Four hired labourers stood outside the sprawling gate taming grasses. A lanky security man with morose look sat inside a dilapidated security gate asking the journalist whom he wanted to see in the centre. Most offices were under lock and keys. In three offices that opened for business, staffers in twos, threes sat in clusters discussing and watching out for any strange movement. And the entire compound was overgrown with grasses. Yet, the life-saving environment wore the mood of the funeral service of a 10-year-old child.
This paints the gloomy picture of the Primary Health Centre, Ikot Akpa Nkuk, Ukanafun local government area of Akwa Ibom State as captured by our reporter who visited the centre on Monday, August 13, this year to get first-hand information about the gruelling insecurity that has crippled the socio-economic activities, wasted thousands and asphyxiated the academic and health sectors in the area. It also paints the gloom surrounding health-care services in a thickly populated area where insecurity has dosed the health-care system in the area with anaesthesia.
Similarly, the melancholic atmosphere of the primary health operational base at the headquarters is redeemably low due to the presence of a few security operatives parading the area, but the situation has dishearteningly worsened in all the health centres and posts sited in the hinterlands, where the insecurity is at the peak.
According to 2006 result of National Population Commission, the population census figure of Ukanafun stands at 125,473. Since the birth rate grows exponentially, the figure might have gone to more than 200,000 people despite decimation of a sizeable number of the populace by the militants.
It is estimated that about 100,000 people are still hanging around in their villages for dearth of money to relocate to nearby urban centres or safer neighbouring villages to evade the recurring inferno soaking the blood of many and engendering despoliation to the ‘Land of Elephant’ in all ramifications.
However, majority of the population are not serviced by the health institutions in the area as the health providers have fled the area for their dear lives. And the once-bustling place mostly some villages in the hinterland are ghost of themselves.
Though the ex-governor Godswill Akpabio some years ago constructed and inaugurated four general hospitals in Akwa Ibom State, Ukanafun General Hospital that would have made the list as the fifth was abandoned by the contractor, forcing financially capable indigenes resident in the area to travel to nearby Abak, Ikot Okoro in Oruk Anam local government area or Azumini in Abia State for their secondary health-care needs. The abandoned hospital has turned it to a campaign stunt as any governor who visits the area would pledge to complete it as a decoy to woo voters only to abandon the pledge after the election.
Unfortunately, the Primary Health Centre, Ikot Akpa Nkuk which used to offer near-secondary health services for the people is plummeting in facilities and manpower, no thanks to the heightened insecurity in the area that has forced the staffers to desert the area.
Straightnews found out that the centre that has 73 staffers on its payroll even on Monday, the busiest day in the centre, saw seven staffers reporting for official duty to attend to less than 10 patients. A centre that handled health-care complaints of 1,500 out-patients monthly today recorded a dismal figure of 30 out-patients in a month.
Dennis Sunday Udom, a senior staff of Laboratory Unit in the centre narrated ‘’ Every Monday is always a very busy day. But today, pregnant women do not come because most of their husbands have fled this area. For instance, we used to have not less than 16 women coming for maternity check-up.’’
From the gate, the centre that used to bubble with huge activities is orphaned. Such major departments as Administration, Laboratory, Out Patient, Pharmacy, Card, Children Ward Centre, Maternity, Cold Room and DOT Departments were scant with no staff, Straighnews investigations show.
Udom of Laboratory Unit in the centre narrated that ‘’the insecurity started more than two years ago, but it adversely hit the health centre one year and some months ago. The dwindling attendance is not deliberate but is caused by frequent killings of people and kidnappings in the area. One of our staff, one Uduak was abducted by the gunmen as he was coming to work.’’
One senior staff and director of Records, Thursday George Akpan was reported to have paid an unmentioned ransom to unsuspected hoodlums before he was let off the hook.
In a telephone call, the director who now resides outside Ukanafun though he has a house in Ikot Akpa Nkuk lamented that the insecurity has caused drawback not only to the health sector but also to other sectors in the area.
Where it was boldly written: ‘Doctor’s Office’ there was no doctor as the out patients were not there for treatment or consultation.
Nyeneime Sandy Sunday was pitiable. An NCE graduate, Miss Sunday is auxiliary staff in the centre. ‘’Where do I go from here? I have worked here for years as auxiliary staff. I am paid N3,000 monthly; at times some months the allowance does not come. Most staff do not come even the six newly staff sent to the centre could not come due to the insecurity. The problem is worrisome. I pray government steps in and end the problem.’’
Research shows that the local government area is in the wood working at variance to attainment of two goals of Sustainable Development Goals which clearly states: End poverty in all its forms everywhere and ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Clearly, insecurity has plunged the area into poverty and sullied healthy living standards.
Already, health centres and posts spread across the area have been abandoned. For example, Ikot Udo Ossiom, Ikot Oku Usung, Ikot Unah, Adat Ifang Health Centres as well as Health Posts in Ikot Ebok, Nkek Ndon Anan and Nto Okon have turned to mere government edifices because insecurity has sent the personnel packing. Where a few staff are seen, the patients are not there for fear of meeting untimely death in the hands of the militants striking their targets at will. Again, a large chunk of the indigenes has deserted the flashpoints.
With the despicable health condition, the area is in dire straits and ‘Health Is Wealth’ is sloganeering even as the 2018 local government budget for health sector may be lost in transit because the impelementers of primary health-care delivery services are not in sight.
At the same time, diseases and epidemic culminating in sickness keep sprawling seeking many: the rich, the poor, the enlightened and the ignorant in the area devastated by man-made problem to prey on. That is the fate of a people in this 21st century battling to meet their health needs in an era people in some advanced civilisations are going to the Mars.