Although Awulema has a health centre that should cater to the needs of residents, a lack of personnel and facilities has denied many residents of needed health care.
The time was 11 p.m. sometime in 2021. Heavily pregnant Rachael Adinu was alone in her home in Awulema, Benue State, and in dire need of medical attention as it was about time for delivery. She was shouting but her voice was too low for neighbours to hear.
Fortunately, Leonard Akor, a neighbour who was passing by, heard the faint call for help and heeded. Ms Adinu was first taken to Awulema health centre in Ohimini local government. The health centre was closed and no medical personnel was present.
Next stop was a private clinic in Otukpo, another local government, where she was eventually attended to. Unfortunately, she lost the baby. A doctor told her that the loss could have been avoided if she had gone for an ante-natal.
A similar unfortunate incident happened to Adi Okoji, whose son, Mike Adi, died months after being born in Awulema. Mrs Okoji had given birth at home with the help of the local midwives. A few days later, the baby suddenly became sick and died.
“He could not talk, his temperature was high, always crying, especially when I touched his head. I took him to the Awulema hospital, the first day I didn’t meet them (medical personnel). But the day I met them, the nurse on duty told me that malaria treatment was unavailable. She recommended herbs for me,” Mrs Okoji said.
Mike Adi is perhaps one of the 58 deaths per 1000 births of children under one recorded in Nigeria in 2021.
Although Awulema has a health centre, called Awulema hospital, that should cater to the needs of residents, a lack of personnel and facilities has denied many residents of needed health care.
Different ailments but the same herbs
Since the health centre that was meant to serve the community is not efficient, residents have only two options; take the long journey to get medical attention or use herbs. Most embrace the latter.
John Awodi, 7, on a day in August, lay helpless in his father’s cottage. His body temperature was high. His head ached and he felt pain all over his body.
“He has been this way since yesterday, lying on the mat. We have tried to reach the doctors but no one has been found in the hospital yet. That’s why we resorted to using herbs,” Jane Awodi, his mother, said.
Another mother, Ibe Ochoche, 27, who had already lost one of her four children, could not ascertain what was wrong with her 18-month-old girl and no doctor was around to tell her.
Although the villagers suffer different ailments, most of them could only use herbs for primary medication.
The community head, Clement Okwubi, said the majority of the villagers rely on herbs for treatment because of their availability, and accessibility.
“Although God has blessed us here in this community. We don’t usually get sick. And when we do, we turn to herbs as our helpline,” he said.
It could have been better
Seeing the condition of her people, a member of the House of Representatives representing Otukpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency, Blessing Onuh, nominated the furnishing of Awulema Hospital in 2019.
A total of N23 million was allocated for the project and it was placed under the supervision of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA). This was the second time the project appeared in the budget.
In 2018, the former lawmaker representing the constituency, Adaji Ezekiel, nominated the same project at N10 million under the same agency.
Some equipment was bought but never put to use at the hospital. The equipment remains locked up in a room in the hospital and includes two motorcycles, some buckets and packs of syringes.
In July 2021 and August 2022, UDEME, an accountability and transparency project of the Center for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), visited the location.
The compound was seen covered with grasses and the paintings were already peeling off.
The building comprises 10 wards but only one ward is used by the two health officials who work at the hospital. Of the two nurses, only one comes often, residents said.
Whenever two villagers get sick, it becomes a challenge for the health workers.
“Most times, patients leave for lack of bed spaces; the one ward is for general purposes. Both for male and female and we usually have issues when two persons get sick at the same time,” Felicia Odeh, one of the health workers at the hospital, said.
“This bed is where we normally deliver children, we also use it for other things like a transfusion of blood as well as dripping,” she added.
Ada Abochi, the officer in charge of the hospital, explained why they can not use the equipment yet.
“These materials have not been given to us because the hospital is not commissioned. The last time they brought materials was about two years ago when I started working here. The material will help us a lot in delivering our services to the people of Awulema,” she said in August.
Agency, lawmaker not responsive
In 2021, UDEME sent an FOI to NPHCDA to ask questions regarding the uses of the allocated resources but the agency did not respond. This reporter also visited the Benue State office of the agency but the officials at the office claimed ignorance and declined comment.
Also, an attempt was made in August to contact Mrs Onuh, the lawmaker, to confirm the claim that she had not ordered the use of the equipment. Several calls and messages sent to her line were not answered.
The Awulema health centre is one of the thousands spread across Nigeria that lack basic amenities and personnel.
Going by the blueprint of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), a primary health centre should have one or more doctors, a pharmacist, a staff nurse and other paramedical support staff to provide outreach services.
It should also have a well-equipped open ward, labour room, children and female wards, doctor’s office and staff quarters, an ambulance for referrals and drugs and equipment for immunisation, preventive and basic curative care. The centre is also to provide monitoring and evaluation, as well as maternal and child health services.
The Awulema centre, like thousands across Nigeria, lacks of most the necessary requirements.
When contacted, the Executive Secretary of the Benue State Primary Health Care Board, (BSPHCB), Bem Ageda, said the government is aware of the prevailing circumstances and plans are underway.
“I am aware that primary healthcare centres in many of our communities need intervention. A number of them lack manpower and facilities. We have several plans underway, like improving the manpower through recruitment which will commence soon,” he said.