The University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan has come a long way since 1957, when it was commissioned as the first tertiary hospital in Nigeria and the West African sub region. It was modelled after the University of London Teaching Hospital in the United Kingdom. From its architectural grandeur to the range of specialized health care services it offered, the hospital was expected to rank among the best of its kind in the world while taking the lead in the African continent.
Over the years the UCH was able to sustain its leadership position among the University Teaching Hospitals and Federal Medical Centres currently existing in Nigeria. It was also ranked number three in Africa. However, its administrators had always desired to place it on an even higher pedestal in the global ranking by striving to continuously upgrade its facilities and services to meet the best international standard and practice in spite of major constraints such as inadequate funding.
A lot was achieved in this regard during the tenure of the immediate past Chief Medical Director, Prof. Temitope Alonge and his management team resulting in a tremendous transformation of the hospital. Some years ago, basic amenities such as water supply and electricity were big challenges. Water shortage has now become a thing of the past with adequate attention being given to the maintenance of the source of the water supply. Epileptic power supply is also no longer a challenge with the provision of sufficient power generators and alternative solar power sources.
Some new physical structures have been added. They include five digital classrooms for the training of doctors, a multipurpose hall named after Emeritus Prof. Theophilus Ogunlesi and a reinforced concrete ramp to all floors in the main hospital buildings providing easy movement apart from the stairs and the elevators. Many old structures have been renovated including the various hostels. Adequate attention has also been given to staff welfare, retiree benefits and creation of harmonious working atmosphere thereby reducing rivalry among various professional groups. The entire hospital environment has received beautification and there are signages everywhere directing people to the various service areas.
However, the most remarkable transformation witnessed by the UCH in recent times is the upgrading of the hospital’s operational facilities and equipment to make its health care services comparable to the highest standard offered in the developed countries where Nigerians run to for specialized health care services. The facilities upgraded include various laboratory units with state of the art equipment capable of diagnosing many diseases. This has enhanced the level of accurate diagnosis and the turn around time (TAT) for release of test results.
The hospital has also acquired advanced radiology and theater facilities for the treatment of complex ailments and conditions such as cardiac, orthopaedic, cancer and brain tumour cases. With the new generation facilities, doctor can also detect congenital abnormalities or defects in unborn babies even at the early stages of pregnancy and be able to correct such defects before the babies are born.
Another significant progressive development is staff training. As the UCH was modernising its facilities, it was also advancing the skill and expertise of its doctors and other categories of staff through advanced training at home and abroad. The UCH runs a Continuing Professional Development Centre named after Prof. Oluwole Adebo. Consultants are regularly sent for training abroad. With the consistent learning and relearning process, the hospital has developed expertise and new protocols for the treatment of many diseases such as cancer.
Another area of expertise is neurosurgery where the UCH has made history as the first hospital in Nigeria to perform a very complex brain surgery known as awake craniotomy. It is a surgical procedure whereby the patient is awake as doctors operate on the brain and they can talk to the patient to ensure that no part of the brain controlling vital function has been negatively affected. The UCH is internationally recognized as a centre of excellence in neurosurgery. It has also made tremendous progress in nuclear medicine also with international recognition.
The standard and quality of the new UCH facilities is commendable. In fact, some of the facilities are said to be better than what obtains in some hospitals abroad because the UCH went for the latest and best technology. For example the cancer equipment uses the precision technology to deal with the cancer spot without side effects to other cells. Another advanced equipment is the Cardiology Theatre and Intensive Care Unit fully complimented by a state of the art Catheterization Laboratory (Cath-Lab) which technology is the first of its kind in Africa and the best anywhere in the world.
Apart from the focus on modernisation, the UCH has also significantly expanded its facilities to offer additional services and specialized care. Part of the expansion programme led to the creation of the Geriatrics Centre for the care of old people from the age of 60 years and above. At the Centre, old people are treated at subsided cost and some of the indigent ones have been enrolled into the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to ensure that they are able to easily access care. Ambulances, including special vehicles that can lift wheel chairs, are available to transport those who do not have people to bring them to the hospital. There is also a Geriatric Rehabilitation Centre to cater for old people who need rehabilitation after treatment. The UCH is a centre of excellence in the care of the old and aged. The Geriatric Centre is the first of its kind in Africa.
Some of the other projects in the expansion programme are the Cancer Centre and the In Vitro Fertilization Centre. Work on the Cancer Centre is ongoing. It is modelled after the oldest and most experienced cancer treatment institute, the Roswell Park Cancer Centre in Buffalo, New York, USA. The IVF Centre has been completed at a cost of N200million. It was inaugurated recently to provide IVF services for couples unable to have babies because of infertility problems. Like the Geriatric Centre, the IVF Centre is offering low cost services to help Nigerians to access the service which is normally an expensive one in specialist hospitals in Nigeria and abroad.
Just as the UCH helps the indigent to access vital health care services, it has also created the UCH Private Suites to cater for the rich and high profile patients who want special care and comfort. The service is intended to reverse outbound medical tourism by offering high profile patients first class treatment facilities comparable to the ones they go to access abroad. The private suites have separate laboratory, ultrasound diagnostic centre, operating theater and high dependency units among other facilities.
The transformation of the UCH was not an easy task. It is an inspiring story of how administrators can think out of the box to overcome seemingly intractable challenges and achieve desired objectives. Although, a few years ago, the federal government listed the UCH as one of six tertiary hospitals to have their facilities upgraded, financial constraints have not allowed the government to invest adequately in the endeavour thus leaving the management to explore other avenues of funding.
Fortunately, the hospital’s administrators have been able to leverage on Public Private Partnerships to get the extensive upgrading and expansion of facilities done. Some of the projects were funded by patriotic, public spirited Nigerian philanthropists. Some were funded by corporate organizations, government agencies and international aid agencies. Some were funded from internally generated revenue. Some were funded with loans and partnership investments with private business concerns. Despite the private sector investment in some of the facilities, the management has ensured that the cost of services remain reasonable and affordable.
The new Chief Medical Director, Prof. Jesse Abiodun Otegbayo has vowed to consolidate on these successes and to take the hospital further from being a tertiary hospital to the level of a quarternary hospital. Prof. Otegbayo has the competence and experience to achieve this goal. He was once the Director of Clinical Services, Research and Training and also Chairman, Medical Advisory Committee of the UCH. He has also successfully administered a tertiary hospital as the first Chief Medical Director of the University of Sierra Leone Teaching Hospitals Complex, Freetown, Republic of Sierra Leone.
Folu Olamiti, Media Consultant writes from Abuja.