By Kayode Crown
The adage goes that health is wealth. No government policy is complete without proper consideration of the health sector.
But not much can be done if the drivers of the sectors, the doctor and nurses and ancillary staffs are on strike.
This has been a recurring decimal in the health sector in Nigeria and every time that happens, untold number of patients lose their lives.
We undercut ourselves when the matter of the welfare of the staff is sacrificed on any altar.
The health workers have been literally investing their lives for the cause of their profession, with the agreement that their welfare should be a forgone conclusion.
That has big been the case with the government reneging on its side of the agreement with the workers, again and again.
The Ondo State Commissioner for Health, in the person of Dr Wahab Adegbenro, is coming from the private sector with a wealth of experience, which we believe will serve in his new position.
He knows that training of the personnel who will attend to patients cannot be compromised at all. Ondo State is at the forefront in the nation when it comes to training health workers.
We have the School of Health Technology, the School of Nursing and the new kid on the block, the University of Medical Sciences.
Combine this with the agitation of Akure to have a Federal Teaching Hospital and the Federal University of Technology Akure already offering some medical science courses, and we see Ondo State becoming a hub in this area.
The challenge is to have a curriculum and teaching facility and faculty that not only meet the 21st century standard, but are also responsive to the changing times and sensitive to the environment, providing manpower relevant to our clime and at the same time globally competitive.
When we start to compromise at this level, at what is foundational, the integrity of the whole health sector super structure is suspect.
This dovetails into the need of the adequate funding. It is clear that the health sector cannot be what it can be with funding coming just from the government alone.
This is where the honourable commissioner needs to put on his thinking cap, call on his ingenuity. A foremost health facility that stands the state head and shoulders above others are Trauma Center and the Gani Fawehinmi Diagnostic Centre.
These, combined with Mother and Child Hospitals could serve as magnet for funding into the state health sector via global research partnership. They even offer opportunities for medical tourism, which is one of the drivers of the Indian economy, if properly packaged and marketed.
The health sector is not just about funding and facilities, but there is an aspect which has to do with advocacy.
This is about public awareness on how to prevent diseases from developing. This is a neglected aspect of the health sector. It could serve to reduce the morbidity burden on the health facilities, reduce the economic cost of people calling in sick at the office.
The tried and tested model of health funding the world over is the health insurance model, which the local version is the NHIS.
Ingenious ways should be sought on how the model can serve people at the grassroots and to cover everyone.
The sector cannot be seen as a platform for income generation into the state. How much money is really commensurate with saving people’s lives which is what the health sector workers do all the time?
We cannot emphasise enough the importance of funding for the health sector. But of pocket funding of the health sector is so old school. The best that can be done is to ensure that, as much as possible, within reasonable limits and putting what is best for the people at the centre of focus, the government put more money into new equipment and training rather than maintenance.
The government should pay attention to expanding the health sector while the funding generated through various ingenious ways should be channeled towards paying salaries and purchasing consumables.
And just like Akwa Ibom State has done with the establishment through partnership of a syringe making factory, which was recently commissioned by the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, Ondo State can also look in that direction.
There are infinite number of things needed in the health sector that are hitherto being imported into the country. Through partnership, we can have them produced in the state and with one stone we kill two birds, that of industrialisation and income generation to sustain the health sector while freeing government money for expansion as I have stated earlier.
We could have companies producing drugs, drips, etc set up in the state. As the Yoruba will say, there is no difference in the shape of the head of the monkey and that of the chimpanzee. Ondo State can go the way of Akwa Ibom State in focusing on health sector leaning manufacturing.
A lot of advances have already been made in the attitude of the health workers. Rather than being emotionally abusive to the patients adding to the stress they are already in, they should be supportive. This should be further emphasised to improve people’s experience of the health facilities.
The morale of the workers is boosted when their welfare is taken care of and also when they are listened to.
They want to feel part of the process, they have been in the system and they have things to say.
If there is a way for the Ministry to foster the practice of giving feedback, not just from the staff but also from the patients who use the facilities, it will be of great benefit to the system.
Rather than wait for the feedback to be provided willingly by the people, the ministry should be forthright in seeking it.
The contact information already available should not be to decorate the forms in the offices, but to be actively utilised, as people are asked for the impressions the people have of the health facilities and personnel they had to interact with.
This is not for the purpose of witch-hunting but to recognise, rectify and correct problematic and potentially problematic issues.
The people being served would serve as the mirror of the activities going on in the health sector, since the managers therein cannot be the judges and jury in their own case.
Health is a matter for everybody and feedback is definitely something that will help to make sure that errors are not allowed to fester for too long.
It is because of the need for feedback that the Ondo State Government established the Mandatory Maternal Death Report Law, to better put the matter of maternal mortality in perspective with a veritable statistics backbone.
That is like the minimum and we need to start moving from that to a more holistic approach, towards a feedback system that covers the whole spectrum of the health sector, and feedback sought actively and not passively. It should not just be the persons close to the Commissioner that can call him and tell him things.
Such is severally inadequate and lacking is objectivity and comprehensiveness.
If a proper feedback mechanism is put in place, the health workers will sit tight and ensure that they give their best at all times since it is the lives of people we are talking about here.