Ukpong: We Are Bringing Quality Healthcare Closer To Our People

Dr. Ukpong
Dr. Ukpong

WHEN fully completed and operational, Akwa Ibom State would play host to one of the most sophisticated health facilities in the country – Ibom Specialist Hospital. What are the special features of the hospital and what will it add to the wellbeing of people of the state?

THE Ibom Specialist Hospital indeed has several unique features, which would make use of the latest technology in the medical world. These include 164 slides computerised tomography (CT) scan; the latest model Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI); latest models of scan machines; three modular theatres; full interventional cardiac facilities; highly sophisticated intensive care unit (ICU) distinct from the Pediatric ICU (both with dependency facilities); full-fledged neurosurgical facilities; a wide range of scopes for laparoscopic surgery; a fully automated laboratory, which boasts the latest equipment, connected to the lying inwards, with conveyor belts for collection and delivery of specimens and reports in record time etc.

It also boasts some of the most highly reputed specialists in neurosurgery; plastic surgery; interventional cardiology; oncologists; medical laboratory scientists; radiologists; physicians and biomedical scientists. The vision was to make it a one-stop-shop for medical treatment, being a quaternary hospital, and it is living up to its billing and will most definitely play a vital role in ensuring the wellbeing of people of the state and beyond.

How will the hospital contribute to reducing the number of Akwa Ibom people going abroad for medical tourism, and how much would the state save by this?

When fully operational, it would help in attracting high flow of human traffic into Akwa Ibom State in particular and Nigeria at large through medical tourism. We are targeting patients from other parts of the country and the sub-region, who would come here to seek solutions for their severe, rare and complicated health issues.

Apart from having this facility in their domain, the people of the state will benefit from this by having excellent health care at their doorstep; spending less than they would have (by receiving low-quality treatment) outside their state. They will also gain economically through the high revenue yield. The hospital will also enhance other businesses in the state, e.g. hotels or hospitality services, project the image of the state and assure investors of good healthcare.

As a very ambitious project, how assured is its sustenance, especially in the area of manpower/personnel and others?

Currently, the majority and mainstream workers of the hospital staff are expatriates. This design is deliberate in order to establish the world standard culture of professionalism, which our people run abroad to enjoy because the desired work ethics for which the noble profession of medicine has long been known, has been seriously eroded and is lacking in our nation today.

This hospital setting is, by its policies, re-establishing those lost standards, and procedures and processes are being put in place. Shortly, the hospital will begin to employ Nigerians in the highest specialties, who will gradually take over from the expatriates.

A great percentage of the state’s five million people still reside in rural areas. So, what is the state doing to revamp the pathetic primary healthcare facilities in the state?

The governor is particularly interested in improving this. His first concern is the people: the health workers. We are re-orientating healthcare givers, rewarding and recognising them as appropriate with promotions, paying (appropriate) competitive salaries and allowances, and regular payment to all accredited or proven staff.

To reduce their workload, effort is being made to hire enough staff to meet the required patient-staff ratio. The first step to good service delivery is proper selection/recruitment process for qualified, competent and experienced staff. The second is training and retraining while the third is reward and recognition.

The next component is the infrastructure. The current state of this in almost all the hospitals leaves much to be desired. Simultaneously with attention to staff, there is a well laid out plan to revamp the hospitals. We will first rationalise the number with respect to their locations, then revamp the ones most functionally located (first).

Finally, every effort will be made to furnish the health centres and hospitals with the necessary consumables so that no patient will be required to buy items outside for use on him/her, while in a health facility. To ensure sustainability, the leadership and management of hospitals/health facilities will be made accountable for what is supplied to them.
Many investors have also offered to assist. They will take over and revamp some of the health facilities and run them, and provide revenue to the government.

We are also aware that local government councils who are statutorily responsible for primary health care services have failed woefully in this regard. We are, therefore, in the process of taking over the primary care services by creating a primary healthcare agency by which we shall receive funds directly from the Federal Government for the running of the primary healthcare services in the state.

Indigenes of some states resident abroad especially in the United States and Britain, do lead medical missions to their home states, where they heal the sick and give out sundry assistance. What is your experience so far along this line?

These missions are most thoughtful, helpful and needful. And they are welcome. I must express gratitude to all who have organised genuine missions to our people, on behalf of Governor Emmanuel.

Unfortunately, however, not all missions are genuine or good. A few have ulterior motives to gain financially from international sponsors without doing what they purport to do. In order to derive full benefits from these missions, we have developed some guidelines for compliance before the Health Ministry will approve any mission to the state. Some of the requirements are that the applicant must show proof that he has qualified personnel in the discipline of medicine advertised by the mission. For instance, if your mission is to conduct eye surgery, then, of course, you must bring along qualified ophthalmologists with current practicing license in Nigeria. The drugs must be National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) approved; the equipment donated must not be used, obsolete or refurbished items, whose spare parts have gone out or will soon be out of production, leaving us with junks we cannot repair. We require modern equipment if we wish to provide good services. The application must get to us from those carrying out the medical mission, at least, six weeks to allow investigations to take place.

In the health sector, what is the state government doing exceptionally well and how could it be made better?

The state government has been exceptional in supporting, enhancing and improving the biggest general Hospital in the state capital, the St Luke’s Hospital, Anua, Uyo. A lot was invested to salvage it, especially in the arrest of a devastating gully erosion that was threatening the very existence of the hospital, and also providing it with a huge new ward, besides other renovations carried out. The government has also been most helpful to the Leprosy Hospital, Ekpene Obom, creating good access road to it and plans to tar that road as soon as funds are available.

The government has been an excellent partner to the non-governmental organisations like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Helen Keller Foundation, the FHI 360, a nonprofit human development organisation based in North Carolina, United States, serving more than 70 countries and all U.S. states and territories. These groups have been of great assistance in the several projects being carried out in the state, on HIV/AIDS, neglected diseases, etc

The government’s commitment to the start-up and running of Ibom Specialist Hospital is also most highly commendable. The governor is pragmatic and proactive concerning infectious, emerging disease outbreaks, and non-communicable diseases.

Coming from your immediate past place of work and your background generally to superintend over a ministry where sometimes you are close to weeping at the state of infrastructural decay. How are you contending with all these?

It is quite a humbling experience for me. I have come to realise that there is always a new experience out there for you irrespective of your age or education. I have taken up the challenge that I am in a completely new school and I must learn the ropes very fast. After a very cautious and suspicious first six months, I have come to terms with some painful, shocking experiences and have fully confronted my challenges. The Lord is breaking the barriers for me, and I am beginning to achieve my goals. I trust God to give me lasting legacies in the job.

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