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The Nigerian healthscare system

It has been reported in the Naija media that former dictator Ibrahim Babangida has gone abroad for a “routine medical check up”. His wife Maryam died in a foreign hospital.

A few weeks ago, Buhahari allegedly came to the UK for medical treatment, staying for about two weeks and used a Chatham House speech to cover up the real reasons for his trip.

The tendency for the Nigerian ruling class to always run abroad for treatment while running down our healthcare system when they are in power, was the subject of the article below from September 2012.

The Nigerian healthscare system

As I write this, Nigeria’s First Lady Patience Jonathan is a patient at a German hospitalsuffering from an undisclosed illness.Earlier this month, petroleum minister Diezani Madueke was reportedly hospitalised in London with an undisclosed illness.

In April, senate president David Mark was treated in Israel for another undisclosed ailment.

I am sure it comes as no surprise to Nigerians that our rulers and their spouses prefer treatment in foreign hospitals to the Nigerian hospitals that they are responsible for bringing up to the standards that are available in Germany, the UK, Israel, etc. The National Hospital in Abuja that is meant to be the best public hospital in the country is reportedly in a deplorable state. One Nigerian newspaper described it as a “National Disgrace”. Itse Sagay, a constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, did not mince his words: “The National Hospital in Abuja which is supposed to be the best in the country today, I understand is in no way any better than a morgue. If you have any serious illness, you dare not go there for treatment otherwise, you won’t come back alive. Today, every Nigerian is now going to India for treatment of one ailment or the other.”

India was indeed an option for my niece’s husband, a surgeon in Enugu, who was diagnosed with cataracts early last year. He went to see eye specialists at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) in Enugu (allegedly the best public hospital in the entire state) and they recommended an operation. Their technique involved slicing open the affected eye. I was informed that it is standard procedure in UK hospitals for this to be done via laser or keyhole surgery, but they don’t have the necessary equipment at UNTH.

However, one of the surgeons there told the patient that their archaic operation technique was risky and she wouldn’t recommend it for him as he is a surgeon and the loss of sight in one eye could mean he could no longer do his job. She said that there were only two hospitals in Nigeria that used modern techniques for this type of operation. They are in Kano and Lagos. Both are private hospitals that would set you back several hundred thousand naira. She said she’d go to India or the UK for the operation if she were in his shoes.

He decided to try the Kano option – a hospital run by a church charity. After several tests they told him in Kano that veins had gotten in the way and made the operation a risk, and it was recommended he go abroad for treatment. He chose a London hospital and it turned out that it was a routine operation that didn’t even require being kept overnight. I asked him what would have happened if he wasn’t a surgeon that could afford the trip abroad and costs of treatment. He replied that he would have lost the use of an eye and then said it is God that is saving most of Nigerians.

My sister that lives in Enugu also needed God’s saving grace when she fell ill several years ago. She didn’t want to risk the public hospitals so went private. She was then diagnosed with kidney stones and had an operation to remove them. But she kept passing out after the operation and failed to make a full recovery. The doctors didn’t have a clue what was wrong with her. The hospital didn’t even have the equipment for routine tests and had to keep sending a hospitalised patient several miles across town, driven there by her son, to UNTH for blood and urine tests. As she deteriorated, she came to London and was finally diagnosed accurately of having a blocked bile duct that required a bypass that thankfully, was successful. I always wonder what would have become of her if she didn’t have the opportunity to come to London for treatment.

I also can’t help but wonder how many Nigerians have died, lost sight or limb due to the state of our hospitals that those with the responsibility to fix them are too scared to use. The short-sightedness of our rulers means they think that they are immune from the dangers of Nigeria’s healthscare system because they can afford access to foreign hospitals. But being able to afford foreign treatment may not be enough to help you in an emergency. A six-hour flight to the UK or Germany may be too long in certain situations that call for adequate and immediate intervention with adequate equipment.

I remember reading a report in 2001 when Bola Ige then attorney-general of Nigeria was shot in his Ibadan home, stating that he was driven around town in search of a hospital that could treat him and he bled to death before they finally got to Oluyoro Hospital. If true, would he have survived if adequate hospitals were nearby? We will never know for sure.

But what is absolutely certain is that your chances of survival in an emergency are improved if adequate treatment is within reach within the critical period. By doing precious little to improve the state of Nigerian hospitals for the benefit of all Nigerians, Nigeria’s rulers could be practically digging their own graves.



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