Some of the diseases include diarrhoea, malaria, measles and also the terrible environment where many people live due to poverty and illiteracy among other factors. Specifically in Yobe, health officials agreed that poverty is the militating factor which discourages women from going to the hospital for antenatal or postnatal care.
When this reporter visited the state Specialist Hospital and the Maryam Sani Abacha Maternal and Child Health Care Centre in Damaturu after the flag-off of the free health services, it was observed that there was increased patronage by women, including their children.
Hajiya Yakura Baba Shehu, the matron of the Maryam Abacha Health Centre explained that before the introduction of the free health package, patronage by women was dismal. “Formerly, we hardly received more than 30 women in a day, but now, the average is three hundred…this figure excludes children below the age of five who are also brought in large numbers”, she said.
She said on one occasion, more than two hundred women registered for antenatal care alone with a significant number of them without any record of having ever visited hospitals even though they’d had experience of childbirth. “The fact is that before the introduction of the free health initiative, women were afraid to visit health centres because they could not afford to buy even simple drugs like Paracetamol. Many of them, especially those that are pregnant, died at home due to complications during labour,” she said.
The matron said everything is now free including theatre pack and post-operation treatment while drugs including Amoxiclap, Ciproxin, and anti-hypertensive drugs among others have been stocked in the maternity pharmacy. “Some patients go home with as much as ten different types of drugs depending on their sickness and we give them all free of charge,” she said.
She said with the increased number of patients, pressure has also increased on the health workers and doctors, but added that with time, the number may likely drop when those rushing to the hospital for minor ailments are well taken care of.
Weekly Trust, however, reports that the state government had done a lot in the health sector before it declared the free health services for women and children. One of the measures is the procurement of drugs worth over twenty million naira for the take-off of the programme across the state. And in order to sustain it, the construction of the N1.6 billion 200-bed capacity Damaturu Ultra Modern Hospital has reached advanced stage of completion and the hospital, when completed, is expected to provide improved healthcare services to the people of the state.
Existing General Hospitals in major cities across the state, including Gashua, Geidam and Potiskum, are being renovated and equipped with theatre, laboratory and specialist equipment while about 28 Egyptian doctors have been posted to these hospitals.
The state government also last month approved the procurement and installation of medical equipment in all the hospitals and medical centres to Messrs Interact Continental Limited at the total sum of N217.3 million while drugs worth N48 million have been provided under the Drugs Revolving Funds Scheme.
In order to achieve the MDG target of reducing women and children deaths, the governor had warned health officials against diverting the drugs or collecting money from patients. “Everything is free for women and children. We would keep our eyes on how the drugs are being dispensed,” he said. “We would be ready to buy more drugs as soon as those in the stores are exhausted. No patient should be denied drugs and attention for any reason”, Gaidam said.
With many women going to the hospital now, it is expected that there would be improvement in the health of children also. This is because available statistics from the Household Survey 2007, the National Immunisation Cluster Survey (NICS) 2007 and Rapid Assessment Survey (RAS) 2009 as well as the Rapid Social Assessment of Demand Side Barriers to Use of MNCH Services in Yobe State 2009 indicates that while only 5.7% of children were fully immunised, parents especially mothers were not interested in availing their children of immunisation, which is free because they (women) believe that they also need free healthcare like their children.
Hajiya Yakura therefore explained that in order for the programme to be sustained, government must keep on stocking its stores with drugs and ensure that they are distributed on time. “We hope to be receiving the drugs weekly instead of monthly, so that we would not run out of stock,” she said.
Maryam Inusa who was seen at the outpatient department at the hospital expressed gratitude to the state government. “I got everything free including the card for the consultancy…we pray that the gesture would be sustained,” she said.