A Nation without Health Care

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A typical Nigerian hospital ward
A typical Nigerian hospital ward

Many Nigerians die from avoidable deaths because of lack of proper health care delivery system in the country

|  By Ishaya Ibrahim  |  Dec. 31, 2012 @ 01:00 GMT

RAPHAEL Onah, a resident of Egbeda, a suburb in Lagos State, has a firsthand experience of the decay in Nigeria’s health system. For five days, he was unable to swallow food because of a fish bone which accidentally got stuck in his throat on October 20, this year. At first, he tried all tricks to push it down but didn’t succeed. Thereafter, he rushed to a private clinic for help where he paid N2, 000 to buy a card before he could see a doctor. At the private clinic, the doctor referred him to an ear, nose and throat, ENT, surgeon at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH.

At LASUTH, he was again referred to Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, because LASUTH, according to the personnel at its emergency unit, didn’t have the equipment to treat such a case. He took off to LUTH the following day, Tuesday, October 23, but was surprised to see a huge crowd of sick people at the hospital’s emergency unit jostling for attention.  When he presented his problem to the medical assistant at the LUTH, he was told he had to be in the queue for another two weeks because there was no bed for new cases.

Nathralaya Hospital, India
Nathralaya Hospital, India

The following day, he returned to LASUTH’s ENT clinic in the hope of impressing it on the hospital authorities to do whatever they could to help him. After waiting until about 11 o’clock in the morning at the ENT clinic, a doctor sauntered in and collected the medical files of the waiting patients. After a while, he left and the record officer at the unit started calling names and rescheduling their appointments. For some, they were asked to return in another two months without any prescription to soothe their pains.

But for Onah whose case was critical, he was told to return to LUTH. The record officer told him that according to the ENT consultant, LASUTH didn’t have the equipment to treat him but that LUTH could treat him because it has the equipment. He left the clinic distraught and went home to continue the waiting until there was a bed available for him.

Also at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, UBTH, Andrew Airahuobhor, a journalist with the Daily Independent Newspaper, was almost losing his sight and was counting on the doctors to save his sight.  But they couldn’t and worse still, for the two weeks that he was admitted there, the consultant in-charge of his case, didn’t consider it necessary to personally examine him. When he asked why, the doctor who regularly attended to him, said he had been reporting to the consultant on the state of Airahuobhor’s case.

Having convinced himself that he was not going to get any help in the UBTH or any other hospitals in Nigeria, he took off to Bengalore, the ICT capital of India. There, he went to the Nethralaya hospital which is rated among the five biggest hospitals in India. It is a private hospital that offers tertiary services.  At the hospital’s eye unit, he bought the hospital’s consultancy card for 500 rupees, the equivalent of N1500 in Nigeria’s exchange rate. He said he was surprised to find that in the hospital, there are consultants for all the sections of the eye unit and that it is the hospital’s policy to ensure that patients don’t stay beyond 30 minutes without being attended to despite the huge number of patients attended to daily. “They have enough doctors. Unlike in UBTH or LUTH where only house officers attend to sick people”, he said.

Patients waiting at the Cornea section, Nathralaya Hospital, India
Patients waiting at the Cornea section, Nathralaya Hospital, India

At the Nathralaya hospital, Airahuobor was promptly attended to by an eye consultant. He said he was surprised to find out that after using the drugs prescribed for him, he began to feel better. “Their drugs are very cheap and very effective. The first day I was attended to, the doctor who attended to me gave me two eye drops free. They call it doctor’s sample. The money I later spent on the remaining prescription was less than N500 and throughout my stay there, I never spent more than N3, 000 on prescription”, he said.

But in the UBTH, where he was admitted for two weeks, he was billed N30, 000 just for sleeping on the hospital bed. He bought his drugs and yet didn’t see a consultant for the period he was there.

Many Nigerians who can’t travel out of the country have died in avoidable circumstances. This is because apart from inadequate doctors in government hospitals and poor equipment, budgetary provisions for the sector are also very insignificant. In the 2013 budget, the health sector got only N279.23 billion, a sum the organised labour has described as grossly inadequate.  In a communiqué it issued at the end of its National Executive Committee, NEC, meeting recently, the union called for a scaling-up of the provision for health in the proposed budget to a minimum of 15 per cent instead of the six percent in the budget.

Also recently, the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, said more than five thousand Nigerians seek medical treatment abroad monthly. It then challenged political leaders in the country to stand in the same queue with other Nigerians who do not have the money to travel abroad for medical treatment.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. This story tells a depressing tale of the state of medical services in Nigeria. We only wonder if anyone’s paying attention to all of this. We waste our lives in avoidable circumstances and gloat over vanities of material acquisitions. Many nigerians with means who buy golf courses in Europe and Asia could deploy those resources into helping to provide functional health services in Nigeria. Many nigerians would be willing to pay for these services (after all we’re already paying for the decrepit ones we receive).

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