In the past, the health sector in Cross River State frequently features in the news for the wrong reasons due to the alarmingly high maternal and infant mortality rates recorded every year.But the good news presently is that the State government has decided to takeÂ the bull by the horns in stemmingÂ the unfortunate trend. Apart from taking protactive steps in implementing an effective roll back malaria programme, pregnant women are also being given a new lease of lifeÂ through a free health programme.
By Judith Ufford
THERE is no gain saying that maternal and infant mortality rates in the Nigeria are one of the worldâ€™s highest. Back home, Cross River State top the list for high maternal mortality rate with 2000 per 100,000 live birth. And the reason for this alarming ratio is not far-fetched: Antenatal and postnatal services in the State are provided by traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs), Primary Health centres, Secondary and Tertiary health facilities.
Presently, over 50 percent of the Obstetric population in the state patronise TBAs and prayer houses and only resort to orthodox healthcare when complications set in. By the time help is sought for, it is usually too late to be effective.
It is against this backdrop that the State government embarked on the free pregnancy care for eligible pregnant women and free medical care for children between 0-five years old.
According to the Health Commissioner, Dr. Edet Ikpi, the aim of this initiative is to ensure reduction of preventable infant mortality by availing the group with preventive measures and adequate health care, as well as alleviating the financial burden of health care on the parent.
â€œWhen the Imoke administration assumed office in 2007, the status of the health sector was far from satisfactory. There was therefore a need for an urgent, planned and satisfactory intervention in order that the people of the state receive the type of service the people deserve,â€ Dr. Ikpi explained.Â Continuing, he informed that when he assumed office in 2008, his main aim was to deliver on Governor Imokeâ€™s promise on healthcare.
â€œWhen this administration came on board, the status of health care was far from satisfactory. For instance, there were 10 functional General Hospitals in the state and their operating capacity were limited by manpower issues. There was only one Teaching Hospital rendering referral services (UCTH) to the entire state,â€ the Commissioner recalled.
So bad was the system that workers in the state had their accredations withdrawn by the accrediting bodies. From all indications, therefore, all aspects and components of the Stateâ€™s health care system presently require improvement in terms of infrastructure, equipment, power, water and manpower development.
In the last two years, efforts have been on to upgrade and equip the three General Hospitals in Calabar, Ugep and Ogoja, to enable them become reference centre hospitals. This, according to the Health Commissioner, is to alleviate some of the some of the stress placed on UCTH and also provide the people with a faster and more efficient service.
In addition, appropriate budgetary allocation has been made to complete the six General Hospitals under construction and a new one at Ikom.
One area where the state is scoring an A++ is in its Roll Back Malaria programme.Â Last year alone, over 600,000 mosquito nets were distributed. By this figure, and with a population of a bout two million, it means every family has at least one mosquito net.Â And the state is not resting on its oars, so says the Health Commissioner.
Even the Governor beat his chest about the improving status of healthcare in the state with regards to the Roll Back Malaria scheme. In an interview with this reporter, he stated thus: â€œRecently, I met with United Nations Special Envoy on Roll Back Malaria who visited the state in recognition of the progress of the administration on the Role Back Malaria programme.
I believe that we are the only state in the Federal Republic of Nigeria which has distributed over 600,000 insecticide treated mosquito net. Now, this is important because in Cross River State we are about two million people which if you divide 600,000 by two million, it means that literally that every household in the state has a mosquito net.
We have created and sustained the office of Special Adviser on Roll Back Malaria; it is a cabinet level position and the special adviser job is to oversee the Roll Back Malaria project. I do not have the statistics, but I do know that a significant improvement has occurred as a result of some ofÂ these progr
ammes, particularly the distribution of the netsâ€.
Before now, the HIV/AIDS statistics have been nothing to write home about but all that is beginning to change. Again, on this issue, the Governor was very definite. According to him, the State was heavily dependent on donor agencies for support, but that has now been reversed.
â€œWhen I came in, I realised that the State AIDS Control Agency (SACA) relied hundred percent on donors and I didnâ€™t think it made sense. What we did was to provide significant funding. What we are trying to do now is to strengthen SACA in terms of capacity to deliver on its programmes.
We are also providing real free health facilities for pregnant women and children who are usually at the risk of all diseases and I think that would go a long way in controlling these diseases. The MDG (Millennium Development Goals) sets a deadline of 2015. And what we have done in Cross River State is that we want to be MDG compliant so that by 2015, we would have met the MDG target,â€ he stated
Although, he was not too comfortable with the infant and maternal mortality ratio in the State, he assured that something was been done about it.
â€œThe infant or maternal mortality rate is still significantly high; it is one of the highest in this part of Nigeria. It is not something we should be proud of.Â It is something we should urgently address and that is why we have introduced free health programme for pregnant women.
They can get free natal treatment at any health centre across the state. It is an expensive project because we have to equip each health centre not only with medical equipment and drug but with ICT equipment. I think we are the first state in Nigeria that is embarking on this kind of project. And the health centres are really remote and what we are trying to do is to have one healthcare facility in every ward. And there are 196 wards in this stateâ€.
It is to achieve just this that the government signed an agreement with Galaxy Backbone Limited for the supply and installation of Internet facilities to all Health Management Information System (HMIS) offices and Health Centers in the 18 Local Government areas in the State.
Already, all the 146 Primary/ secondary health care centres in the state haveÂ been connected and provided with services and facilities and about 130,000 people have been registered across the state. The internet service is to enhance data collection and enable timely accessibility in the free health programme for pregnant women and children under five years.
For a State that has tourism as its focal point, the state government is convinced that it has to make the State a health tourism destination that will fulfil the dream of Nigerians to have a state where they can have peace, rest and the best of health care service.
To achieve this which it target â€˜Project Hopeâ€™, the State government has adopted Levels of Care Approach. These levels of care have been identified in the State where state intervention and private partnership involvement can be created.
These are: Primary healthcare level; Secondary healthcare level; and Specialist healthcare level. The objective is for all communities across the State to have a health facility to serve about 1000-1,500 people. The intention, the Health Commissioner says is to have healthcare personnel deliberately involved in taking healthcare initiatives to the people where they live and work.
And this is not without some benefits to drug manufacturers who would have the opportunity to partner with the State government by way ofÂ manufacturingÂ and distribution of drug in a Drug revolving scheme. This aspect of the health programme provides for an emergency care programme which is open for private sector involvement.
To this end, the State government has embarked on the construction of some Specialist Hospitals such as the Samuel Imoke Specialist Diagnostic and Treatment Centre, in Calabar,Â the Cross River State Cancer Research, Diagnostic and Treatment Centre, Odukpani, and the Mary Slessor Specialist Center for Women and Children, Ogoja, among others.