By Laurence Ani
The approval of some vaccines and the ongoing inoculation across countries may offer a real glimmer of hope that the world is at the cusp of turning the tide in the fight against Covid-19, but the sense of exultation has been somewhat subdued at best. This is understandable. Nothing in recent history has exposed the vulnerabilities of public healthcare globally, and reinforced the imperative of creating a robust response to pandemics as Covid-19 has done.
In the coming decades, the pandemic will remain a cautionary tale serving as a reminder of the risk that the outbreak of a disease in a seemingly remote region could pose for public health worldwide. The lesson learnt, hopefully, through the pandemic’s emergence and inexorable spread globally is that it is always better to take actions to curb possible future medical crisis even when the risk of one occurring is minimal.
The uncanny prescience that underlie the extensive rehabilitation of public health facilities in Enugu State several months before the outbreak of Covid-19 shows the state’s governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, had fully grasped this imperative. So, when Enugu State recorded its first two cases of Covid-19 on March 28, last year, health officials were by no means in a bind. A major significant post-Covid-19 measure taken by the Ugwuanyi administration was the re-repurposing of the well-equipped Enugu State Medical Diagnostic Centre as an isolation and treatment centre for Covid-19 patients. Others include the renovation and equipping of isolation and treatment centres in Nsukka, and the Enugu State University of Science and Technology Teaching Hospital Parklane, Enugu.
But by far the most remarkable demonstration of the Enugu State government’s commitment to a long term Covid-19 strategy is the redesign, reconstruction and equipping of the former Colliery Hospital, and designation as Enugu State Infectious Disease Hospital. Sitting on about two acres of land with a backdrop of rolling hills and a bird’s eye view of the city’s outline, this facility is concrete proof that Enugu State won’t be lulled into complacency even when the pandemic is no longer deemed a threat.
The sheer scale of the projects needed to create a complete turnaround of public health facilities, can be gleaned through the paradox that each completed rehabilitation seems to call attention elsewhere to a situation similar to the facility that had just received some facelift. The Ugwuanyi administration has substantially addressed the funding deficits that had for decades plagued public healthcare and crippled its capacity to cater to basic health needs and respond to emergency situations as it should. In 2019, for instance, the National Bureau of Statistics listed Enugu among 10 states with the most expenditure on health. The launch of Universal Health Coverage in the state is also anchored on the drive to make quality healthcare affordable and accessible to a larger population.
It is gratifying that even when governments were compelled to carry out a downward review of their budgets in response to the Covid-19-induced economic slowdown last year, the capital expenditure for health was not pruned down in Enugu State. The state’s 2021 budget reflected a similar trend, with budgetary allocation for health projects taking a substantial share, like the new ESUT Teaching Hospital complex, Igbo Eno, scheduled for completion in the current budget cycle.
Significantly, this extensive retooling has not only been in a structural sense. In anticipation of the manpower needs which the expansion of facilities and increased patient traffic will entail, there has been a sustained recruitment of doctors and other cadres of health professionals, with a large proportion deployed to health facilities in rural communities.
The robust expansion of health facilities since the outbreak of Covid-19 has both created an elaborate containment strategy for the pandemic, and an evidently sufficient capacity to respond to unforeseen public health emergencies. An example is the recent outbreak of yellow fever in some communities in Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area, where the state’s health ministry scaled up its vaccine unit and intensified public vaccination in affected communities. Such swift response helped nip the outbreak in the bud, and prevented its spread further.
Although the success of governments’ actions in the health sector may sometimes not be easily discernible owing largely to the intangible nature of outcomes, there are statistics, however, that validate the impressive transformation Enugu State’s health system has undergone. For instance, according to the last report released by the National Bureau of Statistics, Enugu State’s doctor-patient ratio of 1:1,812 is the fourth best in the country, coming only behind the Federal Capital Territory (1 doctor to every 1,267 resident population), Edo State (1:1,416) and Lagos State (1:1,709). Although Enugu’s figure (indeed, every state in the federation) fell below the desirable doctor-patient ratio of 1 doctor to every 1,000 recommended by the World Health Organisation, the commitment that Ugwuanyi has demonstrated towards enthroning a quality and affordable healthcare suggests the state can actually attain that threshold.
The desire to bequeath a reliable and affordable public healthcare system was, also, what inspired the simultaneous facelift given to both Poly General Hospital and Udi General Hospital in 2019. That upgrade has given the former Poly Clinic the needed expansion befitting of its status as the second busiest public health facility in the state, boasting an expertise and equipment that bespoke cutting edge technology. The requisite political will so far demonstrated by the Enugu State governor is the impetus behind the ongoing reconstruction of general hospitals in Nsukka, Awgu, Oji River, Nkanu West, Igbo-Eze North council areas, and construction of additional cottage hospitals and primary health centres across the state.
Their completion will be a step nearer to actualizing a part of the Governor Ugwuanyi
administration’s goal to enthrone an enduring public healthcare system that caters to the need of the populace.
…Ani, former editor of ThisDay – The Saturday Newspaper, and Saturday Telegraph, is a senior communications aide to the governor of Enugu State.