Nigeria Needs a National Ambulance Scheme – Megwara

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A national ambulance working in tandem with the Fire Service as first responders to accident victims is the global standard that needs. That is according to Kingsley Megwara, General Manager Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest Scheme (ASPIMS). He tells Nduka Nwosu how ASPIMS template can be useful for a national ambulance scheme

You have been an advocate of a national ambulance scheme. What does this involve?
The idea is that what is going on here in Abia and in Lagos State can be replicated elsewhere. Life is precious and must be protected. The presence of ambulances on our roads will help to protect accident victims. I want other states in particular the southeastern states to replicate our experience. We are one of the few states that have ambulances positioned strategically in anticipation of emergencies. At interstate levels, accident victims must be given prompt first-aid treatment. The Abia experiment in my opinion needs to be replicated in other parts of the country with possibly a unified centralised organisation. I am a strong advocate of a national ambulance scheme designed to take care of accident victims all over the country.
The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) is doing a tremendous job given its exposure and capacity. With a national ambulance commission supporting its activities and exclusively devoted to accident victims, we will be serving the people better whenever the unexpected happens.

Are you saying the FRSC does not have what it takes to salvage accident victims on highways?
Quite frankly speaking, I do not think it does. What it has today compared with what is needed is stale and meagre. Check state by state on the number of ambulances available to the FRSC.  I would like you to carry out an investigation and see how many ambulances, state by state, are being utilised by the FRSC. What obtains in its fleet today is very insignificant compared with what ideally should be on the ground for an effective, result-oriented organisation. There is something called response time which relates to the number of ambulances that should be on the ground and close to the scene of an accident to be an effective first responder. If your response time ought to be seven minutes and it takes you 17 minutes to arrive at the scene of an accident, you probably would have lost a life or lives as often is the case. Life is precious and it has no duplicate. The corps members are doing a wonderful job compared with the tools available to them. They could do better with enhanced facilities at their disposal but the concept of a national ambulance scheme should be the game plan in addressing the issue of road accidents on expressways.

Does it suggest that except Abia and Lagos states, other states do not have what it takes to provide ambulance services?
They should if they want to. In Abia it is all about equitable management of scarce resources for which the Okezie Ikpeazu administration is known. If we are able to do what we are doing in Abia State relative to our bottom of the ladder allocations, every other state in the federation can do the same and in certain instances even better. No price is too much for saving lives. Governor Ikpeazu recently increased the fleet from six to eight. Yet we know we will be comfortable with at least 35 given the frequent breakdowns of these ambulances. Government alone cannot provide the needed budget and we are calling on Abia philanthropists and corporate organisations to come to our aid.

How will the repair of federal and state roads add value to what you are doing?
The Minister of Works visited Abia State recently to see for himself the death trap called federal roads, more specifically the Enugu-Port Harcourt Road which stretches through Abia and the Ikot Ekpene-Aba Road. Both roads are patchy and laden with craters and pot-holes. They constitute the number one death trap roads in the country and the only time the roads can be repaired is the dry season. The deplorable state of these roads has been over-stressed with the high carnage associated with it. Their repair would largely reduce the accident cases we deal with on a daily basis.
We keep campaigning against drunk driving. People need to know that when you go out partying and drinking, the person driving should not be allowed to meddle with alcohol because it impedes your judgment.  This is the way it is done in every civilised clime. You will often hear the popular expression of I can handle it after six or seven bottles of beer. That is not true because a drunk man on the steering is a potential time bomb. The end result of a drunk on the pedal is catastrophic, a pack of mangled bodies and bleeding souls including children, adults and entire families and this is happening as we speak. So you need to see those who have lost loved ones because of a drunken driver. Alcohol impairs judgment and our appeal is that people should take heed of the advice against drunk driving. Our campaign against drunk driving is one of zero tolerance.

What global template can drive the national ambulance concept?
If you take the US as an example, every city is fully equipped with an ambulance service and this should be the norm for us going forward. Both the ambulance and fire service should aspire at best practices on a global level. In the US for example the ambulance and fire service work together. Once there is a fire alert, the fire service squad is accompanied by the ambulance team. Ghana is doing well in this regard and if we can do same here, we will reduce by 60 per cent, accident and death rates in the country. If the Federal Road Safety Corps is properly equipped, it will go a long way in helping to reduce the accident rate on our expressways. It is all about quick response and this will entail having ambulances everywhere. Most accidents become fatal because there is no help to victims who usually pass out owing to excessive bleeding. Quick response saves lives especially when supported by ambulances strategically stationed to assist victims for evacuation to the trauma centres.

How can Abia and Lagos help other states?
I know the Abia State Commissioner for Health has made a presentation to the Honourable Minister of Health showcasing the Abia experiment with the ambulance system and successes so far recorded. The idea of this presentation is to help formulate a national ambulance that will champion the cause of state driven ambulance services. When people see Abia ambulances at work on the expressways it becomes clear this is doable and can be replicated nationwide.

Can you tell us about Abia’s new trauma centre?
The trauma centre which is nearing completion was the initiative of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu who was once the General Manager of Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest Scheme (ASPIMS), succeeded by two others before my coming on board. He had the bigger picture of a global best practices trauma centre supported by a fleet of ambulances all working to save lives of accident victims on the high ways. He therefore decided that rather than go to regular hospitals for the first response of accident victims it would make sense to first and quickly respond to the needs of such victims before rushing them to hospitals. The idea was to have a modern, world class trauma centre attached to ASPIMS as a first responder to accident victims. The centre is meant to be an exclusive treatment centre with a state of the art equipment comparable to any other, with the right personnel always on hand to respond to the needs of victims. When I came on-board I saw the vision the governor had for the trauma centre several   years ago and I jumped at it. It is about 75 percent completed. We are working hard to see that this dream trauma centre of the governor is actualised in 2018.
It will play the big role of receiving accident victims with a quick response to their treatment. The Abia medical personnel in the Diaspora have indicated interest to spare some of their time to help answer our call to offer some humanitarian work. The same goes for the US-based Seven Days Adventist Church Medical Outreach, which had expressed this interest while the governor was here and we want to tap into that goodwill. I am not a doctor by the way but on the side of management I am here to ensure the dream of the governor in driving this project to a world class standard is accomplished. You can count on our ability to hire the best personnel wherever they are.

Will there be a partnership with the state’s ministry of health?
The Commissioner for Health has already visited the premises and of course anything that addresses the issue of health is under him. There will be a synergy and partnership with the Ministry of Health which will act as the lead manager of the centre. The trauma centre will be a part of ASPIMS. The governor is very passionate ensuring that the standard of trauma centres in such cities as London, New York, Paris et al will be replicated here and I will continue to work towards the realisation of this objective.

Do you think cases of road crashes have reduced?
The statistics usually go up during the festive periods with so much vehicles on the roads and peak at Christmas and New Year. Interestingly, the 2017/2018 end of year festive season offered something new for a cheer. The accident rates went down with our strident campaigns against drunk driving particularly the commercial drivers. Sadly we still recorded gory accidents especially on New Year eve, indicting drunk drivers. We will continue to awaken the consciousness of our drivers that it is wrong to drive when drunk.

Is your exposure in the US useful in your present assignment?
Exposure is always a value added for a state or national assignment of the type I am currently engaged. The exposure I had in the US for 25 years prepared me for a job I did not dream of doing. Managing 291 staff whose job is to prevent or minimise accident rates, people who are committed to advancing the cause of safety on the roads, was hardly part of my playbook of success back home. You have to have the passion for it to work. Seeing it work in the US galvanised my interest in making it work here. Additionally many of our brothers in the Diaspora have been giving me their advice including those whose jobs are associated with ambulance services. I would say we have what is needed to bring about Ikpeazu’s vision of bringing safety to our roads through the ASPIMS and the establishment of a world class trauma centre in the state is being realised.
Looking at the indices of judging the performance of state chief executives, Ikpeazu has surpassed others. In two years, he has constructed more roads in the state than anybody who has been the governor in the same period. We are proud with the record he is bringing to bear on good and deliverable governance. He has said repeatedly he would not do a job of N50 million and use N50 million to publicise it. Abia remains the first state in the federation with a home-grown healthcare delivery system and the ambulance sector service is second to none. The state Ministry of Health has a team of doctors and nurses who visit homes in towns and villages to render healthcare to senior citizens. This is innovative. Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu has surpassed the expectations of the Abia electorate given available scarce resources.