Last week, some pregnant women, numbering over 100 stormed the premises of the Ondo State Specialists Hospital in Akure, the state capital to protest against the alleged hike in the cost of antenatal services and some other miscellaneous expenses at the state-owned hospital.
Specifically, they alleged that the antenatal registration fee which used to be N1,000 had, according to them, been increased to N4,000. They explained that they paid N500 for every antenatal appointment while N25,000 had allegedly been fixed by the management of the hospital for a normal delivery of a baby. They also said the management acted on the order of the state government.
The protesters, who were visibly angry over the alleged increment, were chanting anti-government songs while some of them were cursing whoever was responsible for the increment in the government. They disrupted the activities at the hospital for several hours and went ahead to make comparison between the immediate past administration of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko and the current regime of Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu in the area of health care delivery system.
They complained that the last administration made primary and secondary health care services free and affordable for pregnant women and the children under the age of five. They said the current government has monetised the system beyond the reach of many people in the state and has thus sent them back to the old ways of patronising Traditional Birth attendants popularly called alagbo or eleweomo.
To this end, the TBAs who were proscribed by the immediate past government seem to have been resuscitated because according to an investigation, a few days after the protest, the patronage at Traditional Birth Attendants and mission houses of some churches in the state increased as some pregnant women were sighted at the TBAs places in the quest for medical treatment. This has raised the fear of likely increase in maternal mortality rate in the state unless the government takes proactive measure against it.
It would be recalled that during the immediate past administration, some policies were made in the health sector called Safe Motherhood projects which had led to the creation of Mother and Child Hospitals in Akure and Ondo towns among others for expectant mothers.
One of the components of the safe motherhood projects was the ‘Agbebiye’ which entailed the TBAs referring pregnant women to the state hospital or government medical centres for proper medical attention of qualified medical professionals and specialists.
The Agbebiye project was said to have further reduced maternal mortality rate and also generated revenue for the TBAs across the 18 local government areas of the state as they were paid certain amount of money for each pregnant woman they referred. It was a matter of the more they referred, the more money they got.
The projects, as a matter fact had won Mimiko administration many accolades in and outside the country.
However, it was discovered that the safe motherhood programmes had been discontinued by the present administration.
A top state government functionary told our correspondent that it was impossible for the current administration in the state to continue with Agbebiye programme due to paucity of funds and consequently the money to the TBAs had stopped.
He said, “The current economic reality on ground does not support the government to continue with the programme, that is why it has to be stopped but alternatively, the government still makes the antenatal care affordable.”
During a visit to a TBA centre in Akure, a number of pregnant women were seen at a big room waiting to see the ‘doctor’ but many of them were not willing to speak with our correspondent.
But one of them who identified herself as Mrs. Eunice Adeyemi said she was planning to return to her church to continue her antenatal care because the government hospital fees were getting unbearable.
She said, “I will return to our church. That was where I had my first child safely. My second child was delivered at the Mother and Child Hospital in Akure free of charge. But today, it is getting difficult to get antenatal care at the government hospital. We are asked to pay N500 on each appointment day before they can attend to us. Initially, we paid N2,500 to register which was to cover the whole antenatal period.
“But now, they ask us to pay every time we need to see the doctor. We also heard that we would pay N25,000 ahead of our delivery. Where do they want us to get that when the salary arrears of civil servants are not paid for months? I don’t think I can continue with that.”
Another woman, Mrs. Khadijat Ogunyemi, who was heavily pregnant, said since she could not afford to pay the fee at the government hospital, she had to go back to TBA centre for treatment and care. According to her, she was used to traditional means of giving birth as her first two children were delivered at a TBA centre in Ikare Akoko, Ondo State.
She said, “This is the first time I plan to have my baby at the government hospital; my first two children were delivered at a traditional maternity centre in my town, Ikare Akoko and the babies were safe without any problem.
“But now that we have relocated to Akure and I don’t know any traditional attendant place in Akure, that was why my husband advised me to go to the Mother and Child hospital to register and have antenatal treatment for free but to my surprise, we were asked to be pay money. I don’t have the money, so I am planning to go back to Ikare and have my baby delivered where I gave birth to my sons.”
In her own case, an 18-year-old pregnant Iyabo Oguche said from the day it was confirmed that she was three months old pregnant, her mother had taken her to a traditional birth attendant house in Ondo town. Since then, she had been going there for antenatal.
On why she did not bother to go to the hospital, the teenager said, “I was told that they pay a lot of money at the government hospital and we don’t have such money. But I have been enjoying the treatment at the (TBA) place”
The case of Mrs . Abimbola Olanrewaju was a bit different as she said she combined both orthodox and traditional antenatal treatments. She added that she had been avoiding the fees introduced at the government hospital by patronising TBA centres for antenatal.
She said, “I have not been going to the hospital because I learnt that the antenatal services are not free again. But I will still go when the time to deliver is very near. That will reduce my bill at the hospital but for now, I’m still attending a traditional maternity centre at Oba Ile Akure for my antenatal.”
A traditional birth attendant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed to our correspondent the influx of the expectant mothers to her centre. The attendant whose office is located at Oke Aro area of Akure said she charged less than what the government hospitals charge for deliveries.
The birth attendant who expressed delight over the return of pregnant women to her centre said, “They (pregnant women) have been coming to my place for the past six months; we have been having improvement in our patronage and to the glory of God, we have not recorded any death. The past government did not believe in us by stopping us from taking delivery of women and I have been in the business for many years, but today, we thank God things are gradually returning to normal.”
However, the Special Adviser to Governor Akeredolu on Health, Dr. Jibayo Adeniyi, urged the expectant mothers in the state to patronise the government hospitals, saying they should not risk their lives by patronising quacks for antenatal care and treatment . He allayed the fears of the pregnant women in the state that government had not changed anything in the health sector that could negatively affect their welfare at any stage of their pregnancy.
He said, “I want to tell you that antenatal is still free in Ondo State, the government has nothing to do with antenatal fee. There is no reason for it. Ondo is one of the states that participate in the Nigeria States Health Investment Project, which is a project of the World Bank and we are paying our counterpart fund, so we can’t charge money for delivery or for antenatal services.
“On the N4,000, alleged to be charged at the State Specialist Hospital, the money is the aggregate of the money for tests conducted on the pregnant women. Before, they were paying N1,000 for registration at the hospital and they would go out to do series of tests which they would pay for.
“But to make the payment for all the tests easy for them, the hospital collected N4,000 for registration and for all the tests to be conducted on them. But some mischief makers distorted the communication to paint the government in bad colour.
“ On this note I want to appeal to the expectant mothers not to leave the hospital for their antenatal care. This government cares about them and the government will not relent in its effort to ensure proper welfare of the people of the state.”
Similarly, the Commissioner for Health in the state, Dr. Wahab Adegbenro, who had addressed the protesting pregnant women during the protest, denied the alleged increment. He said the government would continue to provide qualitative and affordable health care for the people of the state. He also assured the protesters that the government would not effect any increase in the antenatal fees.
He said, “There is nothing like N25,000 for delivery, it is false information and the normal delivery fee remains N5,000 (N1,000 registration fee and N4,000 for other charges) . The government has not increased any bill. The service charge for antenatal patients should be lower than other patients and that is why the N4,000 being charged covers every test and every investigation and analysis. This is because of the peculiarities of their cases.”