Covid-19 management: why Imo should be ahead of other states

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ONWUASOANYA FCC JONES

Imo State has the best potentials for hosting the best healthcare infrastructure in the entire Nigeria, if the people's welfare, safety and healthcare become central to government's policy formation and implementation. Egotism among public health administrators and healthcare policy formulators is the only reason why the State may miss out on its taking its pride of place in the country, as long as healthcare management is concerned.

Successive military administrations from 1983 to 1999 oversaw, not just the decay of healthcare development, but general developments in the State. Such was the dilapidation of our healthcare that on the return of civilian rule in the country in 1999, what remained mostly of the Imo health infrastructure were relics of the glory days of Sam Mbakwe and a few built by first republic politicians in the State. Few Imo people knew of the existence of public hospitals, as the general hospitals in the State had mostly become mice colonies rather than healthcare facilities.

The few health workers that were on government payroll were merely drawing salaries and turned these public hospitals to business centers where all manners of sharp practices were the order of the day. This was as the ordinary people were perishing as a result of lack of care.

When Chief Achike Udenwa took over in 1999 as the third elected governor of the State, he made some modest attempts at resuscitating the Imo health sector and the Imo State University Teaching Hospital, Orlu stands today as a major legacy of his in the Imo health sector. That hospital is the second tertiary health center in the State after the Federal Medical Center, Owerri. The Amaifeke born chattered accountant turned politician also made other commendable inroads towards making healthcare accessible to Imo people.

However, the modest successes recorded by Chief Udenwa in the Imo healthcare sector pales in comparison to the audacious reforms brought about in that sector from 2011 to 2019, when Owelle Rochas Okorocha led a most audacious reformations across all sectors in the State.

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As soon as he took office in 2011, Owelle Rochas Okorocha prioritized the revitalization of the Imo health sector. Within his first few months in office, he was able to set up the first ever State owned Specialist Hospital, by upgrading the Imo State General Hospital in Umuguma, Owerri West, to a Specialist Hospital. He provided both equipment and personnel and as well as brought to a peaceful end, the perennial standoff between staff of that hospital and State government and this saw to the resuscitation of that hospital and also reduced the pressure on the Federal Medical Center, Owerri.

With the reopening of the Umuguma General Hospital, Owelle commenced a well thought out plan to resuscitate all the general hospitals in the State. He injected fresh blood into the management and workforce of the public hospitals, while embarking on an audacious upgrade of facilities in these hospitals.

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Outside restoring and upgrading a number of dilapidated hospitals he met in place, Okorocha also introduced the building of about 35 new hospitals in all, out of which he completed and fully equipped about 15 of them. He also attracted private investors to invest in the Imo health sector.

While anyone may have reservations about the former governor's styles in governance, what no honest person can deny is that Owelle left indelible legacies in all sectors of Imo's economy and his signatures across the Imo sector are clear and laudable.

Had the two administrations that succeeded the Rescue Mission in quick succession been well advised, Imo would have become the highest resourced State especially at this time of medical crisis. These hospitals and other investments made by the Okorocha administration wouldn't have just been good for isolation, management and treatment of Covid-19 patients or suspects, but would have been most useful for regular medical care, especially, at this time when our health systems across the country are becoming overstretched by demands of a global healthcare emergency posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Even with the abandonment of most of these hospitals by the government, Imo still has the best resources in place to play a leading role in providing good healthcare services, not just for Covid-19 sufferers, but, majorly for those with regular health issues.

Sick persons whose medical issues are not related to the Covid-19 pandemic are finding it difficult accessing healthcare services, especially, in the worst-hit States of the Federation, and this is a major gap that Imo would have filled. Imo's fortunate position as one of the least affected States by the Covid-19 outbreak, places her in a position to become the runaway State for those seeking care and management for their regular health issues.

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While I concede the right of every new governor to streamline his own priorities, it is my humble recommendation that the present government sees the completion of these hospitals as crucial. Structurally, the yet to be completed among these hospitals are at least, at 70% completion stage. Abandoning these hospitals to be overgrown by weed and to become a haven for rodents and urchins, will not spite Okorocha, but would be a disservice to Imo people whose money was used in building them, in the first place and to whom these hospitals are most useful to.

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