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Benue Community Residents Die While Multi-Million Naira Health Facilities Remain Locked

The time was 11 pm sometime in 2021. Heavily pregnant Rachael Adinu was alone in their home and needed urgent medical attention as it was just about time for delivery. She is shouting, but her voice is too low for neighbours to hear.


Fortunately, Leonard Akor, a neighbour who was passing by, heard the faint call for help and heeded. Rachael was first taken to Awulema hospital in Ohimini Local Government. The hospital was closed, and no medical personnel was in sight.


The next stop was a private clinic in Otukpo, another local government, where she was eventually seen. Unfortunately, she lost the baby. A doctor told her the loss could have been avoided if she had gone for an ante-natal check.


A similar unfortunate incident happened to Adi Okoji, whose son, Mike Adi, died months after birth. Mrs Okoji had given birth at home with the help of the local midwives. A few days later, the baby suddenly became sick and died.


“He could not talk, his temperature was high, [and he was] always crying, especially when I touched his head. I took him to the Awulema Hospital. [On] the first day, I didn’t meet them (medical personnel).  But the day I met them, the nurse on duty told me malaria treatment was unavailable. She recommended herbs for me,” Mrs Okoji said.


Perhaps, Mike Adi is one soul among the statistics of 58 deaths per every 1000 births of children under one recorded in 2021 as published by  Statista, a global business data platform.


Although Awulema has a hospital that should cater to the needs of residents, a lack of personnel and facilities has denied many residents of needed health care.



Different ailments but the same herbs 

Since the health centre that was meant to serve the community is not properly functional, residents have only two options; take the long journey to get medical attention or use herbs. Most embrace the latter.


John Awodi, 7, lies helpless in her father’s cottage. His body temperature is high, his headaches, he feels pain all over his body and feels cold internally.


“He has been this way since yesterday, lying on the mat. We have tried to reach the doctors, but no one has been found in the hospital yet. That’s why we resorted to using herbs,” Jane Awodi, the mother, said.


Another mother, Ibe Ochoche, 27, who has already lost one of her four children, could not ascertain what was wrong with her 18-month-old girl and had no doctor around to tell her.

Ibe Ochoche showing her 18-month old girl with ailments.

Although the villagers suffer different ailments, most of them could only use herbs for primary medication.


The community head, Clement Okwubi, said most villagers rely on herbs for treatment because of their availability, and accessibility.


“Although God has blessed us here in this community. We don’t usually get sick. And when we do, we turn to herbs as our helpline,” he said.

Pot of concoction villagers drink

 It could have been better

Seeing the condition of her people, a member of the House of Representatives representing Otukpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency, Blessing Onuh, nominated the furnishing of Awulema Hospital in 2019.


N23 million was allocated for this project, and it was placed under the supervision of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA). This was the second time the project appeared in the budget.


In 2018, the former lawmaker representing the constituency, Adaji Ezekiel, nominated the same project at N10 million under the same agency. N33 million in total.


The equipment was bought but has never been used at the hospital. Residents said the hospital has not been functioning optimally since it was moved from its former location.


In July 2021, UDEME, an accountability and transparency project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), visited the location.


The compound was covered with grasses, and the paintings were already peeling off.


The building comprises 10 wards, but only one ward is used by medical personnel who don’t come often enough. The equipment meant to make the hospital function well was seen locked in one of the rooms.


Whenever two villagers get sick, it becomes a challenge for the hospital’s limited health workers and facilities.


“Most times, patients leave for lack of bed spaces; the one ward is for general purposes. Both for male and female, and we usually have issues when two persons get sick at the same time,” Felicia Odeh, a medical officer at the hospital, said.


 “This bed is where we normally deliver children. We also use it for other things like a transfusion of blood as well as dripping,” she added.


Mrs Ada Abochi, the officer in charge of the hospital, explained why they could not use the equipment yet.


“These materials have not been given to us because the hospital is not commissioned. The last time they brought materials was about two years ago when I started working here. The material will help us a lot in delivering our services to the people of Awulema,” she said.

Awulema Hospital isolated from the village


Agency, lawmaker not responsive

In 2021, UDEME sent an FOI to NPHCDA to ask questions regarding the uses of the allocated resources, but the agency did not respond. As a follow-up, this reporter visited the Benue State office of the agency, but the officials at the office claimed ignorance and declined comment.


Also, an attempt was made to contact Mrs Blessing Onuh to confirm the claim that she hasn’t ordered the use of these facilities to no avail. Several calls and messages sent to her line were not answered.


Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of the Benue State Primary Health Care Board (BSPHCB), Dr Bem Reuben Ageda, said the government is aware of the prevailing circumstances, and plans are underway.


“I am aware that primary healthcare centres in many of our communities need intervention. A number of them lack manpower and facilities. We have several plans underway, like improving the manpower through recruitment which will commence soon,” he said.

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