By Abdullahi Bego
In Sokoto today, the Society of Obstetrics and Gynecologists of Nigeria (SOGON), which is holding its annual meeting there, will confer an award on Governor Ibrahim Gaidam for the progress that Yobe has made in maternal, newborn and childcare.
There are many reasons why this award is significant. First, although data has shown a global decrease in the ratio of maternal deaths from 380 per 1, 000 live births to 210 per 1, 000 livebirths from 1990 to 2013, maternal and child health is still a concern, especially in Northern Nigeria which had some of the most dismal maternal and child mortality and morbidity statistics. Cultural factors may have something to do with this but across vast swathes of the region, healthcare infrastructure and investments have yet to measure up.
Second, in the North-east where Yobe State is located, years of Boko Haramâ€™s ruthless insurgency has hit women and children with particular ferocity. They are often the worst affected when tragedy struck, and they are likelier than most to shoulder the burden when a Boko Haram attack displaces a community, say, or when family heads were felled down by Boko Haram bullets.
These and other factors have made it harder to rein in those disturbing maternal and child health statistics. And although it is difficult to quantify, the costs to lives and livelihoods are better imagined.
But thanks to the effort of the Gaidam administration, a better picture is emerging across Yobe State. Incentives and investments now ensure that more women and children are reporting in hospitals and clinics for medical care and routine checkups. The governmentâ€™s free drug policy for pregnant women and children from zero to five years has eased the burden on many families struggling to make ends meet and has improved childbirth survival rates.
More women are now better poised to contribute to the economies of their individual families and children to enroll and remain in school because of improved health statuses.
The Gaidam administration has also made significant leaps in immunisation and the effort to roll back vaccine-preventable diseases, such as polio, measles, tuberculosis, tetanus, diphtheria, etc. Working with local and international partner organisations, the Yobe State Government has improved overall vaccine coverage in communities across the state. For more than three years because of these efforts, there is not a single case of polio reported anywhere in the state.
In video conference meetings held in Damaturu and Kano during the year, both co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates and Chairman of Dangote Foundation, Aliko Dangote, who are some of Yobeâ€™s partners in immunisation and child health, have commended Governor Gaidam and the Yobe State Government for their demonstrable commitment to rooting out polio and other child killer diseases.
When he starts to enjoy the rest that he so richly deserves after an eventful two terms in office by May 2019, Governor Ibrahim Gaidam can look back to the accomplishments of his administration with great pride.
The governorâ€™s dedicated effort has led to the largest healthcare investments in Yobeâ€™s 26-year old history. The state now boasts of one of the best teaching hospitals in the country. With some of the best medical equipment of any government hospital and hundreds of well-trained professionals, the Yobe University Teaching Hospital (YSUTH) is on course to curb medical tourism and make Yobe the healthcare hub of the North-east.
Across the state, too, Governor Gaidam is making healthcare more accessible to the people by embarking on the reconstruction and expansion of at least six General Hospitals in the towns of Damagum, Potiskum, Jakusko, Gashuâ€™a, Gaidam and Dapchi. Some of these hospitals had never been subjected to any major renovation or upgrade since they were established in the 1970â€™s.
In addition to the ones already provided with new medical equipment, the Gaidam administration has approved hundreds of millions of naira to equip the three major hospitals in Gashuâ€™a, Gaidam and Potiskum as reconstruction, renovation and expansion works are completed. Already the three hospitals have started taking deliveries of these state-of-the-art equipment.
The governor has also upgraded the State Specialists Hospital, Damaturu from a 150-bed capacity hospital to a nearly 400-bed capacity hospital. The significant uptick in outpatient visits to around 28, 000 per month since January 2017 at the Specialists Hospital is indicative of the progress in patient care.
Governor Gaidam has also recorded a first by establishing a College of Medical Sciences at the Yobe State University. While some had greeted the idea of the medical college with some skepticism when it was first mooted over three years ago, the governor has convinced the Doubting Thomases and Tanimus that he really meant business.
As construction of the medical college complex is completed and equipment and furniture ordered, Yobe is set to begin the training of its own indigenous corps of medical doctors and professionals. There is no question that the returns on this investment will be significant and far reaching.
In the medium to long term, for instance, Yobe will have no need to recruit medical personnel from outside the country. Right now, as part of the governorâ€™s effort to make sure that all major hospitals have doctors, nurses and other professionals available to patients, about 18 doctors were recruited from the Republic of Egypt. Over 400 other doctors and professionals from across the country were recruited recently as YSUTH began to roll out clinical services.
All told, Governor Gaidam will go down in history as the leader who has modernised and prioritised Yobeâ€™s healthcare sector above anyone else and directly impacted the lives of the people for many years to come.
It is also fitting that the governor can achieve this while doing remarkably well in other areas as well.
Under Gaidamâ€™s watch, for example, the Yobe State Government has always paid the salaries of its workers and the pensions and gratuities of its retirees without fail. It has built nearly 1, 200 kilometres of road. It has rebuilt and rehabilitated many primary and secondary schools, after many of them were razed or vandalised by Boko Haram insurgents. It has set up new irrigation schemes in the Nguru Lake area and in Boloram and Mugura Garin Gada, and it has improved access to clean, potable water across the state.
These and other interventions of the Gaidam administration are clear markers of progress and they are certainly the reason that SOGON is logging in from the Seat of the Caliphate today to give credit where credit is deserved.
â€¢ Bego is Governor Gaidamâ€™s spokesman and writes from Damaturu