Prototype of the 300 bed isolation centre.

By Kufre Etuk

From the boisterous city of the caliphates to the economic centre of Nigeria, and the serene capital of the country to the oil rich state of Delta, shock, tears, hunger and pain have become sudden heritage of our countrymen. People’s lives have been redefined, dreams shattered, plans halted and vision suspended, all because of an invisible enemy, Coronavirus. It came like a visitor through a foreigner, today, it has become part of us.

On February 28, the first case of the Coronavirus in sub – saharan Africa was confirmed in Nigeria. The patient, an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria, was flown into the commercial city of Lagos from Milan on 25 February.

When the announcement was made, the next day Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Health Dr. Dominic Ukpong arrived the state from where he was and outlined preparations made by the state government to tackle the infectious disease.

Briefing Journalists, the health commissioner mentioned a-four bed space Infectious Disease Hospital in Ikot Ekpene as isolation centre with dozens of Personal Protection Equipment, PPE already on ground for medics to confront the disease headlong.

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While government was keeping taps with visitors entering the state through various entry points, little did we know that the unwanted visitor had already located its hosts among some state -based medical doctors who participated in a medical mission in the state.

The first five index cases recorded in the state came with a bang, posing a serious question on how five persons would share four beds space at the Infectious Disease Hospital, Ikot Ekpene. But thanks to Governor Udom Emmanuel who was far ahead of the situation by setting up additional 20 bed spaces at the emergency unit of the Ibom Multi-Specialty Hospital, which for now, is serving as an isolation centre.

Akwa Ibom "wasteful" 300 beds isolation centre Commissioner for Works, Akwa Ibom state, Mr. Ephraim Inyang, fielding questions from journalists who were on a tour of the 300 beds facility.

As Coronavirus spread dangerously, countries faced the challenge of few bed space because the unexpected outbreak of the virus overstretched health facilities of many countries, including developed nations. For instance, a sport stadium in China’s A central Hubei province was converted to temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients to curb the spread of the disease.

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On March 30, 2020, soldiers and private contractors helped to prepare the ExCel centre being made into the temporary NHS Nightingale hospital, comprising of two wards, each of 2,000 people, to help tackle Coronavirus pandemic.

On March 13, 2020, Triage tent at Brescia hospital in Lombardy, Italy was set up as temporary emergency structure set up outside the accident and emergency department, where any new arrivals presenting suspect new Coronavirus symptoms are being treated.

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Parking lot of Mary Washington Hospital in Virginia was on April 3, 2020 converted to emergency testing for Coronavirus patients. March 21, 2020, a mobile field hospital was set by the Argentine Army at the Campo de Mayo garrison in Buenos Aires to extend the capacity to deal with the possible growth in the number of patients with the new Coronavirus, COVID-19.
Ifema exhibition complex in Madrid, Spain on March 22, 2020 was converted to isolation centre.
Construction of a temporary hospital in Rafah, Gaza Strip began on March 23, 2020 to house Coronavirus patients.

On March 29, 2020 a temporary hospital in Indio, California was set up by members of the California National Guard. An emergency field hospital was constructed in Central Park in New York City, United States on March 30, 2020.

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Akwa Ibom state is not exception to this challenge despite the fact that it has not recorded an overstretched spike in the number of confirmed cases. However, need for proper planning and preparation are unique traits of every transformational leader. Reason Governor Udom Emmanuel is embarking on construction of 300-bed capacity at Methodist hospital, Ituk Mbang, Uruan Local government area not only to contain the pandemic but similar disease in future.

The 300 bed capacity has attracted much criticism from within and outside the state. While many have described it as a wasteful adventure, others think engaging in such project is like preparing a beautiful apartment for an unwanted visitor to live permanently. A Twitter with the handle @crisscrossers was among those who questioned the purpose of the 300 bed isolation centre. She tweeted, “of what use are the 300 bed spaces if government does not allow for mass testing.”

Explaining the reason for the 300 capacity isolation centre, the Hon. Commissioner for Works Mr. Ephraim Inyang who directly supervises the project, said the facilities are not only going to be isolation centre but will become integral part of the state’s medical infrastructure after the pandemic.

“Also if by tomorrow, Akwa Ibom State University begins medicine and surgery, there is that possibility of Ituk Mbang General hospital becoming medical school for the students.

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“People say certain things because they don’t have sufficient knowledge of what government is doing. There is a state that constructed a tent as isolation centre but storm destroyed it. If we did a tent, the last two storms that blew down my mast would have destroyed the tent.”

The premises which the new isolation centre is sited has five structures; Canteen, testing lab, 20 self-contained apartments for doctors and the main Isolation building. As at Saturday 2nd April, the Commissioner disclosed that, “the canteen which is a back up to the main structure is at 95 percent completion. The lab which is a key component of this place is at 90 percent completion. The Doctors’ quarters is at 98 percent completion while the main isolation centre is at 80 percent completion.

“I can assure that on Sunday, the main isolation centre will be 90 percent completed. The internal partitioning of all the change rooms, toilets to meet the standard requirements are all set. By the time His Excellency would be here on Tuesday for inspection, three other apartments would have been ready while the main isolation centre will be 95 percent completed.

“I can assure you that all the windows, doors and toilet facilities for the main building are ready, ” the Commissioner assured Journalists who were on the spot assessment of the place.

Akwa Ibom "wasteful" 300 beds isolation center One of the buildings in the facility.

Some unique features of the isolation building are the embedded consulting rooms, nurses rooms, change over rooms. The hall is carefully divided for male and female with much space for flexibility.

The construction of 300 bed space by the Akwa Ibom state government against the popular makeshift tent, is a demonstration of Governor Emmanuel’s long term commitment to reposition the state for a better tomorrow.

The inclusion of testing lab at the isolation centre with another lab at the Ibom Multi-Specialty hospital, disapproves the initial perception that the Governor does not want more Akwa Ibomites tested.

To the naysayers who described the isolation centre as wasteful and believe that the governor should have resorted to use of tent in the face of this pandemic, they should know that Governor Emmanuel, in decision he takes, thinks into the future.
I agree with the assertion of Uruan Local Government Area Chairman, Rt. Hon. Henry Udofia who posited that the siting of the isolation centre at the General Hospital Ituk Mbang will give the facility a world class face-lift there by showcasing Uruan to the world during and after COVID-19 pandemic.

While every Akwa Ibomite prays that this pandemic lingers not in the state, the 300 bed space isolation centre, underscores government Emmanuel’s seriousness in handling the pandemic and heralding revolution in the health sector.