At the inception of his administration in 2015, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu identified sound healthcare services as one of the enablers of his Five Development Pillars aimed at delivering better life to the people of Abia State and proceeded to map out and implement strategies to ensure improvements within the sector through capacity building, deployment of technology, modern equipment and well defined deliberate actions to be taken to ensure that life expectancy in the state surpasses the national average which, according to the latest World Bank population review, is currently at 55.12.
According to Gov. Ikpeazu, the strategic approach was simply to put in place measures to improve healthcare at each segment of the sector’s spectrum, including mother/child, accident/emergency and geriatrics services to enhance service delivery, improve capacity and performance indices at every point.
To achieve his objective, the governor executed the following key actions:
a. Construction and functionalization of four new general hospitals located in Okeikpe Ukwa, Obingwa, Ikwuano and Arochukwu.
b. Retraining the staff of Abia’s 772 primary health care centres along with provision of essential equipment such as solar-powered refrigerators, beds and other resources necessary for efficient health care delivery at the primary level.
c. Launch of Abia Tele-Health Initiative (dial-a-doc direct) to leverage the high tele density of the state in order to deliver innovative medicare to citizens while also linking the centre, which has a minimum of 12 medical doctors working on 24/7 basis, to the 772 PHCs in the state.
d. Procurement of three mobile hospitals and eight additional units for the fleet of medical ambulances to ensure fast and efficient response to medical emergencies across the state.
e. Launch of the first-of-its-kind Abia State Geriatric Services Agency to deliver free home care to home-bound persons who are above 70 years
f. Equipping and functionalization of the multimillion-dollar first Mother and Child Specialist Hospital in the state to cater for the needs of expectant mothers and children
g. Proliferation of fully equipped cottage hospitals manned by locals to deliver sound medical services to the residents.
h. Provision of critical infrastructure, equipment and trained manpower to fight infectious diseases such as COVID-19, Lassa fever, tuberculosis, etc.
I. Equipment of tertiary medical facilities in the state
Recently, Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu visited the beautiful town of Nkporo in Ohafia LGA of the state in company of his Deputy, Rt. Hon. Ude Oko Chukwu, and other top government officials to launch a model cottage hospital conceptualized by him as the new model for all similar facilities, which he plans to deploy across the 17 LGAs of the state.
Set in a well fenced table land, the facility is energized through solar power generating system in addition to the regular public power supply, hosts a well equipped diagnostic laboratory with ultra-sound equipment and others, three wards, two theatres, two consultant rooms, two delivery rooms and a pharmacy, among others.
The interesting part of the management of the facility, which is expected to serve patients from Nkporo, Abiriba, Ohafia and other neighbouring communities, is that all the staff employed to work at the facility, including medical doctors and nurses, are locals. The governor, who announced the donation of a medical ambulance for the facility, explained that the strategy behind the employment of locals was to ensure that trained manpower was always available with zero risk of abandoning the facility to work in urban areas.
Prior to arriving Nkporo, Gov. Ikpeazu had inspected two containerloads of medical equipment that arrived from the United States of America and which are being deployed at the Bende Road location of the first Mother & Child Hospital in Abia State. Two more containerloads of similar equipment are expected to arrive soon with combined value of the imported medical equipment and supplies whose deliveries were facilitated by Abians in the Diaspora estimated at more than $2 million dollars.
He expressed satisfaction with the good state of the materials whose delivery was delayed due to issues associated with COVID-19 necessitated lockdown across the globe.
To many observers, by far the greatest contribution of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to healthcare delivery in Nigeria and abroad is his focused implementation of Abja State Tele-Health Program which was launched in 2017 by Vice President Yemi Osibanjo during one of his visits to Abia.
This service which essentially uses the existing telecommunication infrastructure in the state to support innovative healthcare delivery has received wide local and international acclaim. Christened Abia Dial-a-Doc program, its value proposition revolves around qualified medical doctors remotely supporting individuals and institutions at the dial of a phone number. The service connects rural populations with urban medical doctors without the usual cost and inconvenience associated with such services thereby enabling local populations remotely access the best care and cure they require, in a manner that is both convenient and cost-efficient, connecting them more responsively to themselves and their local health systems.
Using this Telehealth service, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has created a world where anyone can get medicare from anywhere at anytime; providing seamless health consultations that are local, reliable, timely, affordable, inclusive and sustainable.
A recent report published in a British online research journal, Scientific Research Publishing Inc., concluded that Abia State Telehealth Initiative popularly called Dial-a-Doc is an optimistic, veritable tool for reliable health information dissemination, health data gathering and exchange, effective community health policing, and reliable monitoring & evaluation of PHC service providers and provisions; with the singular objective to further strengthen and optimize our existing local health systems.
John Okiyi Kalu is the Honourable Commisioner for Information, Abia State Government.