The University College Hospital, UCH, Ibadan, is not new to scoring "first". Apart from maintaining the enviable record as the premier teaching hospital in Nigeria, having been established by an Act of Parliament in 1952, it has scored several other "firsts" and has, over the years, built a tradition and legacy of excellence in healthcare service delivery to its numerous patients and/or clients.
Although, the hospital was, from the outset, primarily conceived to train healthcare professionals for Nigeria and the countries in the West African sub-region, it has, in addition to the training of the needed manpower and cutting-edge research, offered unparalleled clinical services to the nation and other nationals in the sub-region. Such has been the beautiful narrative of the 55-year-old institution.
The story continues. The prospects of many other great accomplishments are bright. As they come, they should be celebrated at any rate. This is why the UCH, at this time, is being celebrated for blazing the trail in the establishment and commissioning of a Geriatric Centre, the first of its kind in Nigeria, for the treatment of persons aged 65 and above.
It is something akin to the Medicare (public health care for senior citizens) in the United States of America in the form of a health insurance programme under which medical care and hospital treatment for people over 65 is partly paid for by the government. But here, it is not about part payment for healthcare. It is about providing the necessary infrastructure and facilities for healthcare delivery.
Indeed, given the peculiar mess that has characterized the nation's socio-economic and political sectors, it is gratifying that a facility for the geriatric in Nigeria has been built at the UCH, Ibadan. The most difficult part of the problem has been solved with the building of the centre. The Federal Government plans to spend a princely N275 million for equipment and furnishing of the two operating theaters at the centre.
This is a good development which can incrementally be replicated in all the states of the federation. Other teaching and non-teaching hospitals can emulate the UCH paradigm by seeking out Nigerian philanthropists, especially the elderly, who are concerned about the healthcare of members of their generation, to endow such geriatric centres.
If wealthy Nigerians, even if they are not old yet but share in the philosophy of providing good medical care for the elderly, key into the vision, the prognosis is that, in the next decade, there will be great improvement in the provision of healthcare to the teeming number of geriatric clients nationwide.
To kick-start the ambitious project, the management of the UCH, Ibadan, checked the record of hospital attendance in the past 10 years and discovered an upsurge in the number of geriatric patients in the clinic register, admission records and among patients requiring various surgical procedures.
According to the Chief Medical Director of the Hospital, Professor Temitope Alonge: "These findings informed the choice of the construction of a Geriatric Centre (as part of our 2011 capital project) that will provide outpatient and in-patient services for our teeming number of geriatric clients."
To drive the project to the point of commissioning, the management had taken to the advice of the Health Minister, Professor C.O. Onyebuchi Chukwu, during a recent visit to the hospital, to leverage on the Federal Government's commitment to Public Private Partnership, PPP, in government institutions, including endowment of government projects by well-meaning Nigerians and philanthropists. The idea is to ultimately name such projects after the endowers.
That was how the Geriatric Centre, which is being commissioned on Saturday, November 17, 2012, was christened: "Chief Tony Anenih Geriatric Centre." Alonge explained: "At the core management meeting of the hospital held in July 2012, management unanimously agreed on the choice of Chief Tony Anenih, CFR, (the Iyasele of Esanland) as the most suitable Nigerian to endow this centre, the very first of such in Nigeria."
Apart from the fact, obvious to the public, that Anenih is 79 years old and, therefore, eminently positioned to empathize with his generation of the elderly, the management was moved to draw from the fountain of his charity works which University of Benin, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, and Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, among other institutions, had benefitted from in the past.
Besides, it takes two to tango. Anenih had responded to his choice by the UCH, Ibadan, with an acceptance to endow the centre and the acceptance, according to him, of the request of the management "is predicated on the conviction that the only life worth living is the life lived in the service to God and humanity." He alluded to his charity works in the past, most of them in the academic environment, a few with religious inclinations, and declared that none of them "gives me as much joy as the Geriatric Centre because anyone can choose not to be religious or have formal education, but no one can choose not to grow old."
What the acceptance also means is that the influential politician has taken up the gauntlet to mobilize the much fund he can to assist the centre. And as he gives a hand, he is also relying on the support of his family and friends to ensure that the centre is put to use in record time.
After Anenih's endowment of the Geriatric Centre at the UCH, the question arises as to which teaching or non-teaching hospital will follow suit (to give a compassionate thought for the provisions of special healthcare services for the elderly) and who will be ready to give a helping hand in the way the Iyasele (prime minister) of Esanland has amply demonstrated at the UCH, Ibadan? Nigerians are keeping their fingers crossed.
Mr. SUFUYAN OJEIFO, a journalist, wrote from Abuja.