Gov Okowa and the Oghara Hospital Challenge

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Once upon a time, the Eku Baptists Hospital, in Ethiope East Local Government Area of Delta State was like the John Hopkins Hospital to the people of Delta State. No matter how tough an ailment may be, taking the patient to the Eku Hospital was almost a certified assurance that the patient will get the best of medical attention. Its medical verdicts at the time was almost without blame, uncontestable anywhere in the world. In a sense, it served like a “salvation ground” for the sick and the ailing. Most times however, the deaths recorded are as a result of late arrival at the hospital which is largely seen as a treatment ground of the last resort.

At the time, the great hospital populated by medical expatriates, and fitted with an aerodrome, was owned and run by the Baptist mission.

Then about a dozen years ago, the natives of the town (Eku) began to agitate to take over the hospital. They eventually did. And the fortunes of the hospital began to head southward.

The hospital soon became a shadow of itself. Even the illiterate patients from the surrounding communities knew that Eku Hospital was no longer the same. In an attempt to salvage the hospital, the Emmanuel Uduaghan administration resolved to take over the hospital as a government hospital.

Given his medical background, Uduaghan’s passion for healthcare was unparalleled. He threw in so much to raise the standard of the hospital. But it was clear that so much water had passed under the bridge and the bridge was broken. Almost.

Interestingly, the Uduaghan effort coincided with the operational take off of the Delta State University Teaching Hospital built in Oghara by the James Ibori administration.

Gently and gradually, the Oghara hospital began to assume the efficiency fame associated with the Eku Baptist Hospital, of those days. Indeed, for many across the state and even beyond, the Oghara hospital became a medical destination point, as it hosted all brands and manners of medical cases, especially after then Governor Uduaghan led medical experts to perform the first renal transplant in the hospital.

Ever since then, the status and rating of the hospital surged upward, also because the state government at the time provided subsidy to patients with renal/kidney cases, such that patients who came for dialysis had the cost slashed from N22,000 to N6,000. No doubt, this helped to save the lives of many who could have died out of inability to pay the appropriate medical bill.

The medical team comprising many South African expatriates, had over the years, striven to raise the standard of the hospital to an appreciable level. The state government had engaged them on certain terms.

For a fact, in no time, the Oghara hospital had the best neo-natal unit (the first 28 days of the life of babies) in Nigeria, which made it a referral hospital for many babies from across Nigeria.

What’s more, the enthusiasm of the Uduaghan administration for health matters ensured that the hospital was well equipped. Indeed, it was the first hospital in the region to have radiological equipment like 62 slide CT, and a 3.5 teslar MRI… the lack of which often drove patients to foreign hospitals.

Perhaps, if all these were achieved in then Governor Godswill Akpabio’s Akwa Ibom State, his anthem of “Uncommon Transformation” would have been sung at a louder note. Sadly however, the above is the end of the cheering story. Things are no longer the same with the Oghara hospital. If care is not taken, it will soon even-up with the shadowy Eku Baptist Hospital which has been reduced to a mere consulting clinic.

Trouble started when the Governor Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa administration reviewed the work conditions of the expatriate medics at the Oghara hospital. First, it was said that instead of the usual payment in foreign currency, the medical team will now be paid the Naira equivalent of their foreign currency. This is perhaps understandable, given the scarcity of forex in present day Nigeria.

Next, the state government, after a while, was said to have further resolved to slash the salary of the said doctors and other members of the team. This was no longer acceptable to the expatriates and they declined to continue.
It was gathered that they have parked their bags and left the hospital and the facility is fast becoming an empty shell of itself.

What’s more, even the local staff are being owed salaries and allowances leading to strike actions every now and then. When this happens in a medical facility such as the big hospital that the Oghara outfit is, the casualties are many.

Beside the fact that Okowa is a medical doctor too, like his predecessor and should have similar passion for healthcare, the Oghara hospital, perhaps represents the greatest legacy of James Ibori—Okowa’s political godfather, not only to his Oghara folks, but also the entire Delta State. The governor must therefore strive to protect the legacy of his boss.

Governor Okowa, being a medic need not be reminded that in all things, health comes first. Government is made for man, not man for government. If the Oghara hospital falls, to where shall the people go? He should therefore not allow the Oghara Hospital to go to seed as it seems bound.

Okowa must save the hospital and rekindle the hope of the people of the state on a facility that connects them with government. To abolish the health subsidies, force out the expatriates and narrow the access of the people to healthcare simply because of the shrinking economic realities in the country is to apply a medicine that will kill both the disease and the patient at the same time.
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