With Uche Nnadozie
Since the second republic it has been tales of suffering and gnashing of teeth with regard to our health sector. Unfortunately for us, a large chunk of what make up the human development index, HDI has to do with good health. The wellness of the people of a nation tells the story of how serious or wealthy they may be. You just cannot be poor and be healthy at the same time. You cannot be unorganised and be healthy either. Head or tail, ours has become the reference point for poor quality and sometime nonexistent healthcare delivery system. How best do we illustrate this other than the recurring meningitis which this year has claimed more than 300 lives.
Put side by side the outburst of the Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari where he blamed God or fornication or sin for the spread of the strain, then we can appreciate the degeneration of our public health care system. Indeed, it is in that part of the world more than what we have in other parts that the conversion of public health equipment to private use either as cash or private hospital is most rampant. What am I saying? Even grants, equipment donated to the people of states like Zamfara are looted. Monies made available by foreign donors are shared between state actors leaving paltry sums that cannot do better than buying analgesics.
All our health indices are bleak. Life expectancy is contracting. From epidemics, to malaria, to child health to maternal health are very poor. Senior citizens are even worse. They are treated with disdain in public health facilities. What’s more, even our leaders hurry abroad for the treatment of the most basic ailment-like flu! It’s that bad. Now pray, when those who formulate and implement our health policies themselves never spend a second in Nigerian hospitals what then is left for mere mortals like you and me? Lately, our young ladies have been dying from complications arising from child birth. Several friends have become victims of what is turning out to become an epidemic. Yet in all this, neither the health minister nor the 36 commissioners of health in the states speak up.
Sometimes I wonder whether these ministers and commissioners are put there for their personal health issues. They hardly speak up. They hardly give public health advisory. One wonders what they do and indeed you cannot possibly see that thing when you visit public hospitals. Our hospitals are in a mess not just because of lack of equipment but worst of all is the lack of enthusiasm and complete disregard for interpersonal skills exhibited by staff. Staff in government hospitals are generally lazy, uncouth and irascible. Frustrated patients usually storm out of such facilities. No known remedial feedback. Workers always complain of poor pay and lack of commitment and support from government. However, the workers themselves almost always become humane when they cross the road to their private facilities.
There is no known effort by successive ministers of health for example since they took office to ameliorate these challenges. It seems they came to worsen same. No programme of action to get our tertiary health facilities and specialist federal hospitals up to speed with 1990 standards not to talk of 2017. The mess is overwhelming. Just how we feel comfortable running those empty facilities otherwise called hospitals befuddles me. We multiply brick and mortar all over the place to get media/photo opportunities but fail to equip not with latest technology. You find Nigerian medical doctors at management cadre of our hospitals always flying abroad to care for their ailments-taking after our politicians!
Some of the things that need to be done are not rocket science. To re-organise our health care system should not be a complex thing to do. Like everything else, these things are left undone so that it will be easy to steal whatever is available. Civil servants mount road blocks in order to complicate otherwise simple processes. When they become complex then the urge to lobby or pay a bribe becomes inevitable for the populace. Even that is not the worst. The worst is still for the staff who maltreat patients openly without any form of censure. They don’t care and nothing happens to them. They even see patients die in their endless queues without consequences.
The country needs serious and deliberate reorganisation. We just can’t continue like this. The suffering of the people is getting out of hand. People die for the dumbest of ailments. Just out of carelessness or lack of ordinary medications. The number of people that die out of carelessness and (if I may add) hopelessness in our public hospitals are too many and embarrassing. We have to change our ways and behave like citizens of the 21st century. Nigeria is not the only country with a large population. We are also not the only ones that are poor. Others manage to get by. But we do everything to engage the reverse gear. It’s like a curse. Even cursed people do everything to shake off the spell and chart a new course. But we stew in ours and invite the world to make a film of it.
Malaria, Lassa fever, fibroid, meningitis, cancer, high blood pressure, renal failure, depression, and such diseases are ravaging our citizens. Government must find its voice and show the light. These are public health concerns. People are dying from diseases that government’s awareness schemes alone can lead to lifestyle changes that would have saved lives. But what we get is silence and denial. What we get is this same officials running off to Europe and Asia in search of antidotes to that which ails them and their families.