Recently, a harrowing narration of the failure of our healthcare system made the rounds.
There are several versions adapted for circumstances and geography. As a journalist, one is usually sceptical of such stories; there was no second name of the purported victim to enable closer scrutiny; the was no ‘address’ of victim; there was no first-person narrative of a relative; there was no reference to any medical personnel encountered in all hospitals visited. Then, significantly, there was no video corroborative testimony and, as far as can be determined, no immediate reaction from any of the establishments.
But having said (or written) that, the narrative made lots of sense because it rang so true and commended itself to all of us in this time of COVID-19. Of the versions seen, it seems the original is the one titled “How Suspected COVID-19 Patient Rejected By Six Different Hospitals Died” by one Afolabi Hakim on https://ekohotblog.com/2020/06/29/how-suspected-covid-19-patients-rejected-by-six-different-hospitals-died/ on Jun 29, 2020. Hakim’s version was addressed ‘To all those who will be sick eventually’ and ran thus (edited for space):
“Uncle Emeka died by 2.30 am on June 23, barely three days after his 67th birthday. He died while seated behind a car taking him to yet another hospital in Abuja. But his march to Calvary began around 11 am on that particular day. He complained of chest pain and weakness and asked to be taken to the hospital. A friend who had come to visit was luckily there and offered to drive him the few kilometres to Garki Hospital.
“So Uncle Emeka and his wife were driven to the hospital. But Garki Hospital rejected them and even when he complained that he was getting weaker. They asked him to go and do a COVID-19 test. He called the FCT hotlines which were either switched off or not answered. Several relatives spread out in different states kept calling these numbers without luck. At the International Conference Center which housed the COVID Test Center, Uncle Emeka was told that the staff had gone on strike because the government refused to pay them. He was directed to Asokoro General Hospital. There again he was turned away.
“Uncle Emeka decided to brave the 60 kilometres from Asokoro to Gwagwalada Teaching Hospital. His breathing was becoming shallow but he held on. At Gwagwalada he was informed that there was no bed space. It happens that lack of bed space is another way of saying, we will not treat you, we will not save you. Now scared about the dwindling state of Uncle Emeka, his friend sped back another 50 kilometres to the National Hospital. There they checked his temperature and remarked that he needed to be put on oxygen. However, they could not treat him because (again) there was no space.
“Uncle Emeka was driven to Gwarimpa, to Federal Medical Center, to the Turkish Hospital, to Nisa Premier. In all these hospitals, there were doctors but he was refused treatment. By 12am Uncle Emeka was already tired; his eyes closed, his breathing shallower. His wife had started crying, her voice hoarse from begging for her husband’s life at each hospital. She could not understand the callousness of the medical professionals who would shrug and turn away a patient who needed immediate help.
“But have we not been regaled by news of how Nigeria is spending billions on COVID-19 treatment? But the reality, as Uncle Emeka was to find out that day, fighting for his life in that car, was far from what was advertised. Where are the billions actually going? As Uncle Emeka made his painful journey to Calvary, his chest tight and his breathing laboured, he found out that the FCT numbers rang out without answers. He realized that the FCT at some point would switch off their so-called hotlines.
“It must have been painful to realize that everything touted about government’s readiness was a big fraud. You see, the hospitals were not sure whether he had COVID-19. His history of hypertension could mean that he was having a heart attack. But these hospitals did not give him a chance. They were all a part of the culture of callousness and impunity that murdered a man who should not have died.
“You may ask, dear reader, how this concerns you. After all, you have never met Uncle Emeka or his family who have been treated so unjustly. But Uncle Emeka is all of us. Or he will be soon enough. For when you eventually fall sick in Nigeria, and at these times, you will receive the same treatment he got. I hope that your Calvary does not end as his did. He breathed his last tired and knowing that there was no hope.
“For you, for us, there may still be hope. Can we for once shake off this docility and ask where the money budgeted for COVID-19 is going? Can we ask all the medical professionals on duty at these hospitals why Uncle Emeka was not treated?”
This story eerily reminds one of the demise four years ago of a journalist colleague and one-time NUJ FCT Chairman, Chuks Ehirim, long before COVID-19. “Chucks Ehirim’s Death and the Challenge of Nigerian Media” by Samuel Ogundipe on www.premiumtimesng.com, dated June 27 2016, narrated how the Nigerian healthcare system fails us.
In the words of Mrs Ehirim and a friend: “He died from a lack of medical care. When his situation became worse, we struggled to source petrol to power the available vehicle and rushed him through a narrow, bumpy and unpaved 13-kilometre road from Pegi Village to the nearest hospital in Kuje. Upon arriving, we met attendants who told us the hospital was not running. But they did one thing unusual; they accepted to give him medication to stabilise him before giving us papers to proceed to National Hospital.”
“We quickly reminded them that the National Hospital was on strike, but they said we should proceed because they have a different policy there. At this point, Chuk’s wheezing had worsened as we took off for the National Hospital. After driving almost 40 kilometres, it turned out Nigeria’s flagship medical facility was deserted.
“After waiting hours trying to decide what to do next, we opted for a private hospital. It was already 5 pm. We arrived at Garki Hospital and the doctors went to work immediately without demanding money first. We felt lucky. But that feeling was short-lived as Chuks succumbed to his illness just before midnight.”
Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un! From Allah we come, and to Him we shall return! May Allah preserve our health.