Stephen Ukandu, Umuahia
Determined to discourage the continued migration of health professionals abroad in what is known as japa in local parlance, Abia State Government has promised to introduce an enhanced welfare package for medical personnel in its service from 2024.
This is as the state has held its first ever Council of State on Health, 33 years after its creation.
Declaring the Council meeting open Wednesday at the International Conference Centre Umuahia, Governor Alex Otti said his administration was committed to improving on the health care delivery in the state.
The Governor who said he inherited a dilapidated health sector, said that he had already taken some drastic measures to restore and reposition the sector.
Otti who recalled that he had during his inaugural speech promised to fix the health sector expressed joy that the sector is already enjoying transformation.
“During my inaugural speech, I promised that Abia health sector would come first. In pursuit of this, I allocated 15% of the 2024 budget proposal to health, and under my watch the health sector will be revived.”
Otti called for quick action plan to halt the japa syndrome, explaining that his decision to wipe out the backlog of arrears of salary owed doctors in the state when he came on board, was aimed at repositioning the health sector.
He expressed joy that the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, MDCN accreditation of the Abia State University Teaching Hospital, ABSUTH, which was lost in the previous administration, had been restored under his watch.
He said he invested heavily to revive the hospital, and promised to sustain the tempo.
On other efforts to revive the health sector, Otti said that the state had started recruiting skilled attendants for the deaf.
He added that insurance scheme would be introduced to reduce the financial burden of out-of-pocket expenses for health care.
He assured that health care would continue to receive due attention under his watch.
Speaking earlier the Commissioner for Health, Dr Ngozi Okoronkwo, who gave the theme of the Council as “Providing Accessible, Affordable and Quality Healthcare System for the New Abia,” said it was aimed at putting the health sector on a sustainable path towards development.
According to her, the focus is to bestow on the people, a health system that meets their health needs irrespective of their socio-economic status.
She said that Government was determined to reposition and strengthen the Primary Health Care System which caters for over 60% of the health care needs of the people.
The Commissioner announced plans to establish two functional PHCs in each local government area and to further strength the secondary healthcare institutions for referrals.
She disclosed that besides the retrofitted Abia Diagnostic Centre Umuahia, and the Amachara Specialist Hospital, three General hospitals renovated by Otti’s administration would soon be inaugurated while renovation work is going on in 14 other General hospitals in the state.
She said that 50,000 vulnerable groups plus 4000 pensioners are to be enrolled in the health insurance scheme in demonstration of value the administration attached to health.
In a keynote speech, former Director, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Ngozi Azodo, described the Council meeting which was the first of its kind since the history of Abia State as a significant milestone to the state’s journey towards health care delivery.
Decrying the devastating effects of the migration of health workers, Dr Azodo said that South-East was currently in short supply of well-trained human resources to man medical facilities in the zone.
She noted with concern, that Government was not spending enough on the health sector as citizens still bear the bulk of their spending on health.
Dr Azodo further lamented the alarming number of women who die in Nigeria every year during childbirth, adding that 70% of the deaths are preventable.
She urged Governments to invest more in the health sector for the good of the citizens especially the poor.
In a remark, the World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative (WR), Walter Kazadi Mulombo, commended Abia State Government for its commitment towards improving access to health care services in the state.
Mulombo who was represented by the South-East Zonal Coordinator, Dr Vivian Ibezimakor, noted that many countries were yet to recover from the effects of COVID-19 pandemic.
He pledged continued partnership and assistance of WHO in efforts to improve health care delivery and disease eradication in the state.
Other donor agencies and stakeholders including CARITAS, Solina Health, Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, among others were present at the event.