By PAULYN Ugbodaga
On Sunday 23rd April 2017, news filtered out of Osogbo about the death of onetime governor and serving Senator of the Federal Republic, representing Osun West, Isiaka Adeleke. News of his death was followed by riots by angry youths of his constituency who cried foul. The unrest forced the Osun State government to order an autopsy at the Ladoke Akintola University Teaching Hospital which revealed that Adeleke was killed by an overdose of painkillers.
The medication was intravenously administered to him by – wait for it – an “unqualified” medical technician! Questions arise. Was this the first time he was so attended to? Had he been so attended previously by the same “unqualified” medical technician? Or, were there others who had attended to his complaints of severe pain in his legs? Was his death as a result of this one treatment or could it have been an accumulation of the “drug” in his system? How did someone of his calibre come to be attended to by an “unqualified” medical technician? First scenario.
Second scenario. A child (whose name for privacy purposes cannot be mentioned) was rushed to a federal-run hospital in the nation’s capital, Abuja, about three weeks ago. Without testing, he was immediately diagnosed by the medical consultant on duty as being afflicted by meningitis and put on meningitis medication. Thereafter, the medical consultant claimed that the hospital (which had just administered meningitis medication) was not equipped to handle such cases and had the child referred to another government-run hospital in Abuja.
The child was taken to the second hospital but could not be admitted for treatment as there was a shortage of beds. The child eventually ended up at a private hospital where he underwent some laboratory tests and found to be suffering from malaria, along with traces of typhoid, but certainly not meningitis.
Questions again arise. How then did the first doctor at the federal hospital arrive at his diagnosis of meningitis, on which he had commenced treatment? How did he acquire his qualifications for him not to realise that he needed to first ascertain the child’s true ailment using laboratory tests before administering medication? How certain can we be of the qualifications of medical personnel who attend to patients in government healthcare facilities?
There have been cases of “unqualified” medical personnel recorded in recent years. In fact, there appears to be an increase in such cases. The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) notes that the situation has grown worse in recent years, with quacks or unlicensed medical personnel boldly operating in public and private hospitals. Among notorious cases are both Abuja-based Martins Ugwu (who confessed to having stolen a medical certificate, got employed by the Federal Civil Service and rose to become chairman of the Nigeria Medical Association Federal Ministry of Health branch) and Victor Akpan (who had run a private medical facility for ten years using allegedly forged and stolen certificates) before they were finally nabbed. A survey conducted in Nigeria early in 2014 found that more than 50% of the population had received treatment in one form or the other from “quacks”.
In 2014, the country’s government healthcare system was ranked 197th out of 200 by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Another 2015 report observed that medical personnel-to-patient ratio in the country fell far below WHO’s recommendations of 1:600 for doctor-to-patient and 1:700 for nurse-to-patient ratios. As at 2013, doctor-to-patient ratio in the country was 1:6,400.
It is bad enough that the country’s healthcare delivery sector is in shambles as a good number of government facilities are glorified health centres or sick bays, short, if not devoid of qualified personnel, equipment and drugs. The sector needs urgent attention. Not just the injection of much needed funding but also in the area of ensuring that only truly qualified personnel attend to patients.
The way to go. First, we must address the human capital shortage in the medical sector. A good number of graduates in the field of medicine and nursing leave the country in search of better conditions of service. The government should address the issues surrounding the poor conditions of service for medical personnel to stem the tide of “brain drain”. Second, regulatory agencies, on their part, need to strengthen their operations.
They should conduct “sting” operations by visiting facilities at random to verify qualifications of the medical personnel therein. Facilities that have confirmed “doubtful” cases should be sanctioned to serve as a deterrent to shoddy recruitment practices. Third, the sector should borrow a leaf from the government’s whistle blowing policy by creating an avenue for such activity and educating members of the public who utilise medical facilities on their rights as patients.
A nation’s economy is as healthy as its people. We should not kill our people by exposing them to improper, unprofessional healthcare. We must put in place measures to ensure that only truly qualified medical personnel attend to the sick. We need to ensure that approved medical facilities, private or government-owned, are actually manned by truly qualified professionals. Underlined here is the word “truly” as we have witnessed cases of “qualified” personnel whose certificates were either stolen and/or forged. The various regulatory councils and associations overseeing the medical and allied sectors need to sit up even more and tackle head-on, the challenge posed by “quacks”.
We often speak of carnage on our roads. But carnage, clearly, is not limited to our highways. It is happening in our hospitals.
Ugbodaga writes from Lagos.