Some hues and cries have lately gushed from certain quarters about the services of the Federal Medical Center, Owerri. And because those views have found a space whether deservedly or undeservedly in the media, they have acquired a degree of validity.
In one piece, a writer narrated the death of a man who was brought from a rural part of Imo State by his ostensibly illiterate wife. By the admission of the writer, the man died because the rural wife was not conversant with the environment and so she could not quickly locate the laboratory to run a prerequisite test on the dying man. The woman, on the writer’s authority, could not also get a staff to assist her. And the man died. Why could she not get a staff to assist her? This question was not addressed.
Another enraged narrative came from a journalist who scripted his personal experience when his son took ill. According to him, he waited for too long before he could get attended to. He, in an understandably angry mood, launched a scathing attack on the management. Why did he have to wait for too long? He did not bother to tell his readers.
All other stuffs written about the FMC in Owerri share similar storylines. But one thing has come to underlie and summarize all the criticisms: lack of prompt attention to patients. It does not necessarily serve our purposes here to debate the veracity of the tales. Let us accept them to be true, perhaps because through them we can properly engage with the broader question of the collapse of the healthcare sector in Imo State. The first contention here is that the management and staff of the FMC instead of being culpable for the narrated ordeals, they are in fact more pathetic and pitiable victims of the selfsame ordeals.
The FMC in Owerri has remained the only surviving tertiary healthcare outlet in Imo State. In view of the obvious collapse of the health sector in Imo, everyone now turns to the FMC in a single file, and so they attend to patients at the pace which the workloads permit.
Generally, Nigeria needs about 300,000 medical doctors to meet the doctor-patient ratio of 1:600 recommended by the World Health Organisation. Imo State additionally presents a more deleterious snapshot of a medical sector in a dire situation. Health, it seems very clear, has never topped the agenda of successive administrations in the state. Across all the communities in the state, the story of collapse of healthcare facilities and paucity of personnel has been the same. The ambitious 27 general hospitals which were initiated by the Okorocha Administration have neither been completed nor put to use.
Last year, an unresolved dispute between the State Government and the doctors culminated in a six-month strike that aggravated the plight of the healthcare delivery sector in the Imo State. The Imo State University Teaching Hospital located in Orlu has been palpably in the doldrums for years. It has remained even cut off from society, as the road leading to it has been literally impassable.
A palliative which was conceived by the Ihedioha Administration was to have the local government authorities engage two medical doctors. It is unclear if the Administration was able to achieve this before it was truncated. But that interventionist move underscored the nagging urgency to address the very unacceptable state of the health sector in Imo State.
In the face of all these, the Federal Medical Center, Owerri has become the sole repository of all medical cases in the State. This explains why the rural woman who could not locate the laboratory left one of the remotest parts of the State to Owerri in search of medicare for her dying husband. This further explains why it would take pretty longer to get attended to. It is perplexing beyond imagination that Imo State with a population of 5.7 million people would depend on just one thriving medical facility for her medical needs.
Instead of disparaging the management and staff of FMC who work extra hours to shoulder a state-wide burden, we should encourage them. The number of cases handled on a daily basis by them are almost thrice what is obtainable elsewhere. Whoever that has interest in the discourse should engage in a holistic appraisal of the sectoral lapses in Imo’s healthcare delivery and agitate for a broad-based solution.
Relative to other Federal Medical Centers across Nigeria, the FMC in Owerri has always maintained a habit of professionalism and a culture of rigour, and has been distinguished by its dedication to saving lives. The resurgence of the medical sector in Imo State would be accomplished when we channel our grievances to the right quarters and realize that those at the FMC Owerri are bearing a heavy cross left by long years of disappointing health policies in Imo State.