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Saraki at 59: A doctor and his health projects

By Yusuph Olaniyonu
19 December 2021   |   4:03 am
Today, there will be no drumming, dancing, or partying. The day will, as usual, be devoted to prayers and enjoying the company of family, friends, and well-wishers.

Former Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki (right) and some community leaders from Agbaji, Ilorin West, Kwara State,when he declared open the newly constructed N400m Agbaji Mosque, which he sponsored.

Today, there will be no drumming, dancing, or partying. The day will, as usual, be devoted to prayers and enjoying the company of family, friends, and well-wishers. However, as it is the tradition with his family, the 59th birthday anniversary of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki will witness a new development in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.

The celebrator’s foundation – Abubakar Bukola Saraki Foundation – will collaborate with the Kwara Health Insurance Agency and the Ilorin Emirate Youth Development Association (IEYDA) to launch an access to health insurance programme in Ilorin. The event will see 1000 people harnessing the state health insurance programme as beneficiaries. The Saraki Foundation will pay the premium on their behalf for a period between one to five years, depending on the category they fall into.

The first category covers people who ordinarily cannot afford to pay for the programme. These people will have five years premium paid on their behalf. The second category of people is those living on the threshold of poverty. They will enjoy the policy for three to four years without paying the premium which has been paid on their behalf by the Foundation. The people in the third category are those experiencing temporary financial difficulties. Two years premium will be paid on their behalf. This is done in the hope that before the expiration of the premium, they would have recovered financially and could take up the payment of the premium, after experiencing the benefits.

The fourth category can afford the insurance premium but they are ignorant of the benefits. These include traders in the various markets, artisans, commercial vehicle drivers, and motorcyclists. Only a one-year premium will be paid for beneficiaries in this category. The plan is to use the one year of the free access to the insurance scheme to introduce them to the benefits and the importance of such a programme which will give them access to basic health care, at no cost.

The initiative is a new method of celebrating birthday and a fresh perspective into giving back to one’s community. In a society where people die of small ailments like malaria, cholera, and other uncomplicated diseases whose treatment can be handled in primary health care centres and covered by basic health insurance policies, the Universal Health Insurance Programme is the way to go.

That is why as governor of Kwara State, Saraki introduced the Community Health Insurance Scheme (CHIS) to make quality healthcare services readily available, accessible, acceptable, and affordable to the majority of Kwarans, most of whom live in the rural areas. Under the scheme, 39, 676 people initially enrolled and they only paid an annual fee of N300 a year. The scheme was a tripartite arrangement with the Dutch Government represented by PharmAccess, and another private sector healthcare company. This initiative has since been sustained by subsequent administrations in the state.

The Programme being launched today to celebrate the former governor of the state, former Senate President of Nigeria, and Waziri Ngeri of Ilorin as part of his birthday anniversary has diverse perspectives. First, it is a service to humanity for which the Sarakis are known. Starting from his late grandfather, Alhaji Mutairu Saraki to his dad, the famous Second Republic Senate Leader and late Waziri of Ilorin, Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki, and his siblings, the family tradition has always been to care for the less privileged and use their resources to improve the lot of others. For this family, philanthropy and service to the community are generational values and virtues.

Another symbolism is embedded in the Saraki family being well known as health care providers. Apart from the fact that today’s celebrator is about to produce the third generation of medical doctors in his family with one of his twin daughters doing very well in the medical college, his wife, Barrister Toyin Saraki is the founder of the WellBeing Foundation-Africa, a non-governmental organisation devoted to improved maternal, newborn and child health care across the continent.

The foundation which was set up in 2003 is engaged in a partnership with many organisations involved in health-related issues across the world and has sponsored many projects across Nigeria, and most especially Kwara State. Mrs. Saraki has won numerous awards and high-profile nominations into global bodies. She is a two-term Global Goodwill Ambassador for the International Conference of Midwives and Nurses. Named Global Champion of Universal Health Coverage at the Universal Health Coverage Forum in Tokyo, the WBFA founder is Special Advisor to the Independent Advisory Group of the World Health Organisation’ Regional Office for Africa. She is a partner with Johnson & Johnson and the Centre for Maternal and Newborn.

Also, this gesture of sponsoring insurance policies for less privileged people creates a tie-back and appreciation of one of the numerous and enduring programmes, policies, and projects initiated by Saraki as Governor over one decade ago.

Saraki has always been passionate about public health and the health of ordinary citizens. It is the reason the 8th Nigerian Senate he led included a clause in the 2018 appropriations Bill that guaranteed that one percent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund would be used to fund primary healthcare across the country. That action was to activate, for the first time, the provision of the National Health Act, 2014.

Also, the 8th Senate under Saraki passed 16 other health-related Bills which were aimed at making a beneficial impact in the life of Nigerians. Such Bills include the National Health Insurance Act 2003 (repeal and re-enactment) Bill 2016, FCT Health Insurance Agency (establishment, etc) Bill 2018, FCT Primary Health Care Board (Establishment, etc) Bill 2018, Environmental Health Officers (Registration, etc) Act (Amendment) Bill 2016, Dangerous Drugs Act (Amendment Bill 2016) and FCT Hospitals Management Board (Establishment, etc) Bill 2016 and many others.

For Saraki, a medical doctor who found himself in banking, business, and
later, politics, one of the best ways to reconnect with his profession is taking very seriously the issue of access to efficient healthcare services for the majority of the people and that is why as Governor, senator, and Senate President, advocating for universal health care and Basic Health insurance programme are issues dear to his heart.

As governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011, one of the areas where Dr. Saraki excelled is in the area of making quality health services accessible and affordable to the people. Apart from the Community Health Insurance Policy earlier mentioned, the Saraki administration rehabilitated primary health centres across 16 local councils of the state to a minimum specified standard which included equipment for out-patient services, family planning consultations, nutritional items added supplements for patient management, ante, and post-natal services, modern laboratory equipment and cleaning facilities. Electricity and running water were also connected to all the centres.

The administration introduced the training of all health workers involved in child health care in the state in Integrated Management for Childhood Illness (IMCI). The training enabled the workers to accurately identify childhood illnesses, ensured appropriate combined treatment of all major illnesses, strengthened the counseling of caretakers, and speed of referral of severely ill children. The IMCI training served to improve the skills of the healthcare staff, family and community health practices, and the overall health system, from the gateman of the Heath facility to the consultants in charge.

The administration was the first in Nigeria to introduce a home-based health record book that guaranteed the access of pregnant women to a comprehensive package of healthcare starting from antenatal care and ensuring continuous care throughout pregnancy, delivery, early infancy, and childhood up until the child’s fifth birthday. The initiative was later copied by the Federal Government which named its own Personal Health Record.

It also implemented a statewide polio programme which culminated in a zero-level prevalence of the Wild Polio Virus (WPV). Kwara State under Saraki administration achieved over 90 percent coverage in routine immunization, significantly higher than the national average of 80 percent. The extensive coverage in the National Immunisation Programme ( NIP) for routine immunization then made Kwara polio-free despite its being surrounded by states that still have cases of WPV.

The administration introduced an articulated Accident and Emergency Programme and established ambulance points at major roads leading into, and out of the state capital. Located at Budo Awero, (Ogbomoso Road), Olokonla (Jebba Road), Odo Owu (Kabba Road), and Ijagbo (Osogbo Road), these fully equipped state-of-the-art ambulances were purchased to provide emergency first aid services and evacuate accident victims to the nearest hospital.

The Saraki administration conceived, built, and equipped the Kwara Advanced Medical Diagnostic Centre, a state of the art Centre with imaging and laboratory divisions, complete with a 64-slice CT scanner, 1.5 Tesla MRI scanner, ultrasound, echocardiograms, mammograms, and routine X-rays machine based in Ilorin as part of a holistic vision for improving the healthcare delivery system of the state and serving as a referral diagnostic Centre for all the states in North Central Nigeria. The Centre also has a full-fledged Laboratory services division, complete with automated hematology, biochemistry, immunology, and microbiology units. The Saraki government also established a new College of Nursing which was commissioned in December 2010.

The Kwara State Govt under Saraki succeeded in reducing HIV prevalence by 36 percent through the establishment of HIV counseling and testing centers in all local councils, collaborating with development partners, private hospitals, and the Ministry of Education.

Also, in partnership with Sight Savers International (SSI), the Saraki administration set about attempting to reverse the trend in visual loss among the less privileged. By 2009, a total of 48, 526 patients had been attended to and screened while the number of cataract surgeries increased from 120 in 2003 to 2, 630 in 2009. The Kwara Eye Programme became so popular then that there was an influx from neighbouring states.

It is therefore obvious that while Saraki has not been practicing as a medical doctor after he left the services of Rush Green Hospital, Essex in the United Kingdom in 1989, his love for medicine has continued to manifest in his commitment to helping to build a healthy population that can contribute tremendously to the aspiration to reset, rebuild, and grow Nigeria.

• Olaniyonu is head of Abubakar Bukola Saraki Media Office, Abuja.