Orphaned by lack of attention, UUTH groans under lean infrastructure
Round the country, inadequate infrastructure and equipment has left most teaching hospitals in dire straits. While this happens, top government officials and wealthy Nigerians are streaming abroad for world-class healthcare services.
The University of Uyo Teaching Hospital (UUTH) located along Abak Road, Uyo, is one of such tertiary health facilities that is nearly comatose owing to the weight of large uncompleted projects, occasioned by lack of attention and paucity of funds.
Established in 1999 as Federal Medical Centre, Uyo, the Federal Government in 2008 upgraded the facility to a teaching hospital, affiliated to the University of Uyo College of Medicine.
Since inception, the hospital has been serially neglected, and had to start off as UUTH without any take-off grant. It has also been operating without electricity supply from the national grid. It depends essentially on power generating plants, a development, which forces it to spend over N9m monthly on diesel.
The main two storey building, which houses several facilities of the hospital has little or no space left. Daily, large numbers of patients throng the narrow corridor of the ground floor of the General Out Patient Department (GOPD), where they wait for hours to be attended to by doctors. The ventilation there is very poor and patients, mostly women and children sweat profusely.
One of those, who is disenchanted with the lack of attention that the hospital is suffering from is Mrs. Nse Ekong, who said, “I arrived here as early as 7am, all the way from Mbietebe Obio, and this is 11.08am, and I am yet to be attended to. As you can see, there are no chairs for patients to sit, and the few chairs available along this corridor are occupied by others including pregnant women and the elderly.”
Mrs. Ekong, who leaned on the wall with her one-year-old baby said: “This is what we experience everyday we come here. We do not have enough space to sit while waiting to see doctors. Besides there are few doctors attending to us and we have to wait for lengthy hours before we are attended to. Sometimes, some patients, whose cases are not so severe return home after waiting for long hours unattended to.
Another patient, Nsibiet Umana, said: “This is how we suffer here everyday. The government and hospital authorities should do something about this situation because it is very unfortunate for sick people to come to the hospital, only to be visited with fresh pains, no matter how little. This place is too small for patients waiting to see doctors in a tertiary hospital. In terms of space, even the doctors and nurses are not faring better. Just see how people are squeezed in here. This is really bad.
The middle-aged mother of four continued: “I wonder if our political leaders do not see what is happening here, or if they do not know what to do. Perhaps, it is even because they don’t patronise public hospitals since they go to private and specialist hospitals.”
She continued: “From the test I did, they say I have a tumour growing on the wall of my stomach and this has been causing me severe pains. I cannot even stand for a long time, but I managed to stand here because I really want to see the doctor today. This hospital has no ventilation yet people are packed here like sardines. This is not good for the health of people that are seeking medical attention.”
She called on the Federal Government to improve the poor facilities at the hospital saying, “the number of abandoned buildings here is too many. If these buildings are completed, it would solve the accommodation problems the hospital is facing. People are suffering, and it is not just enough for our leaders to come and ask us for votes when elections are around the corner. This corruption we shout everyday is not just the business of stealing money alone, it also has to do with failing to keep your campaign promises. Our big men that we voted into office can afford to go abroad for treatment, but we cannot. So, this one here which is cheap for us, they should do something about it. It is just God that is keeping us here. This condition is very bad. Even when you go to other departments like the laboratory, it is the same problem of space and people are suffering.”
Other than the suffering patients, authorities of the hospital equally admit that things could be better considering the number of patients that the facility caters for daily.
According to the Chief Medical Director (CMD), Professor Etete Peters: “I want to say that for the past years, we have tried our best to provide medical services to the over four million people of Akwa Ibom State, and this is the only tertiary institution in the state, and as such, the calibre of cases that we attend to cut across primary, secondary to tertiary healthcare services. This means that we are not limited to our main function as a tertiary health institution because we do not even have any other major secondary healthcare institution in Uyo. So, the whole of these services still come to the teaching hospital. That is why we see an average of 1, 200 patients a day on out patient basis, and we have bed occupancy of more than 99 per cent out of the 520-bed capacity that we have. The hospital works round the clock in an attempt to meet up with the healthcare needs of the people of Akwa Ibom State.”
He continued: “With this kind of scenario, we are more or less overwhelmed. In an ideal situation, by the time you start spending all the resources that you should have spent exclusively on tertiary cases on treating personalised cases, other aspects must definitely suffer. This is not the best for any tertiary health institution. So, that is one of the peculiar problems affecting us.”
Peters, who said the hospital has sufficient manpower, lamented that the major problem is that of infrastructure. “We have over 100 specialists and I am happy to say that during my eight-year tenure, I have trained over 50 specialists and 50 consultants, and we have employed more than 75 per cent of them, and we are still training. We have enough manpower.”
He said: “Because of the poor funding situation involving the government, some of the facilities that we should have completed to allow us function properly could not be completed, including the General Out Patients Block (GOPB). That building has 30 consulting units that can take 30 doctors conveniently. If that was completed, it would have so much reduced patients’ waiting time to less than 10 or 15 minutes, instead of the situation we have now. If you go to our ground floor, we have there about 10 consulting rooms and everybody is scrambling there to see a doctor. So, the congestion witnessed is due to our inability to complete that building.
“I initiated all the projects and most of them are between four to five years old, but poor funding situation has really affected us. We have submitted details of the cost of all these projects to the Minister of Health. We are also looking for an intervention grant that would be of great help. The state government promised to assist us with N100m to complete one building, but unfortunately that money has not been released to us. We are still trying to explore other agencies to assist us because we know it is a very difficult situation that the Federal Government cannot handle alone.”
The CMD said, “apart from the GOPB, we also have the radiologist building project to house the CT scan, mammogram, mammography unit, digital x-ray and MIR scan. Being a building for hi-tech equipment, it must be concrete-walled because you don’t just bring in these equipment and put in a normal block wall structure, which radiation could pass through. That is why all the external walls of the building are made of concrete.
“As I speak to you, we do not have a purpose-built laboratory. In fact, the first floor of this building is where we still have the laboratory and we felt that it was important for us to build that laboratory so that patients and staff can also be protected and separated from where we have these dangerous equipment,” Peters said.
He expressed hope that through various interventions, the buildings would be completed one after the other so that the hospital can function “very well as a tertiary institution. About N300m would help us complete at least the main ones. Those are the priority ones.”
Even though the hospital also needs a lot of clinical equipment, the helmsman added that it was fairly better equipped than most hospitals in the country. For instance, “we have the only dyslectic centre in the entire South South and South East in our dialysis unit, with over 10 machines, and we run it 24/7. Our main concern as an institution is the infrastructure because without these infrastructures, we cannot function very well. This is so because by the time you are cramped into a very congested space, you cannot do what you are supposed to do on time. For example, a doctor may need to wait for another to complete an operation before he can step in, but if we have sufficient theatre facilities, such will not happen.
Perhaps, some of these fundamental issues would have been taken care of at start up, “but since we did not have a take off grant as an institution, it is affecting us seriously as we had to start everything from the normal budgetary allocation, which may not be fully released.”
Electricity is not only needed to illuminate the hospital, but to also power all of its equipment. Doing so depending on its 1, 000 KVA power generating plant badly is a very expensive venture.
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