By Femi Bolaji
It is general knowledge that health is wealth, and for Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba State, a healthy citizenry is a productive one.
Since he became governor in 2015, one area that ranks high in his priority list is the health sector. This is evident in the state’s dedicated budget line for the Ministry of Health right from 2015 when he assumed office.
This huge investment, borne out of the passion to touch the lives of those most vulnerable, especially women and children, has today, reached an enviable height. Ishaku, fondly called ‘Rescue Captain’, has made a huge leap when compared to his peers and has written his name in gold.
As a trailblazer, he has decentralized this critical to the admiration of all. One way he did this was to strengthen primary health care (PHC) delivery which mostly benefits rural communities.
How it started
Upon assuming office in 2015, one autonomous agency under the Ministry of Health that had a facelift is the Primary Health Care Development Agency. At the time, the agency was less than a year old following its establishment in 2014.
Ishaku then made it the centrepiece of his administration in terms of health intervention, targeting the vulnerable.
What prompted this was a story he often told in public fora of how he experienced first-hand real-life scenario some time ago in Wukari during campaign, where someone died of a preventable ailment at a medical facility.
He then vowed to do whatever it will take to ensure that such preventable illness did not kill anyone. This brainwork of his administration, which started in his first term, has today become the fulcrum of various health interventions in Taraba.
‘The Rescue Agenda’, the blueprint of his administration, spells out how moribund health centres would be revived and replicated across the state.
As ‘Rescue Captain’, Ishaku has gone beyond not only rescuing the Primary Health Care Agency but has also made the agency an efficient and self-sustaining one, whose yearly budget runs into billions.
As of the time of this assessment, the agency’s 2020 budget line is about N2 billion.
During a visit to some hard to reach communities in Sardauna local government area in 2018 to commission some health facilities, Ishaku restated his commitment to ensuring a healthy populace.
He said, “Health is one of the priorities of my government because a healthy society leads to improved well-being as well as good life and productivity.
“It is in the light of this that my government has undertaken the renovation and equipping hospitals and primary healthcare centres across the state.”
According to the pioneer Executive Secretary of the agency, Aminu Hassan, the agency has been repositioned under Ishaku’s administration to provide integrated PHC services. The revolution in the state’s health sector, he said, has also reduced pressure on secondary health facilities.
These secondary health facilities include Wukari General Hospital and Takum General Hospital in the southern zone, Gembu General Hospital and Warwar General Hospital in the central zone, as well as Bambur General Hospital and the State Specialist Hospital in the northern zone.
Today, most primary health facilities in Taraba offers maternal and child care, family planning services, routine immunization, treatment of minor illnesses like malaria, de-worming, HIV testing and even child delivery.
This was however made possible through the recruitment of qualified health workers, provision of medical equipment in the various primary health facilities and the provision of drugs in line with global best practices.
Taraba under Ishaku’s administration boasts of 90 standard PHC facilities and cut across the16 local government areas of the state, while efforts are ongoing to establish 78 more to cover the 168 electoral wards in the state before the expiration of his second term in 2023.
The current Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey and National Immunization Coverage Survey, MICS/NICS, indicates that Taraba has 70% coverage, which is a major improvement from 16% where it was in 2016.
And since becoming governor, Taraba under Ishaku has consistently performed the bi-annual maternal and child health week, which is a change in status quo. This high impact intervention for women and infants offered free of charge has drastically reduced maternal and child morbidity.
Hassan said: “From inception of Ishaku’s administration, the state Primary Health Care Development Agency has thrived and has gone a long way to ensure that the vulnerable and the less privileged get Services at a minimal cost and at other times free of charge.
“I can recall vividly during the first tenure of his Excellency, he gave the agency and the state commissioner for health a marching order to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Canadian government through UNICEF as our first major project to provide health care services to hard-to-reach settlements.
“Through a baseline survey, we came up with about 650 hard to reach resettlements across the 16 local government areas that were fully covered. “These are the areas where you will cross rivers and climb mountains to access, and where health facilities are far-fetched.”
One area where Ishaku’s drive to reposition PHC in the state has never failed is on prompt release of counterpart funds.
The state government’s timely release of those funds has solidified the relationship with development partners and has made Taraba government a trusted partner in various health projects.
Some of these projects include the Hard-To-Reach and Save One Million Lives. The latest of such was the release of $200,000 for the domestication of the Nigeria State Health Investment Project, NSHIP.
This high impact health project, supported by the World Bank prior to its domestication in Taraba, was piloted in Ondo, Nasarawa and Adamawa.
It has, however, brought a new lease of life to quality health care delivery in the state, as most of its interventions are executed through PHC facilities and have direct bearing on the lives of those living in rural areas.
“Governor Ishaku facilitated NSHIP with a matching grant of $200,000 to facilitate that would strengthen PHC delivery in the state”, Hassan said.
“The introduction of this enviable project boosted the capacity of PHCs in the state in terms of manpower, output and quality health care to rural dwellers. Because of its effectiveness, it is enjoying community partnership which further strengthened its acceptance by those it was intended for.
“We piloted this project with PHCs in ArdoKola local government, but it has now been scaled up to PHCs in 8 LGAs. This initiative also benefitted secondary health facilities like General Hospitals which work in synergy with PHCs during referrals in terms of capacity building and regular funding.
“The governor got accreditation for the college of nursing and midwifery during his first tenure for the institution to train future health workers not only for the state but the nation.
“The school before its accreditation did not admit students for ten years but with the governor’s intervention, the status quo changed and has started graduating students.
“Added to this, the governor recently gave approval for waivers to the primary health care agencies for community health officers, lab technicians, nurses among others who are at the verge of retirement to work additional three years to fill the vacuum that their retirement would have created, to allow the state train younger ones that would take over from them after the three year waiver lapses.
“Also over 160 nurses were injected into secondary health facilities in the state including retired nurses who were reabsorbed for a period of three years to bridge the manpower gap before young nurses complete their trainings.
“He also recently accepted our proposal to recruit 500 skilled human resources for health which we are currently fine-tuning to ensure that the right thing will be done when interviews commence for applicants.
“What we are happy about is the political will of the governor and his interest in ensuring that those at the lowest ebb have access to quality health care services.
“We are even happier that we at the Primary Health Care Development Agency were chosen to help achieve this lofty achievement within a short time.”