• Illegal schools of health churn out quacks as victims queue to die
• NMA raises the alarm
From MURPHY GANAGANA, Jos
Hajia Maijiddah Labaran, a middle-aged woman resident in Makurdi, the Benue state capital is still frightful nine years after she had surgery for a supposed appendicitis. She had stomachache and requested her husband, Alhaji Labaran Saleh, to accompany her to a new hospital nearby on Ahmadu Jidda Street, in the North Bank district of the capital city. He obliged her and in a few minutes, they were at their destination; a decrepit building painted in white and sky blue, consisting of a sitting room and about three others partitioned with plywood. Welcome to Saviour Medical Hospital, Makurdi.
A quick glance at the environment triggered a feeling of discomfort in her husband and he expressed his fears. But the large number of patients in the waiting room gave her a false hope of imminent succor to her severe pains. It was, therefore relief for her, or so she thought, when the only doctor and proprietor of the hospital, simply identified as “Dr Ordina”, spotted her in the midst of patients and invited her into the consulting room. Within a twinkle, he was done with the diagnosis and told her she had appendicitis which was about to rupture. “He told me if it wasn’t removed immediately through surgery, I would die”, she recalled.
Though apprehensive, her husband succumbed to her insistence on undergoing the recommended surgery to save her the agonizing pains and her life, and at about 11.pm same day, the surgery was performed after payment of a N30, 000 fee. However, rather than reprieve, the pains worsened, and she was in the hospital for seven days. “I started having pains in my right eye and he gave me some injection. The stitches on the wound were there for seven days and began to develop purse. Later, a nurse –Elizabeth, told me the operation didn’t go deep. When I asked her the next day where they kept what was removed from my tummy, she told me a dog owned by the doctor had eaten it. She later said the doctor asked her to lie to me because he didn’t remove anything from my body”, Maijiddah told Saturday Sun.
She is thankful to God for saving her life, after discovering that about a year earlier, she had her appendix detected and removed at Homa Hospital, also in Makurdi, before undergoing a major fibroid surgery. When she approached her doctor at Homa to seek opinion on the fresh appendicitis surgery, he requested for her medical records at Saviour Hospital, but “Dr. Ordina” refused to release it. He fumed and branded the doctor who made the request, incompetent and inexperienced. “Even when I personally confronted him, he refused to bulge, and has refused to release her medical records till date”, her husband lamented.
Mission to uncover
On Saturday, January 6, 2018, our reporter visited the hospital at about 1.30pm under cover, and posed as a patient in need of medicare for malaria and high blood pressure. Seated on plastic chairs in the waiting room were five women apparently from rural communities chatting excitedly in the local Tiv language; in their company were two young girls and a man who later presented themselves on enquiry as staff of the hospital. It costs N200 for a BP check, according to one of the staff, a check usually done free of charge in regular clinics and pharmacies. Our reporter eventually sought audience with the doctor in charge and got a shocker.
After a BP check, the doctor inquired if the reporter was diabetic and the drugs used for management. When he was told the drugs were recommended by doctors at the Federal Medical Centre, Abuja, he retorted: “They don’t know anything; this is how they pack drugs and give to patients, later you will develop low blood sugar”. Pronto, he beckoned on a young man to conduct a sugar level test on the reporter, who upon sensing he would be pricked with a needle, excused himself under the guise of not having sufficient cash at that moment to foot the bills, and slipped out of the highway to graveyard called hospital. Curiously, all staff of the hospital including the doctor and nurses wore mufti, and none of them could speak passable English.
Investigations, however, revealed that the hospital has been in existence for several years, and indeed, relocated to its present site from Zongo, a community on NASME Road in Makurdi, where it commenced business. Amid several complaints, sources said the hospital had been shut twice, but reopened for business after the dust settled. “The first time it was shut, it didn’t last up to a year; the second time lasted up to two years. Before it was reopened, someone operated it for sometime”, said a source who does not want his name mentioned. “The man feels he is so protected, and behaves as such”, he added.
“Dr. Ordina” was unfortunate to have his hospital shut twice. Elsewhere at a remote village in Benue State, the inhabitants, some of whom had fallen victim to an alleged quack illegally operating a medical facility. That was the situation when Dr. Abunku, a former Commissioner for Health in the state reportedly attempted to rein him in when the quack performed surgeries on three members of same family and all of them died. It was learnt that when the ex-commissioner arrived the hospital, the owner bolted; he was said to have confiscated the equipment and shut the facility. A few days later, it was reopened, but members of the community didn’t complain.
If that is worrisome, the incident that occurred in another rural setting was shocking. A surgery went awry when an alleged quack operated on the neck of a patient and cut his jugular vein. Like a high-pressure tap suddenly turned open, blood gushed out until the victim died on the table. An attempt by a medical doctor who got wind of the incident to get the suspect arrested by the local police met a brickwall as the villagers went to the station and said it was a mistake. “They said he (quack) had been doing it, and that the incident was just a mistake. They resisted his arrest; they said no, he is one of us, he has been helping us”, said Bem Aondoka, a witness.
A phenomenon on the rise
Sadly, such incidents are on the increase in Benue State where quack medics allegedly churned out annually by illegal Schools of Health Technology, are on prowl especially in rural communities, literarily on a mission to kill. While the Benue State government has a school of health that recently gained accreditation, records at the Ministry of Health indicated that 41 of such schools presently exist in the state, out of which only six are accredited while two are in the process of securing accreditation. This is contrary to several other states where the number of schools of health ranges between one and three, including the publicly owned. And the result of the upsurge of the schools particularly in Benue is quackery.
It was learnt that while the number of students admitted, according to guidelines by regulatory authorities was not expected to exceed 50 in a class, some of the illegal schools admit as much as 150 in a class for a programme of three years, and students pay between N70, 000 to N100, 000 or more per term for three terms in a session. In some cases, they learn in dilapidated structures without facilities, tutored by academic staff most of whom are not be qualified.
Unfortunately, rather than seeking employment to ply their skills, a deluge of illegal health facilities have sprung up in rural communities and major towns, manned by graduates of uncertified schools of health whose certificates fall within the range of Community Health Extension Worker and Junior Community Health Extension Worker. Without requisite knowledge, facilities and drugs, not even a painkiller, they perform surgeries through procedures that agonize victims, in sanitary conditions that leave much to be desired.
With the lack of functional health facilities mostly in rural communities, locals consumed by fear of untimely death from even minor ailments seek help from any available source, in Benue’s case; the several illegal hospitals manned by quacks whose mode of treatment is horrendous. They create ripples of fear in unsuspecting patients, portraying less devastating diseases as ferocious killers; for them, it’s a business trick, and quack remedies, often mixtures, are recommended and administered on their victims. For mere headache, they recommend courses of antibiotics based on an assessment of ill-defined symptoms in the absence of laboratory findings.
“Their victims come in different shapes; people with typhoid, they mismanage them till they have intestinal obstruction. They do all kinds of surgery; sometimes, they would tell you it is hernia and the next thing, they go from below and a woman will end up with VVF. I have handled several cases of perforated uterus while performing D & C; sometimes, they even perforate the intestines. But they have their unions and they are powerful; if you say you want to report them to the police or health authorities, they can go behind and eliminate you”, Dr. Moses Ogboche Daniel, proprietor of St. Daniel Hospital, Otukpo, and immediate past chairman, Benue State Association of General Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria (AGPMPN), laments on telephone.
It’s a fear expressed by several victims of quacks in the state who prefer to keep sealed lips on their experiences. Those persuaded to tell their stories declined having their photographs in print. That was the scenario when Saturday Sun encountered Maijiddah last week. “I don’t want to talk about that man and his hospital; I don’t want him to come after me”, she had earlier retorted, when asked to narrate her experience.
Dr. Hameed Mohammed, chairman of the state anti-quackery committee of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), a consultant radiologist and senior lecturer, Benue State University, Makurdi, expressed worry over the trend. “They (quacks) do all these; some of their victims survive disfigured, some die on the table, some come to see us and they die. So, we’ve been crying at the level of NMA and the present chairman of the state chapter of the NMA saw the need to set up a committee and we approached government because at the level of NMA, we cannot arrest people; we can only do advocacy, we can do sensitization, because a lot of patients don’t know their rights”, he said in an interview.
Mohammed, who is also a member of a committee recently constituted by the state government, blamed the alarming upsurge in quackery on the National Board for Community Health and officials of the state Ministry of Health in previous administrations. The committee, headed by Dr. Elijah Omangala, Director of Medical Services in the ministry, identified St. Stephen College of Health Technology, Daudu, and Calvin College of Health Technology, Naka, as among illegal schools operating in the state. Vandeikya Local Government Area tops the list with seven schools of health currently in existence. And in Naka, clinics allegedly owned and managed by unqualified personnel some of whom are suspected to be graduates of illegal schools, according to Mohammed, included Hope Clinic, Winners Clinic, Asanyi Clinic, Bem Clinic and Ajibo Clinic.
Two weeks ago, the state Ministry of Health summoned proprietors of all the 41 schools of health in the state to a meeting in Makurdi, in a move to check their activities. It was however learnt that only 20 proprietors attended the meeting, during which they were handed a month ultimatum to regularize their operations or be shut down. Sources further hinted that owners of hospitals and clinics in the state have also been invited for a meeting scheduled for Monday, for screening of registration certificates and licenses.
This is coming ahead of a notice by the National Board for Community Health to storm the state within this month for verification of the schools of health. “So far, the committee on quackery which I recently constituted, has identified 41 schools of health and some illegal clinics. We are taking measures to ensure that the state is rid of quacks and illegal schools of health”, said Dr. Cecilia Ojabo, the Commissioner for Health, in a telephone chat on Wednesday. She promised to avail Saturday Sun a comprehensive list of the schools in the state but failed to do so at press time.