Chief Medical Director of Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia, Dr. Azubuike K. Onyebuchi, in this interview with Associate Editor, SAM EGBURONU, speaks on the leaps occasioned by the centre’s new $5.5 million NSIA-Umuahia Diagnostic Centre; its breakthroughs in in-vitro fertilisation and renal–transplant services and why the hospital needs to be upgraded to a teaching hospital.

The Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia recently inaugurated the multi-million dollar NSIA-Umuahia Diagnostic Centre; how does this excite you?

If you listen to the news, you would have heard that Nigerian trained doctors are always excelling outside the shores of this country – whether Europe, America or Canada; and the reason is that they have access to more advanced diagnostic equipment to work with, which compliments the thorough training they have been through back home. I am excited today because I know that when our doctors get modern diagnostic tools to work with, they will become excellent. With this facility, our doctors will be making more prompt accurate diagnosis. Once you make accurate diagnosis early, the patient will benefit because they will be better managed. So, I am excited because this will improve medical delivery around here and reduce medical tourism.

You reportedly said the facility will serve both the Southeast and Southsouth geo-political zones. Does that mean we didn’t have such a facility in the two regions?

Obviously; if you go around, you will see that the kind of facility that we have here, that is real time and fully automated, cannot be found in any other place in this part of the country. It is the first of its kind here; everything is real time, fully automated and the quality assurance is top notch. It is comparable to anything you can see in the UK, in America, in Canada, in Dubai, in India; anywhere people troop to for medical tourism. I must say this was made possible through the strategic investment in the health sector by the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA).

You also said something about establishing a modern renal transplant centre. But you have, before now, been offering renal transplant services; how is this one different?

Yes, we have been offering this service here in FMCU. But the request I made is for further collaboration in a private-public partnership; so I requested for NSIA to help give us a modern renal transplant complex. Yes, we have been offering this critical service, but with the strategic investment by the Nigerian Sovereign Wealth Investment Authority, we will be one of the best in the country in terms of renal transplant. If we have this further investment by a private participator, it will help to improve the efficiency of what we are doing here and make it world class.

What kind of investment are we talking about?

We usually have a committee that will come up with the figure. For example, they invested about $5.5million to set up this diagnostic centre; this includes the running cost of the period NSIA will manage the facility before handing over to FMC. So, you can imagine the volume of investment.

How long will NSIA manage the facility before handing over to FMCU?

That’ll be until they recoup their investment; they have 90 percent equity and we have 10 percent equity. You know it is Nigerian money that they invested here; it’s Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, which is investing Nigerian money for Nigerians. When they’ve recouped their investment, they will hand it over to FMCU, which will then own it completely.

You also called on the private sector to invest in in-vitro fertilisation. Not many Nigerians understand what in-vitro fertilisation is.

In-vitro fertilisation is an assisted reproductive technique that we use to help our infertile couples; people who have been married for several years and the wife is yet to get pregnant. Technology has so developed that we can get the Gamete of the male and the Gamete of the female; mix the two outside, in the laboratory before transferring it back to the woman to carry the child. That is in-vitro fertilisation. We are offering that service in FMCU now and I am calling for public -private participation or funding to have a modern fertility centre where we can upgrade what we are doing so that we would give world class service.

Since we already have the skills, I believe the private sector should partner with us and bring in funds to help us improve on what we are already doing.

Have you approached any particular investor in Nigeria?

We have appealed to NSIA to help us with the renal transplant centre. We are calling on any other private sector willing to invest in the healthcare sector to come and let us have an understanding and set up a modern fertility centre.

As a federal government institution, does FMC have the legal right to seek private partnership?

We usually take the necessary permissions from the Federal Ministry of Health and the agency in charge of public private partnership. So, whenever we have such partnership proposals, we take it to the ministry and the PPP units for clearance.

You have also made an appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari to upgrade FMCU to a teaching hospital; how will that benefit the hospital?

It changes FMCU from being a Federal Medical Centre to being a Teaching Hospital. That alone increases everything that comes to the centre in terms of investment, capital outlay, number of health workers and ability to help in training more medical manpower. We have shown enough capacity and have demonstrated that we can actually do that. Also, many other younger FMCs than Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia, which is the oldest, have already been upgraded.

We are asking the Federal Government to allow Michael Okpara University of Agriculture to establish a College of Medicine because it has been done in other places in Nigeria. If that is not feasible, the Federal Government should give Abia a Federal University of Medical Sciences and upgrade FMCU to a university teaching hospital attached to it. Government can also give the state a conventional Federal University because Abia is the only state in the Southeast that has only one state-funded medical school and teaching hospital. All other states in the Southeast have a federal teaching hospital and federal conventional university, except Abia and Imo. But Imo, which has Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), a university of technology, is in the process of establishing a College of Medicine. Michael Okpara University of Agriculture started the process of establishing a college of medicine, when it started the buildings, but it was scuttled. So, it would be fair for that process to be revived or for the government to give Abia a Federal University of Medical Sciences as was done for Otukpo in Benue State and is being done for Abeokuta in Ogun State.

What is your drive and the challenges as Chief Medical Director of Federal Medical Centre Umuahia?

I have served as CMD of FMCU for 15 months. The obvious drive for me is to ensure that Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia, is known for quality healthcare services delivery. In doing that, we must motivate our staff and put the environment where people are coming to access health care to be nice looking and friendly. To achieve these, we need to attract funding, the right human resources and the necessary modern equipment. That is what we are strategically doing under our watch as the Medical Director of FMCU. By the grace of God, we must get there.

Leave a Reply