By Folu Olamiti
The University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, first tertiary hospital in Nigeria, will be 60 years old on 20 November, this year. That was the date it was finally commissioned for operation in 1957 but the story of its existence dates back to 1952 when it was created by an Act of Parliament of the then colonial government of Nigeria. It was named University College Hospital because the University of Ibadan, established in 1948, whose medical students it was meant to provide clinical training for was also then known as the University College, Ibadan, affiliated to the University of London.
From conception to establishment, UCH was destined to be the leader in the field of tertiary medical training, research and healthcare delivery in the West African sub region and among the best globally. It was purpose built for this role. The very interesting story of its establishment says it all. While planning for its establishment, a visitation team from the faculty of Medicine, University of London visited Ibadan in 1951/1952 academic session. The team led by Dr T.C. Hunt rejected a suggestion that the facilities of the Native Authority Hospital, Adeoyo, Ibadan, be expanded and upgraded to form the teaching hospital.
The team rather recommended the construction of a brand new and modern teaching hospital of comparable standard with teaching hospitals in Britain and other developed countries. When the design of the proposed hospital was eventually unveiled, it was a gigantic, imposing and elegant high rise 800-bed complex. But the colonial office of the British government did not have ready funds for it. Many thought it was a grandiose idea. Some officials again suggested the building of several bungalows to house the departments and wards instead of the expensive high rise complex.
However, the then Nigerian Federal Minister of Health , Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, deputy to Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the Action Group party which was already blazing the trail in Western Region with pioneering gigantic projects adjudged to be first in Africa, understood the vision and took it up. With his unrelenting efforts, the Nigerian government raised the one million, five hundred thousand pounds sterling (£1.5million) needed for construction to commence. The first sod was turned in 1953. And to underscore the importance of the project, Queen Elizabeth II of England partially opened the new hospital complex during her official visit to Nigeria in 1956 while still under construction. It was finally opened on 20 November 1957 by the Princess Royal. A total sum of Four million, Five hundred thousand pounds sterling (£4.5m) was spent to construct it.
The investment was worthwhile because it provided the hospital with what was needed to make it a medical institution of excellence from the onset. It is therefore not surprising that the doctors, nurses and other medical personnel trained by the institution are highly skilled professionals who have distinguished themselves wherever they served around the world. Till date, UCH has indeed lived up to its billing. Its pioneering achievements are legendary. The hospital pioneered open heart surgery in Nigeria in the late 70s and it is still the best hospital in Nigeria today for treatment of cardiac ailments including open heart surgeries and hole in the heart conditions. It has a state of the art Cardiac Catheter Resolution Centre comparable to what is offered in India, United States and Britain. Several people have been successfully treated over the years. In fact UCH made history a few years ago when it successfully performed surgery on the youngest cardiac patient ever operated in any public health institution in Nigeria, a seven month old baby with hole in the heart condition.
For many decades, the hospital has also been performing other specialised operations such as prostrate surgeries, knee surgeries, hip replacement surgeries and neural endoscopic procedures on children with brain lesions. Since 2008, UCH has been performing kidney transplants successfully. Four years ago, the hospital again scored another first by performing what is called awake brain surgery. The surgery was performed on a woman to remove a big tumour in her brain while she was awake but sedated and could hear people talk to her. This kind of surgery is said to be a very delicate and complex procedure used by neurosurgeons to remove brain tumours that are too close to areas of the brain which control vision, speech and body movements. During the surgery, doctors monitor the patient’s responses with series of questions and directions to ensure that these critical areas of the brain are not damaged and the patient does not lose any of the critical functions.
With this enviable track record, it is all too clear that UCH can effectively and efficiently provide even the most specialized treatments that many Nigerians run to India, Europe and America to secure at exorbitant cost. Credit must be given to successive managements of the hospital for keeping the flag flying and being able to sustain the record breaking achievements. In particular, the present management under the able leadership of the current Chief Medical Director, Professor Temitope Alonge, deserves commendation for its resourcefulness, struggling amidst financial other challenges not only to maintain the standard but to improve on it. So many things have been achieved under his management including the refurbishment and upgrading of some facilities, improvement of level of training and research, introduction of patient and community friendly services and other initiatives geared towards sustainable development and continued relevance of the hospital to the tertiary healthcare needs of the country.
Among these innovations is the establishment of the department of nuclear medicine, the first of its kind in Nigeria which is conducting revolutionary diagnosis and treatment of both upper and lower gastrointestinal tract diseases. Research and training of staff is a priority in UCH and the hospital has a lot to show for it. For example, in 2014, UCH was awarded the First Prize for the Best Affordable Technology at the 34th Congress of the Society Internationale d’Urology in Glasgow, Scotland, for the patented UCH invented Bladder Manikin. Prof Alonge has repeatedly said that the hospital is not lacking of tested, highly qualified and skilled manpower to deliver its mandate with the highest standard possible but it needs assistance to acquire more of the latest technology in the industry and also to bring even the specialist treatments within the affordability of most Nigerians who may need them.
According to him, one of the key drivers of management policy is commitment to efficient and effective service delivery. Therefore management has addressed certain critical areas where its services can promptly and effectively provide relief for patients and thereby reduce fatalities to barest minimum. In this regard, the hospital operates day care services at the obstetrics and gynecology unit where pregnant women with one problem or the other can immediately receive attention, thus reducing infant and maternal mortality. The hospital has a special scanning machine that can detect abnormalities in babies in the early stages of pregnancy so that such can be corrected before they become complications. Again, the equipment is the first of its kind in any public hospital in Nigeria.
Another area of intervention is the care of elderly people. UCH has a special Geriatric Centre where it operates day care services for the treatment of various aging related sicknesses and diseases affecting elderly people. The facility named after elder statesman, Chief Tony Anenih who built and funds it is the first purpose built training and treatment Centre for geriatric medicine in Africa. It is run by the department of family medicine. Many old people who used to seek treatment abroad for such conditions have pitched tent with the Centre after receiving satisfactory treatment. In fact a lot of peasants and other less privileged old people have found succour at the Centre under a social health insurance scheme instituted by Chief Anenih. There is no doubt that this intervention will help increase life expectancy in the country.
So far, the UCH Ibadan has demonstrated its capability to attend to the healthcare needs of the country, even at the level of the most specialist treatment and care comparable with what obtains in the advanced countries. It has remained the leader in tertiary healthcare in the country. But its potentials are not exhausted. As it marks the 60th year milestone, it needs to move to next level exploits. And this requires more support from government and the private sector in form of more funding and endowments to adequately equip it with more essential infrastructure and technology as well as other necessities. This is an issue that the Federal Government which is the owner of the hospital as well as well -meaning corporate bodies and individuals should seriously look into and come up with the desired assistance. It is the best way to appreciate and encourage the UCH Ibadan at 60.
Olamiti (FNGE), a media consultant, writes from Abuja.