By Fred W. Opara
The 40th American president, Ronald Wilson Reagan, 1911-2004, was shot in 1981, during a speaking engagement outside Washington D.C, by a supposedly mentally deranged John W. Hinckley, Jr., in a near-fatal assassination attempt. In a spirited effort to shield him, three of his aids suffered various degrees of gunshot wounds. He was admitted into the American Naval Reference Hospital and being in his heyday a thespian of international repute and death almost staring him in the face, jocularly enquired to the startled surgeons extracting bullet shells from his body: whether they were members of his ruling Republican Party.
President Reagan, like every other successive American president before and after his glorious two terms in the US Presidency, had implicit confidence in the competence and shrewdness of the American Health System to submit himself for treatment rather than being flown to Britain, West Germany, before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or any other friendly NATO country at that.
It appears that one of the unwritten rights or perquisites of office of Africa’s leading and most populous country is the spending of unbudgeted sums of money for medical trips beyond the shores of the country. While the Queen of England and the Prime Minister travel first class in British Airways planes to anywhere in the world, her Nigerian counterparts do the same with not only retinue of aids in one of the presidential fleet of aircrafts, but also keep the same plane in expensive airport hangars for days, weeks or even months indeterminable.
If every Nigerian president is like his American counterpart in every mannerism, since the Presidential System of Government is akin to both countries, what a great country Nigeria would become, because it will not take any legislation for all medical tourism budgets of both the public and private sectors of the economy to constitute a disdainful practice over time and in the long run. The fact remains that it may not require a sitting Nigerian president to seek medical attention in our tertiary health institutions in order to meet completely their needs, but an unscheduled visit for an on-the-spot assessment will go a long way in arresting the decay in our medical institutions. It is despicable to see weak and near death patients being hurled by relations from one floor to another floor of a national or Teaching Hospital owing to the fact that elevators meant for patients are not functional, thus lending credence to the African proverb on the fate of the dead that,
“The stinking corpse is only carried by its biological relations.” Notwithstanding the high level of motivation being received by the medics if that is the case, there are limits they can go in service rendition when applicable work tools have remained deplorable over the years.
It is to the shame of the country that Resident Doctors in our public hospitals should embark on intermittent industrial action or unrests due to unpaid wages and allowances, thus putting at immense risk the lives of the citizens who are in their care, but the law makers in our legislative houses at both the Federal and States levels get their pay as at when due, for doing so little and some habitually being absent for considerable number of legislative days. If the Legislators are actually on ground and running with their Oversight Functions, the relevant ministries in charge of Health, Salaries and Emoluments would have been queried or prompted because these lapses would have been earlier identified in the course of performing their statutory Oversight Functions.
The emergence of COVID-19 last year, 2020, jolted the health-conscious world to realise to a very high degree, the interdependence of humanity in various climes and continents. Though tribes, tongues, and skin colours might defer, blood composition remains the same for the human race in its entirety. The devastation of the pandemic to the medically advanced world has left medical practitioners and experts in modern health technology mouth agape in bewilderment, because of the implicit realisation that much is yet to be done and accomplished in bridging the yawning gap between the status quo and long term expectations.
To the developing economies for which Nigeria rightly belongs, the pandemic was not only an eye opener as such, but also a bold restatement of the deficiencies in leadership-thinking and versatility in the third world, toward the provision of quality healthcare facilities for their citizens. With the unprecedented speed at which medicaments like Personal Protective Equipment, PPE, were procured for the frontline practitioners, together with the setting up of the makeshift centres scattered in various states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, for the effective and efficient handling of the pandemic, showed quite clearly that nothing had ever been on ground for such emergencies in the country all this while. Though the spread of the pandemic was viral being a viral disease, the awareness Ebola and Lassa fever created in the handling of such diseases at the very time they held sway, helped a great deal in the stemming of the devastation which was witnessed even in the advanced countries of the world.
COVID-19 made good citizenship of every individual regardless of how highly placed in the society. For once, the nation’s foreign exchange on health and tourism was conserved for more than one year, in that; there was no inter- country movement because every nation was completely locked down in order to contain the spread. The good lesson out of this COVID-19 experience would have been to build on the gains of having cared for ourselves as a country without having to look toward or going elsewhere outside Nigeria in search of healthcare. But it appears that would be more difficult than the biblical camel passing through the eye of the needle, as the President who would have set the right or correct precedence is always jetting out to another country, Britain, in search of what his government would have provided for Nigerians and for his own benefit too. It is to the ignominious shame of the leadership of a country to travel out outside its shores in search of medical treatment when they would have planned for and provided such equipment and facilities which make the leadership of the countries they are visiting not to attempt visiting their own country. The charges payable on Airport Hangers alone are enough in procuring some modern medical equipment for the Teaching Hospitals in the country.
The national brain drain syndrome which is most prevalent in Nigeria’s public health institutions is traceable to the obvious fact that most dedicated doctors do not want to run foul of their Hippocratic Oath, the solemn promise doctors make to be sacrosanct in keeping and abiding to the principles and ethics of the medical profession. The rot in our Health and Medical delivery systems do not bring out the best in our world class medical personnel, hence the allure for honourable exit in search of professional happiness and fulfilment beyond our shores. Regretfully, the nation’s teaching hospitals are an epitaph to the health policy and leadership quality of the post civil war Nigeria. Nigeria’s sovereignty is questionable inasmuch as the country still grapples with medical imperialism and neo-colonialism.
Opara writes from Satellite Town, Lagos, via [email protected]