The 21 year wait for a befitting maternal and child health care centre, the Nanka community, in Orumba North Local Council of Anambra State, came to an end last week with the official commissioning and hand over of the Ofu-Obi Comprehensive Health Centre by Esso Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited, EEPNL, with support from Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
Prior to this landmark, Nanka, one of the most populous communities in the state was solely dependent on a health centre established through community effort in 1949.
Although, it has become a norm in the state that a Primary Health Centre must be located within 15 minutes reach so that all residents can have access to health care, the situation was different in the erosion - ravaged community.
Most hit in the community are their women and children who travel far to access health services.
Investigations revealed that the lack of accessible health centres has deprived so many women in the area attention by skilled health attendants and several now patronise traditional birth attendants which in results to an increase in maternal and child deaths.
In 1991, youths in the community under the auspices of Ofu- Obi Age Grade took the bull by the horn and embarked on a hospital project with the sole aim of providing a befitting health centre for the community. But their efforts were halted at the roofing stage in 1997 by lack of funds.
It was gathered that the project started after an approval by the Anambra State Ministry of Health, Enugu, in 1991 and the foundation stone laid by the then Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemka Pius Ezeife in 1993. Since then, several governments have come and gone with promises unfulfilled.
In the words of one of Mr. Patrick Okeke, "Various launchings have been done and passed governments made promises but nothing was done."
The project no doubt was overgrown with weeds and the health of the people became endangered.
However, reprieve came in 2006, when Esso Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited, EEPNL. A subsidiary of ExxonMobil and operator of OPL 133 in production sharing contract with NNPC, the EEPNL extended its corporate social responsibility to the Age Grade and the people of Nanka. Governor Peter Obi approved reconstruction of the hospital in 2007. Today, Ofu Obi Comprehensive health centre is a reality and is expected to be one of the facilities in the state geared towards achieving the MDGs.
"We have been longing for this. It has been overdue. At least, our pregnant women will no longer travel far for their health needs and child birth. The benefits are enormous. We thank Exxon Mobil for this gesture. The fate of the hospital and that of Nanka community have now changed following the completion and equipping of the hospital by Exxon Mobil," a member of the community said.
With the hospital in operation, critical health watchers say the challenges of transportation, access to quality healthcare which are mostly major contributors to maternal and child mortality are now over.
The Governor , Mr. Peter Obi who gave kudos to Exxon Mobil said the project was in line with the Anambra Integrated Development Strategy, ANIDS.
Obi assured the state would meet targets of the health-related MDGs: "We cannot build a better Nigeria without a better community. I thank the people of Nanka of being alive to their responsibilities. The facility is being taken over by Anambra State but the success depends on Nanka people. Please, do not see it as government property.
"We know the important place health has in the development of societies. We have constructively improved healthcare in Anambra State by refurbishing not just the primary health centres in the local councils so that all residents can have access to health care within a 15 -minute reach; we have also refurbished the secondary health centres and the tertiary health centres," he added.
Executive Director EEPNL, Mr. Jide Ayo - Vaughan, said the hand over of the N150 million project was a practical demonstration of their commitment to corporate citizenship and community development especially in countries and communities where they operate.
Ayo-Vaughan announced that the company has concluded and signed an agreement with an NGO - the Centre for Population Research and Development, CEPRED, for management and delivery of primary health care services for a year.
He was optimistic that the investment would improve the quality of health care for children, women, men, youths and elderly that would be using the centre.
The project was managed for EEPNL/NNPC by Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL) which served as the project manager, utilizing engineers from the company's community construction unit to ensure strict adherence to upstream Nigeria standards.
Former Anambra state Commissioner for Health, Prof. Amobi Ilika, said the new centre would boost progress the state has made towards achieving the MDGs on health. Currently, the maternal mortality ratio in the state is less than 100 per 100,000 live births, while immunisation coverage is over 85 per cent.
In a welcome address jointly signed by the President General, Nanka Patriotic Union, Chief Damian Okoye and his Secretary General, Mr. Patrick Okeke Emezue, the duo urged the state governor to put necessary machinery in motion towards integrating the facility into the health system of the state. "We urgently request that access and exit roads to this facility be constructed by your government. These among others, shall assure our benefactors that our government matches words with action.
"We are committed to ensuring that generations of Nanka people shall see this facility as practical demonstration of corporate social responsibility by the many hands that drive the EEPNL and its partners," they said.
The Executive Director, CREPED, Bishop Ezeh said already, a Board comprising members of Nanka community, representatives of the state Ministry of Health, select and experienced medical experts from Nanka have been set up while plans are underway to procure an ambulance to compliment the donated equipment and enhance health services.
The new health centre consist of an out-patient depart OPD, consultation rooms, laboratory, theatre, male/female wards and children's ward. The medical equipment is modern and befitting of a fully functional general hospital, with a 60 KVA generators, water treatment plant, computers and staff quarters.