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Ebonyi: Consultants resignations hit teaching hospital amidst multimillion naira intervention projects

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MEDICAL Consultants at the Federal Teaching Hospital Abakliki (FETHA), Ebonyi State have joined the wave of mass resignations of health experts, discarding the federal teaching hospitals and medical centres across the country for oversea jobs, The ICIR can confidently report.

This is coming when the country battles with the COVID-19 pandemic and other viral diseases amidst voluntary donations to support Nigeria’s health system.

The Chief Medical Director, FETHA,  Emeka Ogah, a doctor. Photo Source: Olugbenga Adanikin, The ICIR.

Unofficial sources in FETHA, also known as the Alex Ekwueme Federal Teaching Hospital (AEFUTHA), said between September 2021 to February this year, 30 consultants from different specialisations have left the hospital for countries like Saudi Arabia.

This implied about 30 resignations within the past seven months.

Among them were two Paediatric surgeons, three from the Ear, Nose and Throat Doctors, and seven others from Obstetrics and Gynaecologists.

“It is a terrible situation in Nigeria, but the government really pretends not to know what is happening, but they do,” a top source in the hospital told The ICIR during the visit.

“Do you know what it takes to be a consultant?” One of the sources asked rhetorically. “You must have spent several years in your area of specialisation.”

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So are you also planning to leave? The ICIR asked swiftly.

Smiled…looking sideways, ‘that is a tough question,’ he said followed by a long silence.

‘I’m not sure yet.’

‘That is why I don’t want to activate the process.’

‘Once I do, it will be difficult to stop, and that means I must go.’

This is the reality in many government hospitals. Besides, the implication of losing the nation’s medical experts to juicy offers abroad is enormous.

It simply means, less capable hands to treat complex medical cases. And this might contribute to high mortality in the nation’s hospitals.

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It is worthy to note that some of the health experts would often render consultancy services to private hospitals at an agreed fee. But losing them at a high rate might spell doom for the country, except urgent action is taken to address the lingering crises in the health sector.

“If that number left here, you can imagine the number of people that would have left Lagos, Ibadan, Ife and other big old-time hospitals for Saudi Arabia,” the source added.

Even though FETHA Chief Medical Director Emeka Ogah would later debunk the figure, he confirmed to The ICIR that at least five of these consultants have resigned between January and the time of filing this report.

He spoke through the Media Consultant to the hospital Okechukwu Emmanuel.

The ICIR can confirm that a brain surgeon was among those who tendered his resignation from the hospital. There were two in the hospital until the most experienced left leaving the entire FETHA with one brain surgeon in the entire hospital.

Latest resignation in the wave of resignations

On February 10, a Principal Physiotherapist from the Department of Physiotherapy wrote through the Chairman Medical Advisory Committee tendering his resignation letter. This was after eight years of service at the hospital.

The medical officer would leave the hospital effective from Friday, March 25, 2022.

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The letter was received at the CMD’s office the following day.

“I want to thank you for the opportunity you gave me to work in AEFUTHA for the past eight years, having moved through the rank of a physiotherapist to a senior physiotherapist and principal physiotherapist,” the resignation letter read in part.

“I appreciate all the valuable experiences I have gained. It has been a sincere pleasure working in this esteemed hospital.”

“In the next weeks counting down to the effective date (March 25th, 2022), as stated above, I will diligently be on my duty post and carry out my clinical duties as a principal physiotherapist as usual.”

This is not the first time issues of consultants resigning from federal government hospitals would come to the front burner.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige. File Copy.

In 2019, Nigeria’s Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige said on national television that medical doctors could leave as the country had enough personnel. But he was wrong.

Nigeria is in dire shortage of doctors. Between 2016 and 2018, for instance, nearly 9,000 doctors left the country for oversea jobs.

Months after the Minister’s assertion, reports of secret interviews of Nigerian doctors for prospective jobs in Saudi Arabia went viral. The aftermath was news of resignations of medical experts in Benue and a few other states.

This newspaper detailed it here. A similar incident in Taraba was also reported here, same as in Adamawa. The health workers were leaving despite the government’s intervention by proving equipment using the Coalition Against Covid-19  (CaCovid) fund.

CEPI project delivered amidst continuous resignation

Meanwhile, the wave of resignations has continued to linger despite multimillion naira interventions in the hospital. The discoveries were made during a field visit to investigate projects awarded to government hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through the findings, it was established that unlike other projects awarded through the Federal Ministry of Health, Abuja and supported by the private sector Coalition Against Covid-19 (CACOVID) donations, FETHA awarded three projects under the Nigeria Lassa Fever Research Consortium (NLFRC).

These projects were captured in the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) Nigeria Open Contracting Portal (NOCOPO) portal. They included a 100KVA Mikano Power Generator, 18-Seater Toyota Hiace bus and Solar Power System with a 10KVA inverter.

They were awarded at 7.73 million Naira, 28.87 Million Naira and 8.73 million Naira respectively. These amounted to a total of 45.33 million Naira.

CEPI Projects as captured on BPP NOCOPO Platform. Source: BPP.

But contrary to its description as COVID-19/Lassa fever projects, on the spot findings revealed they were solely procured for the management of Lassa Fever.

It was also not funded through the budget, nor was it sponsored through CACOVID.

Project brief – Nigeria, four other West-African countries benefitted from $26m funded projects

The NLFRC projects identified as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) were funded through the CEPI consortium based in Norway.

Described as the largest-ever Lassa Fever research programme in the West-Africa, the 26m Dollars project was to track and study Lassa fever infections in five West-African countries which Nigeria was inclusive.

The Nigerian arm of the project was named the Nigeria Lassa Fever Epidemiological Study (NiLE Study).

Other partnering nations are Sierra Leone, Benin Republic, Liberia and Guinea. The funding support was to also enable proper management of the Lassa fever disease in vulnerable countries.

“Due to significant variability and severity in symptoms, and lack of formal and standardised diagnoses, the true case count of those who have or has previously suffered from Lassa fever infection in West Africa is likely much higher than current estimates of 100,000 to 300,000 cases per year,” stated, CEPI, in its official website.

“The aim of this multi-country research effort is to therefore build on existing local Lassa fever research and surveillance and provide an update to existing research on the number of people infected with the disease.”

More so, it was being executed in two other hospitals in Nigeria aside from FETHA, Ebonyi State. They are Irrua Specialist Hospital, Irrua, Edo State and Federal Medical Centre, Owo, Ondo State.

Community Health Physician, Dr. Azuogwu Benedict, CEPI Project Coordinator, FETHA, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State.

“They looked into the literature and found out Nigeria and other countries had no properly documented data for Lassa fever. And they needed this information for vaccine productions, hence, the research,” the Community Health Physician Azuogwu Benedict, told The ICIR.

“Everything is donor funding. None of it is from the Federal Government of Nigeria.”

Walking through the procurement process

Independent findings showed the project ought to commence in December 2019 but due to the pandemic, it started in December 2020.

As a result, an emergency procurement (Direct Procurement Method) of the Public Procurement Act (2007) was adopted rather than the full competitive bidding process.

Section 42 of the PPA permits this kind of contract award.

Hence, FETHA received five bids for the Hiace bus, five bids for the supply of a soundproof power generator, and four bids for the solar system.

The ICIR followed through the procurement department after ascertaining the physical status of the projects alongside their usages.

This reporter found out the successful bidders were selected after participating companies submitted bids and other relevant documents to an official email of the teaching hospital. And the firms that satisfied all requirements of the PPA got the contracts.

18 Seater Bus for the CEPI Project in FETHA, Ebonyi State. Photo Source: Olugbenga Adanikin, The ICIR.

For the 18 seater bus, four companies responded to the bid advertisement placed on the project procurement. The four companies with their respective bids were Elizade Nigeria Limited (N32.55 million), Kaura Motors Nigeria Limited (N29.72 million), RT. Briscoe Nigeria Limited Plc (N29.21 million) and winner of the bid Globe Motors Holdings Nigeria Limited (N28.87 million).

While three companies indicated an interest in the solar power project with 10KVA Inverter, five others bid for the supply of the 100KVA soundproof power generator.

Firms that bid for the soundproof generator are Power Evolution Energy Limited (N7.58m), Mikano Integrated Services Limited (N7.73m), Ekpofe Integrated Services Limited (N8.87m), Mofu Polo Nigeria Limited (N8.83m) and Chipol Technologies Limited (N8.37m). But companies that indicated interests in solar power are Iveck Integrated Services Limited (N9.33m), Excellency Global Contractors Limited (N9.16m), and Mercy-Seat Engineering Limited (N8.73m).

Mercy-Seat Engineering Limited eventually won the solar power bid for N8.73 million and Mikano won the supply of the soundproof generator at N7.73 million. The ICIR can confirm emergency procurement was adopted for the project award and payments effected through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The spending was tracked to the payment section beyond the procurement department. Each of the successful bidders had submitted a proforma invoice. The amount on it aligned with that on the Nocopo portal as well as the final payment advice shared with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The executed CEPI Solar Power Project. Olugbenga Adanikin, The ICIR.

 

Project benefits

It was gathered that people became more aware of Lassa fever disease through the project. And those who contracted the disease were treated freely, especially the enrollees who were actively involved in the research programme.

Field visits are done every six months for the two years project. This implied the project would end in 2022.

Regardless, the procured items such as the bus and generator, served other purposes within the hospital beyond the primary objective. The generator, especially, was also connected to serve the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) should there be power loss from the grid.

Author profile

Olugbenga is an Investigative Reporter with The ICIR. Do you have a scoop? Shoot him an email at oadanikin@icirnigeria.org. Twitter Handle: @OluAdanikin

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