Bayelsa State: building a thriving healthcare system
The Bayelsa Teaching Hospital and Medical University will be a major asset for the state, offering public and private healthcare, forensics, education and research.
Drive through downtown Yenagoa and you cannot miss the new 500-bed teaching hospital and Bayelsa Medical University that is emerging alongside the gleaming new banks, hotels and state government offices. Strictly speaking, says Professor Ebitimitula Etebu, Bayelsa’s health commissioner, the “newness” of the hospital should be qualified.
The expansive hospital was built more than 16 years ago during the governorship of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, and state-of-the-art medical equipment was flown in and installed. But Alamieyeseigha was arrested and impeached for money laundering in 2005.
His successors had no appetite for completing the project. That is until governor Henry Seriake Dickson took over in 2012 and started working with Etebu to revive the project. In 2017, Governor Dickson proposed the hospital should become a centre of excellence for medical treatment, teaching and research.
Dressed in an elegant chieftain’s light brown robe, Etebu looks determined to see the project through as he shows visitors around the hospital’s refurbished wards and operating theatres.
Most of the rehabilitation work has been done and the builders are putting the final touches on the living quarters for the nursing and other medical staff. Adjacent to the main hospital is Bayelsa Medical University, where Etebu is acting vice-chancellor. An ambitious project, complete with nine faculties, it aims to attract students from across Nigeria and West Africa.
The forensic unit is the only one in Nigeria equipped to do both DNA and forensics tests
Bayelsa Medical University, which signed a training agreement with the University of Louisville, Kentucky, in the US, is to take over the management of the 500-bed hospital. Like many of Dickson’s new projects, it will seek to raise funds from commercial operations, such as fees charged to private patients, as well as offering healthcare, financed out of the state budget, to Bayelsa citizens.
Within the Diagnostic Centre in the heart of the university is a state-of-the-art forensic unit. Its high-tech equipment can be used to check exhibits and evidence in electoral disputes and rape cases. The drug enforcement agency could also rely on its verification and analysis of contraband substances, says Oye Onifade, a veteran lawyer who heads the unit.
“Election tribunals haven’t had much input from local labs, and we could replace the foreign labs they patronise,” adds Onifade. “We are talking to the attorney general of the state about plans to partition the office to have two prosecutors stationed there to handle child molestation cases,” Onifade says.
Like Lagos, Bayelsa plans to set up special courts working in tandem with the forensic unit to expedite what could be a long list of cases, improve access to justice and serve as a deterrent to other possible offenders.