By Chikwe Azoma
It is no longer news that COVID-19 has disrupted services in all sectors across the world and Nigeria is not exceptional. But the news is that the pandemic threw up numerous challenges facing the health sector. In Nigeria, it brought to the fore the weak and unacceptable poor health system which has plagued health services for decades in the country.
However, the pandemic which has continued to ravage countries across the world may have forced governments to begin to build and bridge the gaps in the health system.
One state in Nigeria, that is using the experience it gained from the challenges thrown up by COVID-19 outbreak remains the Lagos state.
This may not be unconnected with the fact that the state serves as the country’s epic-centre for the pandemic and had recorded the first case of Coronavirus, precisely on February 28, 2020.
To prevent and respond effectively for a possible disease outbreak in the future, the State is currently upgrading and building new infrastructure with the experience it gathered from the current pandemic.
These projects and programmes dominated Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s two years account of stewardship in health, rendered by the State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, last week.
For Abayomi, these projects are designed to take care of the health and wellness of over 20 million Lagosians.
According to him, the roadmap for the upgrade of infrastructure in the state-owned health facilities, being executed by the Medical Project Implementation Unit (MPIU) in phases was aimed at building resilient healthcare in Lagos and increase residents’ access to quality universal health coverage.
Abayomi who explained that the comprehensive refurbishment was being carried out in short, medium- and long-term bases said in line with the Sanwo-Olu administration to achieve the goals set in the Health and Environment pillar of its T.H.E.M.E.S agenda, the upgrade is cutting across primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare.
He disclosed: “In the last two years, the Sanwo-Olu administration has completed, equipped and handed over two multi-level Maternal and Childcare Centre (MCC) in Eti-Osa and Badagry.”
Abayomi explained that the construction of another 110-bed MCC has been completed in Epe and due for commissioning in the coming weeks
For him, the upgrade is being done in a sustainable way, which would take another decade for major repairs to be done, except statutory maintenance by the hospital management and the Lagos State Asset Maintenance Agency, LASAMA.
“We have renovated and remodelled the Mainland Hospital in Yaba with future plans of making it an Institute of Research for Infectious Disease. We have also completed the remodelling and upgrade of Apapa General Hospital, just as we currently renovate Harvey Road Health Centre, Ebute Metta Health Centre, Isolo General Hospital and the General Hospital, Odan Lagos. All of these are in the effort to make health accessible.”
He disclosed that the ministry has gotten approval for the construction of new hospitals to bridge gaps in access and services in the health sector.
“In fulfilment of our medical infrastructure blueprint agenda, we have commenced the construction of a 280-bed General Hospital in Ojo, 150-bed New Massey Street Children’s Hospital, while the Governor has also approved the construction and equipping of 1,500-bed Psychiatric Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre at Majidun in Ketu Ejinrin.
“In the course of the year, we have completed the construction of a four-storey Faculty of Basic Medical and Clinical Sciences Office Block at Lagos State University College of Medicine (LASUCOM) and plans have been concluded for renovation and upgrade of some facilities at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) in tandem with our medical infrastructure blueprint strategy for the tertiary health facilities.
He said the upgrade would bring about fit-for-purpose healthcare facilities that would raise the capacity of the state to respond to contemporary and future health challenges.
According to him, part of the new features include improved efficiency for physical maintenance, ease of movement, low carbon footprint, low energy consumption, infection prevention and control as well as staff and patient comfort.
“In partnership with the private sector, we have completed and handed over an oxygen plant at Mainland and Gbagada General Hospitals. We have delivered Traige and Oxygen Centres in 10 locations across Lagos. In raising staff welfare, we have started the construction of a 24-unit Doctors’ and Staff Quarters in at Gbagada General Hospital.”
Abayomi also disclosed that work had begun on the blueprint designs for Comprehensive Health Centre, Primary Health Centrer and Health Posts as part of the move to rejig their operations and service delivery.
Abayomi disclosed that the state government embarked on the greenfield medical infrastructure projects to prevent issues noticed in health infrastructure across all levels of care in the State.
He expressed optimism that all issues bedevilling medical health infrastructure will disappear when the medical infrastructure blueprint strategy is fully implemented.
He added that the medical infrastructure blueprint agenda will help address the issue of brain drain, medical travels and patient welfare, stressing that the state government, through the strategy, hoped to attract medical tourism to the state.
“The prototype of the new, remodelled and upgraded healthcare infrastructure in the state will conform with key elements of global standards health facility designs, which include natural light/ventilation, sustainable energy, patient flow, infection prevention, noise prevention, flood prevention, identifiable standout visual features as well as scalability and modular design for expansion.
Continuing, the commissioner alerted that Nigeria stands the risk of experiencing the third wave because less than one per cent of its population has been vaccinated. In Lagos, only about 260,000 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19, with the figure represented just one per cent of the state’s population.
He said health facilities in the state have been placed on high alert to pick up early trends that may suggest a third wave of COVID-19.
He said Lagos is working toward ensuring 60 per cent of the herd immunity, representing 14 million b people, is achieved.
Among steps being taken to curb a third wave of the virus included aggressive testing, including mutant PCR testing to identify the particular virus strain.
It also included the deployment of technology (EKOTELEMED) to track and monitor inbound travellers; enforcing non-pharmaceutical interventions; increase in oxygen supply and vaccination. He said of the 123 passengers of interest tracked between April 13 and April 27, 110 (89 per cent) were called by EKOTELEMED, with only 39 per cent reached and tracked, 66 per cent had Lagos as their final destination, while about 28 per cent filled in no address in Nigeria or filled in a foreign address.
As of the time of this report, the total samples tested so far was 460,647, with 58,222 confirmed positive. Of this number, 168,312 (37 per cent) were tested in public laboratories while 292,335 (63 per cent) were tested in private laboratories.
Expressing fear that the third wave of COVID-19 may enter Lagos through the importation of new COVID-19 strains from inbound travellers, he noted that all strides gained in the fight against the virus would be lost without improved border surveillance against the importation of new and mutant strains.
“All passengers arriving in Nigeria will now have to show a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel rather than the previous 96 hours period. I have hence instructed that all these protocols would be made more stringent to protect the residents of Lagos State from an impending third wave. As part of these protocols, passengers are to mandatorily isolate for the required seven days and will be strictly monitored through phone calls by our EKOTELEMED platform and physical visits to the passengers’ homes by our surveillance teams,” he said.
He warned that anyone that flouts the rule or gives a fake phone number or address to evade the protocol would be identified, adding that such individual would be made to mandatorily isolate at any government or public-private partnership isolation centres or identified hotels for 10 days at their cost.
Defaulters would be fined, while the passports of the indigenous passengers would be forwarded to the authorities for deactivation and foreigners may be subject to deportation.
He advised residents not to assume the worst is over, urging them to continue to adhere to any precautionary measures. “Residents are still advised to stick to the laid down protocols of always wearing face masks in public gatherings, washing of hands and maintaining social distancing, even after receiving the vaccine.”