Covid-19 has strengthened our health system: Prof. Saad Ahmed

The Medical Director, Federal Medical Centre, Abuja, Prof. Saad A. Ahmed has observed that in the face of negative effects of covid-19, it has been able to strengthen the health sector. He spoke about this and other issues in a chat with newsmen in Abuja. Excerpts;

Q: We meet you officially Prof.

A: I am Prof. Saad A. Ahmed, Medical Director, Federal Medical Centre, Abuja.

Q: How is your institution coping with the Pandemic

A: Covid-19 actually came with quite a challenge to the health sector in general and not just this institution.

You know at the time it was at ‘virus stage not much was known about it, you know it is a novel, and so many things were evolving with time, and before it would be fully known a lot of havoc has been done; but one thing was the fact that the public health setting has actually responded adequately to that virus. Within the first wave, it was, how do you prevent this from coming in; the use of face mask, regular hand washing, use of sanitizer, avoiding crowded places, some of those non-pharmaceutical measures have been brought in.

And, you know there was also lock-down, that also helped.  However, in terms of management in the health sector it also had some negative impact in the sense that during that time the clientele went down. And because there was lock-down, people were not coming, most institutions were closed down-some clinics. So basically, we are attending to emergencies and of course the overhead remains high. Cost of items skyrocketed and so many things.

So, management that period was quite challenging to health managers at that point in time. But we thank God that we are able to come out of it. And just when people are feeling more relaxed, then we have the second wave and with the second wave, you can see the numbers that we get every day. And those numbers are quite real.

These are people that have tested and then come out positive. And if you see the way it is up, it shows that we really need to sit up.

We have more testing sites than in the first wave so at least people now go to various places to get tested. And, may be with the awareness, more and more people present themselves for testing.

On the side of the health facility we have actually trained our staff on the management of infectious diseases. We have perfected ways of handling such cases; at least our holding areas are made functional whereby if you have a suspected case you can easily take him to that place before doing confirmatory test. If it is positive, the patient can now move to isolation or treatment centre where you can adequately manage. Those that are negative you move them to the ward or to other places where you can manage them like any other case.

And government has also supported health facilities in so many ways; Our own, in terms of training and retraining. Secondly, in the provision of personal protective equipment (PPEs) we have had quite a number of PPEs from the government. Thirdly molecular laboratories are being equipped now, virtually in every health institution in this country. FMC Abuja is one of those places that is ongoing at the moment. ICUs is virtually in every health institution, actually being equipped courtesy of Federal Government; which you can also see here in FMC Abuja as well. Support for isolation centres has also come in.

So, with all of these we feel that the government has done much and we are supposed to, as health facilities reciprocate and give service to the people.

The issue of Oxygen also came up and I think government also responded, at least to us, I am quite aware.

One of our oxygen plants is undergoing rehabilitation to bring it back to use, because we have two plants; one is the one we are currently using. The second one is being rehabilitated, same with National Hospital, and I think Gwagwalada and Asokoro also.

So, all these are actually the support that we have what it takes to manage this disease condition.

We equally have a donation of a forty-bed negative pressure mobile field hospital which is donated by the United States Government to the Federal Government of Nigeria, and it is sited in this place, Federal Medical Centre Abuja. That facility has been commissioned, we are putting some logistics in order to open it to patients that will require it. We are going to use it to manage, not only COVID but any other highly infectious disease that we come across.

So, I can say COVID has come with its negative effect but in a way it has also kind of strengthened our health system. And I think more and more are being done in the health sector at the moment to see that things are done much better that it used to be.

Q: You mentioned that COVID-19 affected health providers in the private sector, how are they coping?

A: Like I said it affected all of us, it is not only those that are in the private sector. Like I told you even here, because the overhead cost remained high. A pack of face mask that we used to buy then between two hundred to Five hundred naira skyrocketed to Seventeen thousand naira at some point.

For us we have to look inwards and start producing things like sanitizer, hypo chloride and things we us locally within this facility. That helps to bring down the cost, and I can tell you I understand what my colleagues in the private sector also passed through because it is not easy to run it when we are faced with this kind of situation.

The clientele has gone down, cost of everything has gone up, yet you are not making much. You have to pay salaries, you have to pay for all the other things. So, it is not quite rosy.

Q: In some climes they give them subvention for soft-landing, are you advocation for them to get grants like those in trading are getting?

A: I think I will advocate for some stimulus, particularly for the private sector. Those of us in the public sector, government is supporting us in so many ways and it won’t be out of place to have a platform where those in private sector can be supported, because at the end of the day we all take care of Nigerians. And keeping them in business means less burden on the government as well.

Q: Soonest the vaccines will be here, what is the best way to reach people for it?

A: The government has already put money and is procuring the vaccine, and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) is surely at the driving seat for this particular purpose. At the moment they are doing all they can, first to educate the populace about the need to have this vaccine; because it is one thing to have the vaccine and it another thing to get to the people vaccinated.  We all know how it used to be in the past (in case of Polio and other things); because of mistrust you have to go through so many roots before you can get a child vaccinated.

So similarly, with this vaccination for Covid it has also come with its own controversy which is needless to me. It ought not to have being in the first place because Covid is real.  These vaccines are actually manufactured by scientists and we are told that it is effective against this. And this is a deadly virus. This is not the time for us to start going around and round and be looking at negatives. First and foremost is to stay alive, and therefore I will advocate that Nigerians should welcome this and allow themselves to be vaccinated once it is available.

How it is going to be will be worked out by NPHCDA. Of course, the first batch of the vaccine they are getting will not be able to go around in all of Nigeria. They have their own ways of prioritizing, where to start from and how to continue.

Q: What other areas will you want government to come to the aid of healthcare givers?

A: Generally, if we can continue putting the health sector in focus, increase the yearly budgetary allowance. I think we will be able to get to where we want to be. You need funding, there are no two ways about it. You need state of the art equipment to give proper service. If you have all of these I don’t think there will be anybody that will leave Nigeria to be going elsewhere for any form of treatment. Most of the time, if you move out you still meet a Nigerian who will take care of you and that person has been trained in this place, not that he went there to get trained and all that. So, getting those necessary equipment is going to boost that.

Here in FMC Abuja, we are doing our own best to see that we get this. We are also trying to collaborate with other government agencies and other non-governmental, corporate organizations to see how they can support us and make our dream a reality – of this place being a tourist hope for healthcare in Nigeria.

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