Transforming health in Akwa Ibom through robust primary healthcare services

Reporting by: Sylvia Okon, Ime Davies, Etiene Etim and Inibeghe Etuk

Travails of the Past: A Community’s Struggle for Basic Healthcare

It started like any other day for Obong Simon Etukudo and his wife, Eno, residing in Ewet Offot, Uyo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. The couple had headed to their farm, situated several kilometers away from their home, early in the morning.

Midway through their day’s work, they received a phone call to return home. Ekemini, their three-year-old daughter, had developed fever and rashes around her neck and eyes shortly after they left for the farm.

“It’s a long distance to the nearest hospital,” Obong Etukudo says. “But I thank God that the primary healthcare center in our community is back in operation. It would have been very difficult to treat my daughter.

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For years, communities like Ewet Offot have faced the grim reality of dilapidated health centers and insufficient medical services. Obong Etukudo recalls the challenges his family faced in accessing healthcare, stating, “In the past years, the government had forgotten this community, the health center was dilapidated, and the services were poor.”

Ndarake Tom, another resident, laments the decline in services at the Wellington Bassey Way health center, highlighting the desperate search for alternative treatments due to medication shortages. She, however, praised the renewed initiative by the government to fix primary health centers across the state, noting that it would improve healthcare delivery in the grassroots.

Ndepmmong Uwem, a mother of four, shares her contrasting experiences at the Wellington Bassey Way Health Centre during childbirth. She notes the stark difference between the well-equipped facilities in the past and the deteriorated state it reached, forcing her to seek assistance at a distant general hospital in Anua Offot.

“When I was pregnant with my first child, it was a great experience, and the primary health center on Wellington Bassey Way was the place to be,” she recalled.

“I stopped going to the traditional birth attendant because the center provided us quality services. The birth process was smooth, and I kept up with routine immunization as my child grew. At the time my third child was born, the center was a shadow of itself; there was no nurse to attend to you, no drugs, and I had to look for the nearest general hospital, which was 10 miles away.

The various accounts describe the extent to which the primary healthcare system had degenerated, as well as the impact on maternal and child mortality in the state. However, this is gradually changing as the signs become more visible.

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In an ideal scenario, primary healthcare should be affordable and accessible to grassroots communities, offering comprehensive services from childbirth to disease prevention. However, neglect in the past from both the public and the government led to a decline in the functionality of these crucial centers, leaving communities underserved and vulnerable.

Hope Rises for Improved Services

To address these challenges, Governor Umo Eno has initiated an extensive rehabilitation project for primary health centers across the state. Under the new arrangement, Martins Akpan, Chairman of the Primary Healthcare Agency, said the renovation and remodeling of primary healthcare facilities were already underway across the state. He said the government has completed work on the Model Primary Health Centre, Ikot Nkwo, and will soon commission it, adding that the facility meets WHO and NPHCDA standards. According to him, the governor’s comprehensive plan includes building more model primary health centers in various localities, providing healthcare in every ward of the state, and recruiting over 150 nurses and midwives.

“Pastor Umo Eno has begun very well by emphasizing primary healthcare since he came onboard. Primary healthcare system is the foundation and mother of health care. Primary Health Care is supposed to take care of more than 80 percent of people’s health needs.

“It is the first point of contact with the country’s national health system as well as the closest to citizens; we are now placing a lot of emphasis on the sector. Governor Umo Eno had done an excellent job of shifting the focus from secondary to primary health care,” said Akpan.

Speaking at the groundbreaking of the model Primary Health Centre, Ikot Nkwo in Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area, Governor Eno said primary healthcare facilities in the state would meet global standards as set by the WHO and NPHCDA.

The state government is not the only entity investing in primary healthcare facilities in the state; the Uyo Local Government Council is also involved. Uwemedimo Udo, the Transition Chairman, has constructed and opened a primary health care center in Ikot Ebido Oku, as well as renovated the Ewet Offot primary health care center.

Dr. Udo has reactivated the portable water supply, restored electricity, and provided critical communication devices to the center’s social mobilization unit at the Primary Health Centre; Wellington Bassey Way.

Handshake with International Agencies

The government’s healthcare initiative has gained momentum with the involvement of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in a partnership that would strengthen the state’s primary healthcare system. Augustine Umoh, the Health Commissioner, expressed his appreciation during a meeting with the USAID team, saying, “The choice for the execution of your planned primary healthcare development programs and projects is highly welcome.” He emphasized the initiative’s alignment with the state government’s goal of improving the primary healthcare sector to ensure the well-being of the people.

As Governor Umo Eno continues to champion efforts for a more vibrant primary healthcare sector, the people of Akwa Ibom can anticipate improved access to essential health services, marking a pivotal stride towards a healthier and more prosperous community.

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