By Remi Adelowo
Like all other sectors in the socio-economic life of Lagosians, the health component has been receiving the required massive push from the Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led administration. And the results have been phenomenal. Right from his first day in office, Governor Sanwo-Olu was conscious of consolidating on the achievements of his predecessors and sustaining the reputation of the state as a Centre of Excellence.
The governor’s innate capacity to take the Lagos’ health sector to a new level built up progressively and hit a crescendo during the Covid-19 crisis, which reverberated across the world. More than anything else, his capacity for crisis management, responsive and responsible leadership, and the ability to work under intense pressure stood the governor out among his peers. Though a testy period, Governor Sanwo-Olu was uncowed and emerged a reference point for admirable service to the people.
A few months into his tenure, which commenced on 29th May 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out; a development that could have rattled the bravest of men, But the governor pulled all stops, rolled up his sleeves with his team of equally competent professionals, led by the Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, and gave the crisis the best response, garnering world-wide acclaim in the process.
For a fact, Lagos was prepared long before it recorded Nigeria’s Covid-19 index case on 27th February 2020. Demonstrating responsive and excellent leadership, Governor Sanwo-Olu listened to the advice of his Commissioner for Health and did the needful. Abayomi had forewarned the governor that the state would not escape the pandemic and that early preparations were necessary to manage the coming crisis. The state government immediately commenced upgrading its health infrastructure, building the capacity of health personnel through training and setting up a ‘Control-and-Command Centre’. It was a rare display of exemplary and far-sighted leadership.
Before receiving support from corporate and individual Nigerians, the state had spent a fortune of its resources preparing for the pandemic. The governor, who had by then assumed responsibility as the ‘Incident Commander’ with the Commissioner for Health appointed his deputy, had ensured everything needed was in place. The Lagos Covid-19 Incident Commander was indeed in charge of affairs. He led from the front!
And dreaded news finally came around 10:30 pm on Thursday, 27th February 2020, when the Commissioner for Health, on the phone, announced: “Mr. Governor, we have our first case”!
Thus began an efficient and exemplary response to the Covid-19 crisis that became the model for Nigeria’s remaining 35 states and the Federal Capital Territory. All preparations were activated, with the state government keeping Lagosians in the loop through regular briefings and updates on progress recorded, foreseeable challenges and plans to fix them. Rather than wilt under pressure, Governor Sanwo-Olu bloomed. It was a case of ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’. It was another side of the agile and energetic man the public had yet to see.
But for the timely and proactive response of the Sanwo-Olu administration, with the collaboration of the Nigerian Centre for Diseases Control and Federal Government, Lagos could have been overwhelmed by the pandemic, as it happened in big cities, including New York leading to thousands of deaths.
To help contain the spread of the highly contagious virus, the state government aggressively began building Isolation and treatment centres where confirmed Covid-19 cases could be treated. This was in addition to the Lagos State Infectious Diseases (Emergency Prevention) Regulations 2020 issued by the governor, which seeks to restrict movement in and out of the state and ban public gatherings.
First, the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH), Yaba, used during the Ebola crisis, was reactivated. The 100-bed facility served as treatment centre for the Italian index case. Another 60-bed capacity centre at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital came on stream, while other treatment centres were built from the scratch in collaboration with the private sector, affirming the splendid working relationship between the state government and the corporate world. The first was the 110-bed Mobolaji Johnson Arena (formerly Onikan Stadium) Isolation Centre jointly built by the state government and Guaranty Trust Bank.
There was also the 70-bed Isolation and Treatment Centre at Landmark Exhibition Centre, Lekki, constructed by the Young President Organisation, Lagos State chapter, and jointly operated with the state government. It had a dedicated 10-bed intensive care isolation unit, four ventilators, monitors, respirators, mobile x-ray, ultrasound and oxygen. In addition, 80 clinical and non-clinical staff, including doctors, nurses and intensive care professionals trained on Infection Prevention and Control and Covid-19 case management operated the facility.
Another of the treatment centres was the 118-bed facility within the Gbagada General Hospital. Beyond the quality medical care, provisions were made to ensure frontline workers and patients did not suffer any depression. At Easter, the government made provision for renowned gospel artist and saxophonist Abolaji Banjoko (BeeJay Sax) to celebrate the occasion with them at the IDH, Yaba, and Onikan Isolation Centre. They had a ball, with Governor Sanwo-Olu calling in via Instagram to felicitate with them live.
The frontline workers, the essential cogs in the management process, were not exempted from quality care and attention. The state government approved a 400 percent increment in their hazard allowance. Equally introduced was a Covid-19 allowance, as well as new life and health insurance. Indeed, Governor Sanwo-Olu declared them the “face of our first Anniversary celebration” while commemorating his administration’s one year in office.
Even more commendably, Lagos treaded a fine line between public health safety and the economy under the firm but responsive leadership of Governor Sanwo-Olu. As at 25th April 2021, the state recorded 58,291 positive cases, with 56,990 discharged and 439 fatalities. Out of the 3.92 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine Nigeria received through the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access facility, Lagos received 507,000 during the first phase of vaccination. It targeted frontline health workers, laboratory staff, Covid-19 Rapid Response Team, the Police, and strategic leaders, among others, for vaccination.
Not even critics could fault the general consensus that Lagos’ crisis response was excellent. Its strategic approach of focusing on testing, health infrastructure, palliatives and communication before the vaccines arrival greatly assisted in containing the pandemic. Whenever the story of Lagos and Covid-19 is told, history will be kind to the responsive Sanwo-Olu, whose crisis response was top notch.
Aside the unarguable excellent approach to taming the pandemic, the Sanwo-Olu administration has also recorded many giant strides in different areas of the health sector, from completing health facilities inherited from previous administrations and kickstarting new signature projects. Within the first two years of his administration, the administration completed and commissioned Epe Mother and Child Centre; Eti-Osa Mother and Child Centre, Ajah; Badagry Mother and Child Center; and the Igando Mother and Child Centres.
The scorecard in the health sector also included the comprehensive renovation of public health facilities ongoing at the Ebute-Meta Health Centre; Harvey Road Health Centre; General Hospital, Odan, Lagos; General Hospital, Isolo; and Ketu-Ejirin Health Centre.
Lined up for construction are new health facilities such as the permanent 300-bed Isolation Centre, Yaba; Infectious Disease Centre, Yaba; Infectious Diseases Research Institute, Yaba; Doctors’ Quarters, Gbagada; among others.
The state government also supported 15 families of Persons Living With Cerebral Palsy and Down Syndrome with financial assistance of between N1 million and N2.5 million each; in addition to activating one Oxygen Plant at Yaba for COVID-19, establishment of 10 Tri and Oxygen Centres, treatment of over 250,000 Lagosians freely via the partnership with BOSKOH Health Mission International and the Benjamin Olowojebutu Foundation.
All of these impressive achievements are aside the inauguration of new centres across the state by the Lagos State Health Management Agency and the revamping of the Jigi Bola initiative, started by the administration of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
Perhaps the biggest signature project of the Sanwo-Olu administration in the health sector is the ongoing construction of the new Massey’s Street Children Hospital on Lagos Island. Slated for completion next year, the hospital reputed to be the biggest Children Hospital in Africa would, unquestionably, put the state’s healthcare system at par with the best in the world.