It is difficult comprehending the harm brought upon persons traumatized and in dire need of help owing to a great deal of ignorance by the mass of the society. The absence of skilled professionals and the requisite tools to work with, coupled with sheer wickedness on the part of those privileged to assist, but who opt for actions that negate help, has not also helped in alleviating the plight of trauma victims in Nigeria.
It was at the scene of a car accident, where rather than assist, the majority of persons at the site with great delight, got rather preoccupied with recording via mobile phones, the actions – mangled bodies, blood soaked humans, the wailings, groanings, helplesnnes, prayers, and plea for help – of the accident victims, that I experienced first hand the enormous challange facing those genuinely seeking to address the plight of traumatised persons in Nigeria.
The worst of the sight is usually the theft of personal effects of those already knocked down and dying by persons pretending to help. This is a tragedy fuelled by the failure of federal,states, and indeed the Nigerian society to provide the requisite equipment, training and hiring of the best hands to manage accidents and trauma victims. There is also the challenge of educating the public on the do’s and don’t, especially those privileged to be in places where humans are traumatized and requiring help. Thanks to modern technology such as today’s mobile phones fitted with features that allows live transmission of imageries and messages we are able to get information faster on locations compared to a decade ago. At the invitation of a friend, I was a guest at the 2019 trauma conference organized by Trauma Care International Foundation (TCIF) in Lagos where experts from the medical, insurance, security, Federal Road Safety Corps, Red Cross, media, religious, government and public sector workers gathered to xray the challenges in the trauma care industry and to proffer solutions. Credit must be given here to TCIF for committing financial and human resources over the last couple of years to easing the cause of persons suffering from physical trauma as well as in the training of emergency response officials.
This year’s conference by TCIF with the theme ‘Trauma Care:The Way Forward’ sought to provide the platform for stakeholders to brainstorm on how best the industry can be improved. It was a gathering of who-is-who in the industry: present where the Chairperson of the foundation, Dr. Deola Philips; former Minister of Health, Prince Juli Adelusi-Adeluyi; Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof Abayomi; Senate committee Chairman on health and Minister of Health who both sent in representatives, and a host of experts in various fields of medicine that has to do with managing accidents.
Without a doubt, the slow response to emergencies in Nigeria is one that should disturb many with a conscience and value for life – and this probably must have informed the choice of the theme. Take the case of a road, air, rail or water accident where a distress call is made in most of the developed countries and the first responders are there in minutes to rescue victims, stabilize and evecaute them for proper medical care where the need arises. Sadly, what looks so simple in those countries, appear herculian in Nigeria. In fact, in most accident cases in the country, majority of victims die before help appears. Without doubt, challanges like the absence of infrastructure, financing constraints, personnel, awareness, and right regulatory environment appear to be central in addressing the flaws in trauma management.
That the majority of Nigerian roads are death traps is no news to anyone plying the roads. That, over the years, has remained one of the paradoxes of the Nigerian state: citizens of one of the world’s crude oil producing nations lacking basic necessities like good roads, schools, and hospitals. A data from the Road Safety Corps for 2018 says, “a total of 9,741 road traffic crashes were recorded, which resulted in an increase of 3.8% from 2017. These crashes included 2,739 fatal cases; 5,489 serious cases; 1,153 minor cases and 15,501 vehicle types. Also, 5,181 fatalities were recorded denoting an increase of 1.2% from 2017.” Very disheartening report considering that every life counts;some of the fatalities surely had chances to survive with prompt response from medics. The nagging question, however, is what does it actually take to flood the federal highways with ambulances and the professionals to respond speedily to distress calls? What does it cost to equip our hospitals to such standards as obtained abroad to attend to health issues of citizen effectively? Why do hospitals and doctors who turn down treating patients in critical or emergency conditions not be sanctioned? Why must the system condone this breach of the ethics of the medical profession. We still read about reports of persons refused treatment from gun shot injuries. Interestingly, when we have an emergency case, the first thing that is required is blood; why is it that access to blood remains an issue for emergency patients in hospitals across the country? Why has it taken so long to pass the national blood transfusion Bill into law? Why is it that in Nigeria, demand for a most critical equipment in emergency diagnosis like Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, amounts to asking for the moon to be delivered in your bedroom.
What will it take to recapitalise the insurance sector to equip them with the finance to deepen penetration and also indemnify those in trauma promptly? Why can’t we introduce trauma care into our education curriculum? Why is it so difficult launching and sustaining a public/media awareness campaign for at least a year on what persons who find themselves in accident scenes should do to mitigate casualties? Is it that we are too poor to fund such a campaign? Will it be too much asking the government to provide air ambulances to evacuate accident victims (Nigerian citizens) from remote locations or traffic gridlock for medical emergencies? In fact, there are too many why’s that space can’t permit their listing; it shows we are far from coming out of the woods. As I listened to some of the orthopedics and doctors in emergency management speak at the TCIF conference, my bowels kept swelling with the excitement that we have the brains to fix our trauma challenges. So it is not essentially a problem with the human expertise. And certainly not a problem with opinions or theories. That is one of the lessons I took away from the programme. But I also learnt a second lesson: the will to see through challanges as exemplified by TCIF.
TCIF has provided that example through programmes like the child safety awareness campaign, voluntary blood donation initiative, basic emergency response training, as well as radio and TV shows, and various endowment projects geared at saving the life’s of trauma persons. It even set a Guinness World record in June 2018 through its blood donation campaign where 3, 410 signed up to donate blood within eight hours at multiple venues.
Because physical injuries are, undoubtedly, inexorably intertwined with mental health – both direct victims, relatives, friends, and dependents become casualties too – it behooves on all the persons, government agencies, patastatal, NGOs, legislators, donor agencies to form the right synergy to curb accidents and trauma in the country. Like the old saying goes “where there is a will, there is a way.”
Ikpa writes from Lagos