Deadly Journeys: How Poor Roads in Cross River Hinder Access to Healthcare

In this investigation by Sylvia Akpan, workers and patients of Primary Health Centers in Akamkpa and Akpabuyo Local Government Areas of Cross River State, decried the poor state of roads leading to these facilities that play an integral part in increasing patients’ risk of miscarriages, delayed treatment amongst many other sundry issues.

This piece gives a glimpse of the perturbing pattern of negligence in health centers in Okarara, Nyaje, Mbarakom, Oberekai Health Post, and Ekpene-Ikot Umoh all in Akamkpa and Akpabuyo LGAs respectively, where childbirths are done in falling roofs and cracked walls.

A visit to the Primary Health Center in Okarara not only reveals the execrable state of the road leading to these facilities but also discloses the attempt by residents to make sure the road is passable and all attempts went to the mud, leaving the reporter in frustration.

The poor road network that has impeded vehicular movement to the facilities paints a picture of more extensive health hazards awaiting the future of pregnant women and children.

Residents say they have been greeted with long silence, disappointments from relentless writing of letters to those in authority and representatives that have often fallen on deaf ears.

After several falls from the motorcycle to Okarara, Oberekai, and Njaye on the same route, this reporter got stuck in the mud along with the rider.

Approaching a health center in Njaye, the Community Health Extension Worker, who identified her name as Mrs. Mary welcomed the reporter and her motorcyclist while rushing for water to rinse their legs.

While lamenting the bad state of the road, she said they have no option but to continue with the road leading to the facility that way.

“It has not been easy for us over here. Both of you left your home neat and clean but because of bad roads, you are going back dirty. This is what we face over here. In fact, the very day I was transferred from my former health center to this place, I wept bitterly in my heart but I had no option because it is what I’m doing to make ends meet.”

Already feeling sorry for her visitors, she disclosed that a stranger never plied the route and remained happy. Efforts invested to draw the government’s attention have been futile.

“Please, if there is any way you can write to them to come and help us over here, I will be grateful because our pregnant women are suffering. Malaria treatment can not be administered to them because coming here alone for the treatment is more risky and can lead to bleeding resulting from miscarriages.

“It has been happening, not once or twice. It is only God that will save us because the government doesn’t care and I keep wondering if the government really has us at heart because if they do, they would have constructed good roads for us.”

A visit to Okarara Health Center was another case of misfortune. Everywhere seems like a river as a result of the incessant rainfall.

A resident who wouldn’t want her name on ink also cried the bad road, disclosing that the majority of the pregnant women in the community seek other health centers and hospitals to deliver their babies despite the time they go into labor and the distance from the community to the centers.

“We have health centers but we can’t access them due to bad roads. Our pregnant women are suffering. A woman will be pregnant today. The next thing you will hear is miscarriage.

“Why has the government decided to harden their hearts like Pharaoh? Road construction is one of the basic needs the government owes its citizens and I am still wondering if it is now the citizens that owe the government that responsibility.”

“The Community Health Extension Workers who were assigned here don’t even come anymore.”

Government Reacts

Speaking with CrossRiverWatch in his office in Calabar the Permanent Secretary, of Cross River State Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr. Etim Ayi, said “The bad roads have made us carve out the terminologies of hard to reach areas, the road is not motorable. We all know that most of those things seen are not things that happened today. They have been there years over years. Now that we have a government that is looking into these issues knowing that he wants to give quality health care and you know that without accessible roads, those things will not come the way they are supposed to”.

Dr. Etim said they are plans to construct roads leading to health centers across the 18 LGAs.

Affirming the deplorable nature of the road, he said the government is working assiduously to change Healthcare narratives in the state.

“The government has just started and a lot of inputs has been made into primary health care facilities which you may not really see now because it’s like laying a foundation but I assure you that gradually those things will start manifesting to provide quality health care services to those in the rural areas”.

Sympathy Rolls

A tourist who does not want her name to be mentioned, said, “I am really feeling for these people. If sickness like malaria strikes, how do these patients get vaccinated when there are little or no medical resources to cater to their needs?

I cannot have a relative who will come to this kind of place and work as a Community Health Extension Worker. If care is not taken, you may leave your house in good shape and return completely disfigured.

“Any lady who is pregnant and decides to visit this kind of a place, of course, I don’t have to tell you what the further consequences will be. I can’t even imagine it and I wouldn’t even wish my enemy to visit. It would have been better if it were a dream than reality” she added with a sigh while shaking her head in disapproval.

CSOs Frowns

Comrade Ukeme Ekong, a Civil Society Activist from WeThePeople articulated the broader consequences of traveling through those routes stating, “I know I have gone to a marriage in Njaye before, I knew that a lot of us actually came back without reaching the marriage place. Some actually reached but some did not because the road was totally bad and this is about seven years ago and as I speak to you, I learned there is really no improvement. The bridge that even crosses there only allows for bikes.”

Speaking further, she was saddened that representatives from each community were not helping matters and charged journalists on the need to take videos and pictorial evidence and upload it on social media while tagging relevant government agencies to it.

“We must continue to make noise beyond snapping somebody falling from the bicycle, we should be able to snap the roads and the health centers as it is and tag our government via social media. Let’s call them out. It is not just about doing window dressing and carnival, going to paint everywhere and making everywhere look good in the eyes of external persons, we should be able to put our houses and our health centers well”.

Also Comrade Richard Friday Inoyo, Country Director, Citizens Solution Network posited that “There is a need for us to actually have videos and what I call coverage or pictures of those institutions and to use that to force the government to admit the fact that the government is lagging behind when it comes to providing the right infrastructure for health.

“Not only in the area of security parameters of those primary health centers but also in providing them with the right staff, equipment, medical resources, to be able to do their jobs.

“The only way just like I said is to sustain the advocacy and doing that through pictures and videos and then sharing it online and getting it to reach all the nooks and crannies of the world. If we can do that, it allows us to now force the government to see what the realities are.”

This story was produced for the Frontline Investigative Program and supported by the Africa Data Hub and Orodata Science.

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