As I write this piece, the wisdom in the Biblical injunction, “Do not despise the days of your small beginning”, sinks deeper and deeper. My persuasion is that in tackling the health sector challenges in Abia State, Governor T. A. Orji must have been tremendously inspired by the sense in that Biblical maxim. It perhaps provided the template that fired him to boldly tackle the obvious absence of medical facilities in Abia State, which was indeed part of the critical identity crisis plaguing the state on the governor’s assumption of office.
The task of making a meaningful impact in the challenge-ridden health sector of the state was very frightening. Those who expected the inauguration of elephant projects here and there were disappointed at the governor’s unusual approach: building of health centres. For some, it was ridiculous and absurd, when the governor could have sited one intimidating hospital complex somewhere and given it one jaw-breaking name or the other. They didn’t see what the governor saw. People’s eyes only began to gradually open when the health centres started increasing in leaps and bounds. Before Abians could bat an eyelid, the hitherto sorry health situation in the state amazingly unveiled healthcare miracles optimally designed to seal the mouths of sadists and chronic critics.
Like the mustard seed, the health centres, which were only 65 at the beginning, grew to 250 spread in all the nooks and crannies of the state, all of them fully functional. As an icing, the governor insisted on making Abia a destination for international health referrals. Consequently, he inaugurated the Abia State Specialist Hospital and Diagnostic Centre, with annexes in Amachara and Aba. Its undisputable capacity to treat complicated health situations is evidently captured in the recent installation of eight dialysis machines and the unveiling, recently, of a state-of-the-art eye centre. Prior to this exhilarating development, the Specialist Hospital had been diagnosing and treating other life-threatening health conditions. I recently had occasion to visit another government medical facility in Abia during which patients were variously referred to the Specialist Hospital for laboratory tests. I asked why and my host informed me that their laboratory tests results were usually very exact and clearer for practitioners to interpret.
It was the same motivational drive of government that gave rise to the construction of doctors’ residence at Amachara. It would perhaps not be out of place to recall that Governor Orji’s small beginning – tackling health sector challenges from the grassroots through construction of health centres – has blossomed to the next level of establishing 100-bed hospitals in each of the 17 local government areas of the state. It started with a test run at Okikpe in Ukwa West, Abia South, Arochukwu in Abia North, and Amachara in Abia Central before its expansion to all the LGAs. This well-intended initiative will no doubt power the genuine health care programme of government driven to clinically strengthen Abians and substantially sustain their clean bill of health.
A couple of months ago, four United Nations agencies visited the state and, interestingly, pledged to lend a hand in deepening their cardinal areas of partnership – maternal and infant mortality, exclusive breast-feeding, safe pregnancy delivery and optimal care for newborn babies.
The recent provision of 18 vehicles for health centres will facilitate proper management of emergency situations. With the recent upgrading of Amachara General Hospital to conform to the standard of the state teaching hospital, the diagnostic centre has secured accreditation from the Medical Examination Board for training of house officers.
Other amazing milestones in the state health care initiative include the construction of a functional chest clinic instituted in partnership with Agbami Partners of Chevron Oil Field and organisation of innumerable medical missions under the office of Mercy Odochi Orji, wife of the governor. It is also in the public domain that Abia under Governor Orji partnered with MTN Foundation under the auspices of MTN Yellow Doctors Programme to provide free eye test and treatment for teeming Abians. That initiative was a huge success which Abians will not be in a hurry to forget. The governor’s boundless health drive recently moved him to allow Americare USA access to the strategic Obuaku in Ukwa West for the construction of an international hospital. He has equally intervened in resuscitating the moribund School of Health Technology, Aba.
Another mystery that I am still grappling to unravel is how the governor is able to tidy up the capital-intensive emolument of health workers in spite of the state’s financial handicap. It is instructive that Abia is usually among the first states to implement labour-related agreements without complaints. Without fear of contradiction, one can rightly commend the current harmonious government-labour relations in the state, which, as it where, follows from government’s constant trade-off of interest in the implementation of every payment regime, ranging from Consolidated Medical Salary Scale (CONMESS) to Consolidated Health Salary Scale (CONHESS).
Indeed, the saying that health is wealth is prominently playing out in Abia State. The governor’s avowal to govern a healthy state is evidently not a fluke.