Kunle Olafioye and Agatha Emeadi
After series of complaints to her children, 77-year-old Mama Beatrice Shonde was finally taken to see an eye specialist in September, 2019. Mama would later be diagnosed with cataract and after few more consultations, the specialist confirmed that the septuagenarian would have to undergo a surgery, but not until the affected eye was certified ready for the surgery.
Mama Shonde was told she would have to wait till February or March, 2020, before the procedure could be carried out. But there was a snag. Mama’s children found the bill given to them for the proposed surgery rather prohibitive and they settled for the option of taking mama to a government hospital. So, the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, became Mama’s next destination for a solution to the debilitating eye problem.
“But after honouring her last appointment, Mama was given an April date for the operation. “When we got to the hospital on the day, we were told that the operation could not be done due to the prevailing COVID-19 lockdown in the country.
“We were given a new date with another prescription for her. But since then my mother has been complaining of more discomfort in the affected eye, as well as serious itching even in the other eye which was previously not affected. I can only pray and hope that her situation will not degenerate further before the necessary surgery will be done,” Mrs Adetoun Odediran, Mama’s eldest daughter, told Sunday Sun.
As disturbing as Mama Shonde’s case may sound, many families in Lagos have more disturbing stories to tell. Babatunde Lawal is yet to come to terms with the demise of his mother who was rejected at five major government-owned hospitals in Lagos before she finally gave up the ghost on Wednesday, May 6, 2020.
According to Lawal, his mother’s illness started before the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country and she was on her way to recovery before she suddenly suffered a relapse sometime in March.
“We took her to hospital for medical assistance when she had a relapse, but she was not given serious attention except a few prescriptions here and there,” he said.
Lawal told Sunday Sun that his mother’s condition, however, grew worse and assumed a more worrisome dimension early in May.
“Seeing her precarious condition, she was attended to at Orile-Agege General Hospital before she was referred for specialist attention.
“My mother died after she was rejected at four major government hospitals in Lagos here. When we got to Ifako Ijaye, we were not even allowed entry into the hospital let alone attending to her. We went to LUTH, Gbagada and Federal Medical Centre, but she was not admitted. It was only at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, that she was given first aid and discharged immediately. We decided to bring her home after we were denied entry at Ifako Ijaye, which, of course, was the last hospital we took her to. She died days later,” Lawal regretted.
When Sunday Sun spoke with the Director of Clinical Services and Training at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Dr I. A. Mustafa, he debunked insinuations that public hospitals under the management of the Lagos State government were not rendering healthcare services to the majority of the people who present at the outpatient departments with other non-COVID-19 illnesses, saying that perhaps the staff were afraid of being infected with Coronavirus by asymptomatic patients.
While acknowledging that the facility was not treating COVID-19 patients, he affirmed that services were still being rendered to patients with other medical conditions and illnesses.
Mustafa explained: “For the fact that LASUTH is not treating COVID-19 cases does not mean we turn patients away. No. You need to realise that LASUTH is a very busy hospital. During the pandemic, it is almost impossible to observe social distancing, so we scaled down our level of clinical activities and concentrated majorly on the emergencies, which are open to full operations. Our Oncology, Haematology, HIV/AIDS, Chest clinic (which takes care of tuberculosis and others), Infant Welfare clinic, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Maternity, Deliveries, CT scans, all have been functioning full time from the start of the COVID-19 emergency.
“In addition to the arrangement we put in place, we also opened up emergency hot lines where patients can call in for medical information. It has been a very good intervention, but the problems that might be encountered include availability of the information. We have disseminated the numbers on all the platforms that we needed to do so. We have lots of patients, but I cannot guarantee here that all our patients are making use of the numbers and that is why we will strategically open the clinics soon, but with extreme carefulness not to spread the virus.”
Mustafa, who is a Consultant Orthopaedic/Trauma Surgeon, said: “Even with the emergences that are functioning, it is not an open place per se. One has to be screened from the entrance to be sure they are not potential COVID-19 patients. A cleared patient goes on to be attended to while a suspected case is not allowed to mix with other patients, but rather gets separated and kept in our quarantine bay while still receiving treatment before the accredited laboratory commences the patient.
“And once they test negative, they are sent back to the general ward to continue their treatment, but if they are positive, they are sent to one of the treatment centres in Lagos. Our holding area has capacity for about 16-beds and it is almost full all the time because results are not gotten on time.”
On the protocol adopted by the tertiary hospital for handling potential COVID-19 cases, Dr Mustafa said: “LASUTH is not treating COVID-19 patients because we are constrained in terms of space for this. The structure of LASUTH is built like a quadrangle, we do not have a secluded area where we can put COVID-19 patients. Again, many of our regular patients require tertiary interventions, most of whom have different immunity and we might be endangering them; but because we are a tertiary centre, we are offering our services to COVID-19 patients that require absolute care. We have had to accept some of them for dialysis. So, if our tertiary centre is required for COVID-19 cases, we will do that; but there are enough treatments centres around (in Lagos) and we do not have the structure in place for that. I will also state here that we are a referral centre; our spaces at times might be filled up, so there may be need at times for us to refer patients mainly because of space constraints. What we do is to get in touch with the centre we are referring the patient to; otherwise we do not turn back patients even as we take the protection of our frontline workers seriously.
“The hospital has seen not less than 50 suspected cases, some tested positive while some also returned negative. We have a 16-bed isolation ward where we keep suspected cases before they go for proper tests. If they return negative, they continue their treatment, but if positive, they go to recommended treatment centres. We are also putting up another 20-bed structure known as ‘TRIAG,’ which will also serve as quarantine bay for suspected cases.
“When LASUTH, which is a tertiary healthcare centre, got the first suspected case of COVID-19, the hospital management set up several committees, which include the COVID-19 Response Team with a primary function to deal with everything about COVID-19. Another committee is on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and ensures that our frontline workers are protected. Again, all the necessary precautionary measures like temperature check at the entrance, free flow of water to wash hands; and electronic hand sanitizers at strategic points of the hospital have been in place as expected.”
Corroborating what the LASUTH director of Clinical Services said, a middle level official at the Isolo General Hopsital, who spoke with Sunday Sun under condition of anonymity, having not been authorized to speak on behalf of the secondary health facility, said that the hospital like other Lagos State public health facilities has been providing service to the residents of the state.
The source dismissed the allegation of turning down patients, stressing that the hospital has been offering full healthcare services in line with the directives of the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who in his address to the state declared that all Lagos State government hospitals would continue to provide services to the residents.
“In fact, a pregnant woman who was not a regular antenatal patient came in and was examined, within days she was delivered here free of charge. Like all other health institutions, we have also taken precautionary measures. At our entrance, we are not allowing people without face mask that covers the nostril and the mouth to come into the premises. Again, you would have seen our preventive measures like water soap on a sink to wash the hands at the security post, and then the hand sanitizer is also there for visitors and patients to use. A member of staff who checks the temperature is stationed at the security post. If one’s temperature is discovered to be high, the fellow steps aside to be seen by a doctor. We only became more careful to support national efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
“Again, we don’t allow all to come in at the same time. We practice social distancing very well and allow patients to come in one after the other. The only disadvantage is that people waste more time than usual, otherwise we are working. Coronavirus has not stopped us from working,” he said.