The northern part of Nigeria is almost always on the negative side on most indicators of human development, health inclusive. According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), treatable infections such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea and measles still continue to be major causes of under-five death in the north. The region also accounts for the highest number of maternal mortality in Nigeria.
The situation cannot be surprising when it is realized that many communities in the region have no functional primary health centers, which should be the first point of call for treatment of minor illnesses and in case of medical emergencies.
The consequence of the lack of basic health facilities in the region are the negative health indices which are also reflections of the anguish and suffering of the people.
Tracka, a Budgit initiative has been working with citizens across Nigeria to track implementation of projects being undertaken in their communities by government at various levels.
Saharareporters spoke with the lead head of Tracka, Mr. Ilevbaoje Uadamen, on their findings concerning execution of projects related to healthcare in northern Nigeria
Uadamen lamented the poor state of health delivery across the northern states, a situation he attributed to corruption, poor execution and derelict state of facilities: “The northern states are facing huge health hardship and it is not because there have not been allocations for health facilities in the region. It is because many of their representatives divert the funds meant for projects or abandoned the project after the usually over bloated budgetary allocations have been released.
“In many cases, our findings reveal that the residents are not aware of these projects and they find it difficult to engage their representatives to demand for delivery of public services in their communities.
“However, in many of the health centre projects tracked in the north, we observed that despite their completion, the health facilities are not in use and also not up to standard if the amounts allocated for their completion are taken into account.
We Transport Pregnant Women On Wheelbarrow
The difficulties communities across the north face in accessing basic healthcare is well reflected in Magarza, a village in Birinin Kebbi. The nearest health facility to Magarza villagers in Kalgo Local Government Area is not only about 3.5 kilometers away, but across a river. Hence, even pregnant women have to be transported on wheelbarrows and then, put in a canoe to get to the health centre, even in cases of emergency.
Succor seemed to be on the way for the villagers in 2016 when N30 million was budgeted for the construction of a primary healthcare center in the village. This was courtesy of Mr Abudullahi Umar Faruk, a member of the state house of assembly representing Bunza Local Government Area under which Magarza village falls who nominated the building of a primary health centre as his ‘constituency project’ for the year.
Consequently, a bungalow was built to be used as a health centre in the village. But the structure today stands as another example of wastage of public funds.
The villagers are still relying on traditional health practitioners to take care of their various ailments or travelling long distances to receive treatment in orthodox medical centres.
A resident of the village, Mr. Mohd Bagodu, lamented that though the construction of the building that will house the N30 million health center has been completed, other necessities that will make the structure serve its intended purpose were not provided.
“We have a newly constructed PHC, but no equipment, beds, medical personnel and other things needed in the hospital. In a situation where a woman is in labor that required much attention, we have to carry her on a bed or wheelbarrow to a location where we will cross a river using a canoe to get to the nearest hospital in Kalgo town which is 3.5 Kilometers away.”
However, the fact that the supposed health centre in Magarza village has remained a mere building did not stop Mr Farouk from nominating privision of another health facility as his constituency project the next year. This time, the lawmaker nominated building of health centre for Maurida village in Birini Kebbi Local Government Area as his constituency project for 2017. The amount released for the project so far could not be confirmed as Mr Faruk refused to respond to calls and text messages sent to him.
Sahara Reporters, however, found out that N22 million was budgeted for the centre in the 2017 appropriation bill.
Maurida, a community with a population of about 18,000 also lacks a functioning health centre. Like their counterparts in Magarza village, Maurida residents also travel a distance of about 15 kilometers to Birinin Kebbi, Kebbi State’s capital, to access health care for serious illnesses.
The closest thing to a health center in Maurida is an old dispensary which also serves six other communities- Gulma, Kuka, Nayilwa, Baban Dutse and Makera.
But according to Tracka, the dispensary is in “shambles and dilapidated”.
Nevertheless, between 50 to 60 patients are attended to at the dispensary daily. But with lack of equipment its dingy structure, the villagers cannot be sure of quality medical attention they are getting, even for the most minor of sicknesses.
Mr. Abubakar Adamu, a health worker in Maurida, decried the lack of a functional health facility in the community. “The contractor has come and finished the construction [of the new centre] in 3 weeks as promised. But there are things that are lacking; hospital equipment like patients’ beds, tables, chairs, and borehole water”.
He revealed that the only hope of the residents for healthcare at the moment is the dilapidated dispensary.
“In the eventuality of any serious ailment, we refer them (residents) to Sir Yahaya General Hospital in Birnin kebbi, due to lack of equipment [in the dispensary].
He added that although some Non-governmental organizations and the local government regularly provide “free malaria and other drugs for treatment of minor sicknesses,” critical health conditions are referred to Birnin Kebbi.
N202 Million Tax Funds Down The Drain
Dadin Kowa, a community in Doguwa Local Government Area of Kano state, is also without an operational health center.
But like in the other cases highlighted above, this is not because funds have not been provided for the provision of the healthcare facility for the area in the past.
Indeed, building of a health centre for the highly populated community was provided for in federal government’s 2016 and 2017 budgets. The sum of N72 was first budgeted in 2016 when a member of House of Representative, Honorable Alhassan Ado, nominated the building of health centre in the community as his 2016 Federal Constituency Project.
The project was captured in the budget document as a “comprehensive cottage hospital with full modern facilities”.
The same project was re-nominated in 2017 and captured in the budget with the narration: “completion of cottage hospital and construction of an emergency unit, maternity wards with medical equipment,” with a further allocation of N130 million.
But the what the two allocations have been able to achieve for the highly populated community so far is a three-block building with no single medical equipment or staff as was discovered by this website.
Thus, Dadin Kowa residents have continued to travel as far as Saminaka town in Kaduna State to receive treatment.
Hon. Ado did not respond to text message, neither did he respond to calls put through to him.
The situation is not different for residents of Kalanjali village in Sokoto state. The only medical succor for the villagers at the moment lies 60 kilometers away in Sokoto metropolis.
But their representative in the state house of assembly, Mr. Isah Salihu, had also nominated the building of health facilities for their community in the budget at three different years.
First was in 2012, when Mr. Salihu nominated building of a health centre in Kalenjali village as his constituency project.
The construction of the building that will house the health center is still at lintel level almost 6 years after.
But rather than work for the completion of the project, the lawmaker nominated the construction of another health center in the village as his constituency again in 2016. Although the building for the new health center was also completed, it has not been equipped till date. And this was in spite of the fact that the same project was captured in the 2017 budget with N40 million allocated for its completion. The hope that with such allocation, the building will be equipped with necessary equipment and medical personnel to serve its intended purpose has not been realized. The building has remained locked while the villagers continue to make the long journey to access healthcare.
“I am hopeful that our women will no more be dying during childbirth; our children will no more be dying as a result of vaccine-preventable diseases or common ailment and access to healthcare will not be limited due to lack of money.
“Our goal of revitalizing the PHCs is to ensure that quality basic healthcare service is delivered to majority of Nigerians irrespective of their location. We shall focus more on the people living in the rural areas and the vulnerable population in our society such as women, under-five children and the elderly in collaboration with national and international partners” these were the words of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2017 at the inauguration of Kuchigoro Clinic in Abuja.
Unfortunately, the vulnerable population in Magarza, Maurida, Dadin Kowa and Kalanjali villages are still dying of preventable diseases and illnesses because they have been denied decent health care facilities by the people they voted for.
This report was written with support from Tracka.