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ABU Teaching Hospital: Where patients contribute money to fix broken facilities

Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Zaria, the largest tertiary health facility in northern Nigeria, is supposed to provide succour for citizens with complicated medical challenges. Daily Trust on Sunday report shows that the hospital is bedevilled by many setbacks.
Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Zaria, the largest tertiary health facility in northern Nigeria, is supposed to provide succour for citizens with complicated medical challenges. Daily Trust on Sunday report shows that the hospital is bedevilled by many setbacks.

Many Nigerians have voiced out their concern on the present deplorable condition of the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Zaria. The fact that northern Nigeria has the highest population in the country makes the hospital vital to the lives of the people of the region, as most major complex cases are often referred there for solution.

Recent testimony of the Chief Medical Director of the hospital, Professor Lawal Khalid, showed that despite the challenges facing the hospital, it receives thousands of in and out patients monthly. This buttressed the importance of the facility to Nigerians, especially residents of its catchment areas.

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However, the not-so-good tales emerging from the hospital leave much to be desired. Accounts of patients, doctors, nurses and other staff of the hospital indicate that this important health facility is gradually becoming a ghost of its former self.

Findings by the Daily Trust on Sunday show that most departments, wards and other units of the hospital are now in deplorable condition.

The sad countenance of Abdulgaffar Sunusi was infectious. He was discharged from the ABUTH’s orthopaedics ward after a successful operation to change one of his damaged bones.

He narrated his ordeals to Daily Trust on Sunday, while on admission at the hospital. According to Sunusi, condition of the ABUTH was so bad to the level that patients had to contribute money to repair some of the electrical appliances in the wards.

He said: “The fan in our ward was not working and you know the serious heat that Zaria is experiencing now. Wallahi (I swear to Allah), we contributed money to repair the fans in the ward. The electrician in charge of the ward told us that there was nothing he could do, as there were no parts in their store for repairs of faulty electrical appliances. So, things are so bad at ABUTH.

“Almost everybody is complaining in the hospital. When you have interaction with doctors and nurses, one can be moved to tears. For example, some of the nurses told us that before this time, they used to have drugs at their stations for emergency cases, but now even syringes are not available. Patients have to buy everything no matter the condition. Trauma cases now lead to deaths in ABUTH, because some people would be brought without relatives to foot their bills and there is no provision of any sort by the hospital. They would tell you that they have complained to the level of resigning to fate.”

Similarly, a lady that was recently delivered of a baby in the hospital corroborated the experiences of Sunusi.

“Honestly, it reached a point where I was praying seriously to be discharged because of the horrible condition I found myself. You know the labour ward is one of the areas that require special attention, but we had to contribute money to buy detergents and other toiletries to take care of the conveniences.

“Our relatives washed the toilets. One could not sleep in the night, as the fans were not working even when there was light and in the labour wards windows are restricted. I think something needs to be done urgently otherwise this place is gradually becoming a ‘death centre’ not a hospital.”

A staff who pleaded anonymity said he had spent 24 months working without salary.

He added: “I am a cleaner. I have not been paid in the past 24 months. Our services were outsourced and the management is saying that they have not received money to pay our monthly stipends. The issue of our wages has contributed to the deterioration of conveniences and the general environment of ABUTH.”

A technical staff of the hospital said he was recently moved by the death of a young boy who happened to be a son of one of the top doctors of the hospital.

“The boy was admitted at the paediatric ward. The fans in the ward were not working for a long time. So, when the boy was admitted, one of our technicians was immediately called to repair the fans because of that particular boy. We were wondering that they wanted the fans to work because of their son.

“We couldn’t fix the fans and this doctor brought in a standing fan specifically for his son. I asked myself why they left the hospital to deteriorate knowing that they may be victims one day. Unfortunately, the boy died. This is the danger of mismanagement. It affects all and sundry.”

The president of Resident Doctors, ABUTH chapter, Dr. Bilkisu Muhammad, said despite the fact that most tertiary hospitals were facing challenges worse than those of ABUTH, things have deteriorated to the level that insecurity is now a major challenge at ABUTH.

She said the woes of the hospital were being compounded by the activities of thieves and burglars who often robbed patients, doctors and other staff of their belongings.

In an exclusive interview on the condition of the hospital, she said due to lack of attention, criminals were having a field day at federal tertiary hospitals.

She added: “The fact that I am the President of resident doctors of ABUTH means that I am in frequent conversation with colleagues from other similar facilities. What I have observed here is about the same thing across the country. The dilapidated state and decay in infrastructure is largely due to civil service manpower attitude. If you don’t interact with others, you will think that you have the worst situation.

“I was talking with the President of Calabar, he said they don’t have x-ray machine in their hospital. They send patients to private hospitals for ex-ray and you know that is the biggest hospital in the state and perhaps the South-South region. A few days ago, a trauma patient came in here in ABUTH and he is a staff. He needed x-ray and we had to get an ambulance and take him outside for x-ray.”

Dr. Bilkisu said the federal government needs to pay attention to tertiary hospitals across Nigeria, especially ABUTH.

She said the hospital has the largest catchment area with the highest population in Nigeria and this demands for infrastructural overhaul.

She added: “There is this issue of insecurity too in the ABUTH. You may recall that there was the decision to outsource some of the services in the hospital, including the security unit. People working with the private security company are poorly remunerated. Most of them have left the job; the few that are left are not motivated. This has led to security breaches in the hospital. Some of the properties of the hospital are being lost to theft. You have an equipment and you cannot see it again. Doctors who live within the hospital premises are not safe.

“Somebody went to work before he returned, his house was burgled. So, you are in your workplace and your mind is divided between the work and the safety of your house. Because of the reduction in the number of security manpower, we don’t have enough personnel to man the entrances of different wards where the patients are. As a result, patients’ belongings are being stolen. This therefore affects everybody in the hospital. One of my executives lost his phone in the Accident and Emergency unit. He was attending to a trauma case and his phone was stolen. It is that bad in ABUTH.”

When asked whether the problem facing ABUTH has anything to do with the incumbent Chief Medical Director’s decision to return huge unutilised money to the Federal Government early in his tenure, Dr. Bilkisu said that act ought to have attracted commendation.

“However, majority believed that that action led to the cut in the overhead and capital allocation for the hospital. But inadequate budgetary allocation is affecting all tertiary health facilities in Nigeria. Since there is yearly budget, even if one returns unutilized funds, his annual budget is what ought to have been considered. But as we know there are all kinds of dirty, shady deals that go on in the Nigerian civil service. Some people may prefer that that unutilized funds should be shared between them and the management,” she said.

Daily Trust on Sunday’s findings revealed that some complex cases that ABUTH should handle are now being referred to the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital. However, Dr. Aisha said, AKTH is surviving mainly on philanthropists contribution.

She added: “Information available to us shows that AKTH is enjoying some donations from the indigenes of Kano. This is why, I think, they have fewer problems with equipment and infrastructure. But I know they are having issues with the personnel, where they pay 60 per cent of salaries as that is what they get from the Federal Government.”

She said philanthropists can as well rescue ABUTH from its woes and this is why corporate organisations like Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) are now intervening in infrastructural development in the hospital.

She added: “the NNPC is building a bone centre here and work has reached advanced stage. I think if the pace is maintained, before the end of the year the place would be ready for use. Remember, ABUTH is supposed to be centre of excellence for oncology. We have resident doctors from University College Hospital on posting here. There is collaboration between the Federal Government and other organizations to increase the facility that is available on therapy. These structures are ongoing in the hospital.

“However, we could have done better. There is ongoing renovation in the hospital, especially in the wards. The plumbing works and sewages as well as fencing are being handled. These are areas where we have major breakdown. These are being done by philanthropists. The majority of the staff deserve commendation, especially doctors. Most times doctors go out of their way to perform their duties optimally.”

Investigation by Daily Trust on Sunday revealed that ABUTH is facing five major challenges that include inadequate power supply, malfunctioning or absence of essential machines, nonchalance of some consultants and professors towards their duties, unhygienic environment and decaying infrastructure.

Some of the facilities that cannot work without electricity include the lifts that take patients to and from wards and theatres, the theatre rooms, laboratories, scanning and other similar machines.

Many Nigerians have lost loved ones to power failure in the hospital. A victim of power outage at the hospital recently told Daily Trust on Sunday how his son, who was about to complete his NYSC, died due to power failure.

He said that the young man was involved in a fatal accident and as the only tertiary health facility in Zaria, and even Kaduna State, he was rushed there. At the time the doctors were supposed to administer some treatment that required the use of electricity, he said, light was not available.

Findings also revealed that things are worse in the hospital to the extent that even documentation sheets that doctors use in recording patient’s medical history of patients ailments are often not available.

Another disturbing trend, according to sources, is the attitude of some consultants and professors. It was discovered that these physicians that are supposed to be on duty every day, except when they are off, go as long as one month without reporting to the hospital.

“Consultants and professors are supposed to be supervising and teaching the lower cadre doctors, but some of them leave all the work for resident doctors. They are often attending to their patients at their private clinics or visiting other hospitals for money. Unless something is done quickly, ABUTH is on the verge of collapse,” a source said.

The hygienic condition of the hospital is another source of concern for patients and staff.

It was found that cleaners are grossly inadequate in the hospital and those available are being owed salaries for many months, as one of them said. This made service delivery ineffective and it is the reason wards and other structures of the hospital are in poor sanitary condition.

Responding to inquiries, the Chief Medical Director of the hospital, Professor Lawal Khalid, attributed most of the challenges facing the hospital to inadequate funding.

He said the hospital’s monthly electricity bill alone sometimes runs to about N11 million while the Federal Government gives only about N6 million for the entire overhead expenses of the hospital.

This, he said,  keeps the hospital management always on its knees, pleading with the management of the electricity company for understanding.

He added: “We resort to generators. Running a generator is also very expensive and this is why we owe diesel suppliers a lot of money. On the attitude of some physicians, people can report such personnel in writing to the management for necessary disciplinary action. Security and cleaners are part of the hospital’s personnel that were outsourced and for more than two and half years, the Federal Government has not paid their stipends.

“All these problems are not insurmountable, but one needs resources to be able to do that. We are not happy with what is happening, but sometimes we are helpless. However, we are doing our best and this is why we ensure that critical places like Accident and Emergency and theatres are always functional.”

Earlier this month, four professors were interviewed where one of them would be selected to replace Professor Khalid as his tenure is coming to an end. These are Professors Hamidu Ahmed, Bakari Adamu Girei, Mohammed Sani Shehu and Isma’il Dalhatu.

Two of them, Ahmed and Girei, told Daily Trust on Sunday in an interview about their readiness to tackle the challenges of the hospital head-on if appointed as CMD. It remains to be seen what the new CMD would do to change the situation.

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