First time visitors to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT,are usually impressed by the well paved roads and other top quality infrastructure. And to meet the health needs of the residents of the only planned city in Nigeria, the authorities made provisions for the setting up of hospitals in all the districts of Abuja. Although the increase in the population of the capital city means that the facilities there are stretched beyond their limits, they still offer services that, by Nigerian standards, are better that what is obtainable in many states of the federation.
But while urban residents of Abuja enjoy relatively good access to health facilities, same cannot be said of those who dwell in the rural areas, especially pregnant women. A cross section of pregnant women resident in the satellite towns of the FCT who spoke with Abuja Bulletin, painted a pitiable picture of what they have to endure in the absence of quality health care.
They argued that lack of workers at some of the few community health facilities in the satellite towns has forced them to patronise quacks, and as a result, some of them have lost their lives and babies, especially during child birth.
Narrating her painful experience, a petty trader, who lives in one of the FCT satellite towns, Mrs Mercy Aboh, said: “We are no longer comfortable with the attention we receive from workers at the health centres. The situation is critical. Sometimes the workers will send us away and say till next appointment day even though we have our appointment that day with them because they are over stressed by the number of patients that come to see them.”
Another resident of one of the villages in the Abuja Municipal Area Council, Madam Hannah Oge, said that apart from lack of facilities where a primary health care centre exists, they are not operated by qualified staff.
“The Minister of FCTA should critically look into the challenges at the health centres before things get out of hand. I went to one of the health centres in a village in Abuja Municipal Area Council, AMAC, where only the matron in-charge of the health centre is the only employee of the FCTA. All other workers I saw there were volunteers.
They were so overwhelmed with the poor working conditions and one of them transferred her anger on me because of a simple question I asked and later discovered that she was a volunteer worker. This is not healthy for a health centre”.
To another rural dweller, Esther Nwafor, resident of Zamani village, the area council, whose responsibility it is to provide primary health care centres, had failed.
“I have lived in Zamani for over two years. The absence of a hospital in this community has affected us women and our children. I would not have suffered the way I did during my pregnancy. I had difficulty going to the hospital for antenatal due to the distance and money involved. It was God’s intervention I was able to deliver my baby,” she stated. Meanwhile, if the assurance given by an official of the FCT health secretariat is anything to go by, then the sitution of rural dwellers in the FCT may be on upward swing.
The official, who did not want to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said over 300 health facilities had been set up in different locations in Abuja. He, however, said the challenge was getting qualified personnel to operate them because of insufficient funds.
“The FCTA has built over 300 health centres in various communities across the six area councils to meet the health needs and access to health facilities by rural people, but only a little above 200 are functioning. This has forced some our rural dwellers to patronise people who are not qualified for their health needs. I believe the Minister we have now is fully aware of the challenges in FCT’s health sub-sector and will do something about it despite the lean resources at his disposal, especially in the area of employing qualified doctors, nurses and health workers”, he said.
Until that is done, rural dwellers, especially women and children, will continue to contend with the patronage of quack health practitioners and the attendant consequences.