The health sector in Delta State can rightly be described as one of the areas the state government has performed excellently well since the inception of the present administration. This is largely due to the-people oriented health programme of the free maternal, under-five and rural health scheme. In fact, the outstanding strides, recorded in this sector making the state to have one of the best health indicators aimed at achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5 is responsible for some of the local and national honours the State Governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan has won in recent times. Award by the Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics of Nigeria (SOGON) and that of the Federal Government Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) are just two honours traceable to the success of the health programmes in the state.

However, the sector has recently come under serpentine vituperation by a few members of the press, some out of ignorance and others deliberately out to cause mischief. The Sahara Reporters, an online publication, Urhobo Times, a weekly newspaper, and others carried stories purporting that the much lauded free maternal and under-five health programmes are ‘deceptive political propaganda characterized by gross extortion’s of patients. They also alleged that the management of Ministry of Health was aware of malpractice by health officials and had ‘done nothing’ about it. Specific references of extortion were made against Central Hospitals Sapele, Oleh and Ughelli.

Often, orchestrated falsehood of this nature could be ignored, especially when the sources are considered too biased and unscrupulous to be taken seriously, having openly declared themselves as known antagonists of the present administration in Delta State. Besides, the state government considers its health programmes very dear to the people and believes that no effort will be too much at clarifying doubts or misconception or misinformation or even disinformation about the programmes. It is on this ground we believe frivolities raised in the publication in Sahara Reporters of 15th January and that of the present weekly edition of Urhobo Times should be adequately addressed.

At this juncture, it is only pertinent we educate the public on the programmes. The free maternal and under-five programmes are meant primarily to bring financial succour to Deltan, reduce morbidity and mortality of pregnant women and children under five years of age in line with the MDGs goal targets by 2015. While the free maternal started November 26, 2007, that of the under-five was launched in May 27, 2010. The free maternal programme provides free antenatal services to all booked pregnant women from the day of booking to six weeks after delivery. This incorporate routine drugs, laboratory investigations, blood transfusion where required and delivery inclusive of caesarean section (CS). The under-five programme provides free treatment such as drugs, laboratory investigations and surgery.

Over the years, the management of the ministry, through the Hospitals Management Board, has ensured that the services provided in the programmes are rendered to the people without compromise. As a result, operational guidelines are updated periodically to effect hitch free implementation of the programmes. Routine supervision and inspections are also carried out directly by the honourable commissioner and permanent secretaries in both the ministry and the board. The special adviser to the governor on Health Monitoring also plays complementary role in this regard.

Both programmes have been praised widely as huge success stories that have saved lives and relieved families of heavy financial burdens. It is therefore laughable that some persons and group are hell bent on discrediting the programmes. The case involving the Central Hospital, Sapele for instance, was that of extortion of money from patients by a clique of nurses in the delivery (labour) ward before they are discharged. It was published in October 2012 as front page story in the pointer newspaper and featured in its editorial column. The ministry promptly investigated the case and summarily sanctioned all nurses in the said ward. The least punishment was demotion by one grade level. As a matter of fact, the Hospitals Management Board has between 2011 and 2012 sanctioned 152 staff precisely ranging from outright sack to demotion and suspension for various offenses. We challenge Sahara Reporters and Urhobo Times to investigate this action and see if they would not take back their words, accusing the Health Ministry of “doing nothing” to culprits.

That of the Central Hospital, Oleh is an interesting case which is why people should not act out of ignorance. The free maternal programme is largely for pregnancy-related care, inclusive of hypertension, malaria and other common ailments in pregnancy. The medical records indicated that the woman was at the hospital on 28th December, 2012 with severe anaemia and a PVC (blood level) of seven percent. It is commendable how she was successfully managed with such a low blood level. Even though two pint of blood was administered on her the two separate payments of the sums of N4,610 and N570 as published by Sahara Reporters were outside the regular free maternal schedule. However, it is Ministry’s policy that if there is need for a treatment or procurement outside the regular or prescribed scheme, the bill should be directed to the Ministry of Health for payment with explanation. Hence, it is both erroneous and mischievous for the Sahara Reporters to claim that the said woman paid for free maternal services without finding out the details. It was reliably gathered from records that the woman left the hospital on 1st January and no child in need of medical care came with her and was denied medical care as claimed by Sahara Reporters.

As for the Central Hospital, Ughelli it was a clear case of malpractice on the part of one Mr Miller Eguriase, who was a pharmacist on contract appointment to oversee the administration of free under-five drugs in the hospital. With time, Mr Eguriase was proven to be one of the few bad eggs in the hospital bent on given the state free health programmes negative image. He got himself enmeshed in hoarding and diversion of drugs and patients, as well as over receipting for drugs to the State’s Drug Revolving Fund (DRF). It is on record that Mr Eguriase operates a pharmacy near the hospital which is both unethical and unbecoming of a very recently graduated pharmacist. The ministry even has a file of his request to get his pharmacy registered, and so, when his activities became over bearing, the Ministry had to sack him since he was neither a staff of the Hospital Management Board (HMB) or the Civil Service Commission based on the fact that his appointment was a temporary one. The sack, it should be emphasized, was necessitated on the ground that it is needful to forestall more damaging acts, nefarious activities and also serve as deterrent to his likes.

The Sahara Reporters tried to amplify the ethnic card, but they failed woefully. Evidence against Mr Eguriase are just too obvious to be ignored. For instance, before his appointment, the monthly bills sent to the DRF stabilized to within expectation for three years programme.  All through the period he served, the drug bills skyrocketed to over three times the usual cost for Central Hospital, Ughelli, even above busier and bigger hospitals. However, since his sack, the monthly bills for drugs have dropped tremendously to a normal expectation. What further proofs do we need to determine that such a person is not bent on crumbling the programmes, particularly if his likes are in every hospital? It is glaring the petition he wrote, as weightless as it looks, was an after thought that reflects the exact picture of a drowning man who would hold on to any straw. Again, we challenge Sahara reporters to investigate our facts; not the telephone or armchair style but the physical presentation where books would be opened. They are welcomed anytime during the office hours.

Yes! While we are not holding brief for anyone involved in malpractice or negligence which cannot be ruled out from our kind of imperfect society or condoned same, we believe that the free maternal and under-five programmes, despite the few but isolated drawbacks, have positively touched the lives of families in and outside the state. In addition, cases of malpractice and negligence are sometimes exaggerated to give an image likened to making a mountain out of a mole’s hill. Why, for example, would a media house tie the unbecoming attitude of an official to the failure of the state government? Nothing that the government does is appreciated, even the obviously acclaimed free health programmes. This is wicked, diversionary and unpatriotic

We make bold to declare that Delta is the only state in the country where such programmes are implemented on a comprehensive scale in the 59 state-owned hospitals spread across the 25 local government areas. Therefore, every genuine stakeholder in the Delta Project faced with the reality on ground in the health sector, would have nothing but praise the programmes, commend the untiring efforts and commitments of the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab scientists, medical record keepers and other health staff who work assiduously to see the programmes progress through the years. Above all, reckoning must go to the management of the Health Ministry for its commitments to the good implementation of the programmes, and of course the State Governor, who has shown unwavering doggedness at ensuring that the political will to keep the programmes afloat, is maintained.  These are the expectations in any civilized clime rather than cynicism and regular pouring of vitriol aimed at disparaging the people-oriented programmes in the health sector.

—Mr Churchill Oyowe, Head of Public Relations Unit,
Office of the Commissioner, Ministry of Health, writes from Asaba, Delta State.

By Churchill Oyowe

News Reporter
Blank NEWS Online founding Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, Albert Eruorhe Ograka, is a Graduate of Mass Communication. He also holds a Post Graduate Diploma (PGD) in Journalism from the International Institute of Journalism (IIJ).

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