By Dayo Johnson
Akure —HEAVILY pregnant women caused a stir in Akure, the Ondo State capital last week Thursday as they shut the two main gates of the State Specialist Hospital with their protruding stomachs to protest the outrageous 300 per cent increase in medical bills across government hospitals
Reports had it that many of the expectant women were pained that after they were driven away from the hitherto free of charge Mother and Child Hospital in Akure following outrageous medical bills introduced by the new administration in the state, they were again confronted with same hardship in state specialist hospital where ordinarily, they ought to have found succour.
To them, it was like running from frying pan into fire and thereby pushed to the wall leaving them with the only option of fighting back hence the protest.
The state government’s decision to increase medical bills had attracted condemnation not only from within the state but across the country.
It was a sight to behold as the women pushed the gates with their stomachs, protesting government’s insensitivity by increasing medical bills with impunity.
They blocked the entrance of the hospital with their protruding stomachs by forming a barricade, insisting that they would not vacate the venue until government reverses the new N25,000 being charged for normal deliveries and over N50,000 for complicated deliveries. While challenging the rationale behind the increase, the pregnant women described as unjustifiable, charges ranging from N500 to N4000 being collected by the hospital officials on the order of the state government from them.
The women numbering about 200 said that what was happening in the medical sector was not what they bargained for when they voted for the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, government in the state and recalled that such maternal health care were free of charge during the tenure of the immediate past administration of Governor Olusegun Mimiko. They chorused: “ This is not the change we voted for”.
For hours, medical activities were disrupted by the aggrieved expectant women who, aside shutting the gates, sat on bare floor chanting anti- government songs lamenting that “it’s now cheaper seeking medical care in private hospitals than in state specialist hospital.
It would be recalled that under the immediate past administration, expectant women and children under age five enjoyed
The state which was credited with having the best maternal and child healthcare programmes in the country and beyond during the Dr Mimiko administration, is gradually retrogressing.
By the records of the World Bank in 2009, the state was a major contributor to maternal mortality in Nigeria until the immediate administration vowed to ensure that pregnancy will no longer be a death sentence in the state.
To the rescue was the establishment of Abiye (Safe Motherhood) programme which did not only reverse this trend, but also brought accolades for the government from home and abroad.
During the last administration, the Abiye programme became a reference point, not only in Nigeria, but internationally, as pregnancy then was no longer a death sentence in the state.
However, the present administration seems not to be interested in all these as its policies in this sector are geared towards the opposite direction and many people are disturbed.
The Abiye programme of the immediate past administration has to do with Traditional Birth Attendants as well as Mission Home Operators referring pregnant women to government health facilities to ensure safe deliveries. But with the introduction of exorbitant bills, the expectant women may have no choice than to go back to seek their services
Recall that workers in the state who are in charge of cleaning public hospitals across the state equally took their dissatisfaction to the Governor’s office to protest the non-payment of their three months’ salaries recently.
Also, workers who carry out their duties under the auspices of Ondo State Emergency Management Services Agency, ODEMSA, said the government was owing them nine months’ pay.
“We have not received salaries since June 2017, and our efforts at lobbying and negotiating with government have proved abortive. The Akeredolu-led government does not seem to have us in their plans at all.
“We have never had this kind of problem before this government came on board. Our working vehicles and equipment are all dead. We are tired of hunger. We can no longer pay our children’s school fees.
Happenings in the health sector got to a head last week when the pregnant women took the bull by the horn and marched on the state specialist hospital saying “ enough is enough” of government’s harsh decision.
Reports had it that the number of deliveries recorded in the State Mother and Child Hospital is about 40,000 in four years of its establishment. Eighty per cent of the deliveries “are primiparous meaning those having pregnancy for the first time and the remaining 20 per cent are those who have had one or two previous deliveries.
Findings by Vanguard showed that the bed space which was free before, now attracts N3,500, blood sampling – N500, screening of blood by donor – N3,800, deliveries- N25,000, complicated deliveries attract between N35,000 and N50,000, fresh registration – N4,000 as against N1000, consultation which used to be free now attracts N1000 while every ante-natal hitherto free now attracts N500.
Speaking with Vanguard, a staff of the hospital confirmed the collection of the new fees since the advent of the present administration which had refused to give any subvention to the hospitals in the last one year.
“ Our leaders were told to go and source for money to run the hospitals hence the outrageous bills charged in the hospitals. If government is claiming ignorance of the charges, where do they want us to get money to run the hoapitals from? Is it with our blood? They are playing politics. They are in the know.
One of the protesting pregnant women, Sharon Arise said that they usually pay N1,000 as registration for antenatal while deliveries were free of charge.
Arise said registration fee jumped from N1000 to N5,000 while they have to pay N500 for every antenatal appointment, N25,000 for normal deliveries and over N50,000 for deliveries that developed complications.
According to her, the cost of antenatal services was increased last December while other fees were introduced after the Easter break. She said most of them have resorted to traditional midwives and private hospitals.
“When we got to the hospital,we were asked to pay N500 each before they can attend to us and initially when we registered, we registered with N2,500 which is to cover the whole antenatal period.
“But now, they asked us to pay every time we need to see the doctor and that we should prepare N25,000 ahead of our delivery and those who registered today had to pay N4,000 as against N1,000 we used to pay before for antenatal
“We made a formal complaint at the office of the CMD, he failed to attend to us or address us and we decided to protest against the obnoxious policies of the hospital board and the state government.
“We were asked to be paying N500 per consultancy session but we suddenly discovered that we are to pay N25,000 for delivery. They collected N4,000 for registration, with no drugs for us.“
Vanguard was informed that receipts for the deliveries were not given to the expectant women after giving birth by government officials in the hospital.
The Chief Medical Director, CMD, of the Specialist Hospital, Dr. Moses Adewole, who denied the development said there was no increase in the cost of delivery in the hospital.
He, however, said the newly introduced N500 for every antenatal appointment was done by the management to subsidise the running cost in the hospital, while he appealed to the pregnant women to cooperate with the hospital.
According to him,”everything in this country is on the high side and most of the time, we depend on power from power-generating set because the power from the national grid cannot power most of the equipment in the hospital so we depend on the generator most of the time. “
The Commissioner of Health, Dr Wahab Adegbenro in his reaction attributed the cause of the protest by the expectant women to “communication gap.
“The people were not properly briefed about what is going on, but we have cancelled the N500 for the antenatal appointment and have reverted to the old system.”
Adegbenro described the increase in the delivery fee as false saying there was no plan to increase the delivery fee, “there is nothing like N25,000 for delivery, it is false information and the normal delivery fee remains N5,000.
The commissioner added that the decisions to lump all levies under booking, was in the interest of the pregnant women as all expenses during antenatal are subsumed under it.
Adegbenro assured that when the state government “starts implementation of the Mandatory Contributory Health Scheme, vulnerable groups which include pregnant women are to enjoy free health care.
He noted that “the Health Insurance Scheme will provide a pool of funds to run the Health sector and the vulnerable group which include pregnant women will be adequately taken care of.
The Permanent Secretary, Hospital Management Board, Dr. Adeniran Ikuomola appreciated the fact that the pregnant women had the right to protest whatever they detest in a democracy but appealed for dialogue as the women in his words, were in a sensitive state.
Who is now economical with the truth, government or the women with protruding stomachs?
Time will tell.