equipment are arriving the state in droves. The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Charles Udoh announced that about 7 containers had already arrived the State with 9 still awaiting shipment to Uyo from Port Harcourt. Currently, some of the equipment are being used to equip General Hospital, Etinan. According to the Commissioner, the hitherto dilapidated General Hospital, Etinan, now wears the look of a rehabilitated and completely refurbished State hospital. He said that the governor is planning to replicate the same gesture in all the General Hospitals in the State. Just recently, the Secretary to the State Government, Sir Etekamba Umoren carried out an on-the-spot exhaustive facility tour of Ikot Ekpene General Hospital obviously with regard to the same intent. Not long ago, Governor Emmanuel flagged off the construction of an Ultra-Modern General Hospital at Ituk Mbang. Elucidating on the project, the Information boss of the State stated that the hospital which is strategically located at the site of the existing hospital at Ituk Mbang is meant to service Uyo metropolis and the Ibom International Airport.
The governor’s emphasis on healthcare and sensitivity to the health of his people also draw testimony in his inauguration of an Emergency Response Training Programme comprising 25 doctors and 75 nurses. The body is designed to provide interventions to emergencies like the unfortunate Reigners Church incident. According to Mr. Charles Udoh, the governor through this massive investment in the health sector is taking a bold step to stem the tide of medical tourism abroad as well as reduce congestion on the tertiary and quaternary medical facilities in the state.
Government’s huge investment in the health sector is in line with the Udom administration medical reforms which started in May. As the governor once noted, “a healthy population gives rise to a wealthy population”. According to the governor, an investment in the health sector is in the interest of Akwa Ibom people and therefore not an expense. He said that having been exposed to first class medical facilities in the world; he was under obligation to deliver same to Akwa Ibom people.
Healthcare services constitute a strong human need that every responsible government must pay attention to. Sadly, the nation’s healthcare delivery system from primary, secondary to tertiary have been in comatose for years with successive governments paying not more than lip serve on its resuscitation. In 1983, in a coup speech, late General Sanni Abacha said that “our hospitals have become mere consulting clinics”. Not much has changed in many parts of the country with frequent loss of lives in minor medical conditions as evidence. Governor Emmanuel’s deliberate reforms in that sector must be seen as a welcome development and an action plan by the administration to make the life of every Akwa Ibom person the State’s priority.
Joe Iniodu, public affairs analyst