THe recent lamentation of the South-East caucus of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) over the poor state of medical equipment at public hospitals in the Eastern part of the country rings familiar. The dearth of critical medical equipment at virtually all government hospitals in the country is a big problem that Nigerians have been complaining about for many years now.
Dr. Udu Chijioke, leader of the South-East NARD, revealed that people who live in the South-East are forced to travel long distances to other zones, particularly Lagos, to get medical attention. He regretted that despite the existence of ten tertiary health institutions in the zone, patients have to depend on a few private institutions to get medium level investigations such as Computed Tomography scans (CT-scans) and Magnetic Resonance Imagings (MRIs) done, because the requisite diagnostic equipment in the public health facilities are either in poor working condition or completely outdated.
This sorry state of public health facilities in the South-East is the same in most parts of the country. Why have we, as a nation, got it so wrong in the health sector? The truth of the matter is that the situation of health facilities in Nigeria reflects the abdication of responsibility by successive governments
at all levels in the country. This is why today, medical tourism to countries like India is taking huge sums in foreign exchange from Nigeria. Many Nigerians who can afford to travel out for medicare do so, while those who cannot are left to grapple with the poor equipment and services in our public hospitals, sometimes dying in the process.
It leads us to ask: What happened to our much-advertised medical “Centres of Excellence” scheme? We recall that during the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration, a lot of money was budgeted to equip some of our teaching hospitals. One tertiary health institution from each of the six geo-political zones was to be properly equipped under the scheme. But, the sad reality is that most of these hospitals have become places of daily, harrowing experiences for patients who are forced to use them.
Successive state and federal governments have only paid lip-service to healthcare, assigning single digit percentages to health in their budgets. There may be a few exemptions, which are too few and far between to mitigate the dire situation in healthcare. It is unfortunate that our governments refuse to prioritise and properly fund healthcare. Do these governments know the true import of the saying: health is wealth?
If they do, they would commit more national, state and local council resources to health. The local health centres, general and teaching hospitals, and the so-called Centres of Excellence would be adequately spread throughout the country and equipped to deliver affordable and efficient services to the citizenry.
It is a fact that some of the best medical personnel in the world are Nigerians in the Diaspora, who were forced to leave our shores for greener pastures abroad. So, why can’t our government provide the enabling environment they require to work here, to improve the quality of service in our hospitals? This would be a win-win situation for the country and these doctors.
To redress the underfunding of healthcare in the country, the federal budget for the sector should be increased to between 15-20 percent of the total package. There is a lot to gain in proper funding of this sector. Good hospitals will not only improve healthcare delivery in the country, they can also be a big source of foreign exchange as many countries, such as India, have demonstrated.
Provision of adequate healthcare and quality universal education offers responsible nations and their citizens the best way out of poverty, disease and underdevelopment. Let the government listen to the cries of the people on the need to properly fund and equip public hospitals. The relevant authorities should do what is needful to improve the quality of service in these hospitals in the best interest of our beleaguered citizens.