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Save the teaching hospitals

Isaac Adewole
Health minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole.

An  investigative story published by Daily Trust last week showed that university teaching hospitals across the country are in a very poor state. Their problems range from obsolete facilities to broken infrastructure, poor electricity supply and inadequate funding. Patients scramble to pay the huge medical bills, even as they have to stay for days to be able to consult a physician. In many cases, laboratory and other medical facilities for treatment of cancer, kidney and brain are either obsolete or dilapidated. The report also showed that the hospitals are overwhelmed by patients, which affects their core mandate of training health professionals.

Since its publication, the report has generated reactions from Nigerians. A day after it was published, the Senate ordered a probe into the matter based on a motion sponsored by Senator David Umaru of Niger. It  mandated its committee on health to conduct an emergency hearing on the state of healthcare services in Nigerian teaching hospitals and report back within one week. The Senate also resolved to summon Minister of Health Prof Isaac Adewole to brief it on the current state of facilities and healthcare services in the teaching hospitals. Senators equally urged the federal government to adopt a policy on subsidising the medical expenses of patients with ailments such as cancer and kidney failure.

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The situation with the teaching hospitals is a reflection of the general state of health care in Nigeria. Sights at hospitals have become an embarrassment to the country. Ordinarily, teaching hospitals should not be the first port of call for someone who is ill. They are supposed to attend to ailments that have defied solution at primary health care centers and general hospitals. They are also meant to train doctors and other health personnel. Sadly, that is no longer the case because of the poor state of other government owned medical facilities. Due to their lack of equipment and qualified personnel, people now throng the teaching hospitals for even the simplest ailment, thereby putting pressure on their  facilities and staff. As a result, teaching hospitals deviate from their core mandate, which is why we now have inadequate and poorly trained medical doctors.

We commend the Senate for stepping into the matter as quickly as it did, but we urge that the report of its investigation does not end up on dusty shelves. This issue is crucial as it deals directly with lives and the future of health care in Nigeria. It is imperative for teaching hospitals to go back to their core mandate of training health personnel, but we cannot achieve that if the primary health care centers and general hospitals remain in poor condition. It is only when they are well equipped to take care of patients that the pressure on teaching hospitals will reduce.

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Time after time handlers of ministries or those in charge of certain sectors have complained of problems bedevilling their sectors. But that is not good enough; it is time to go beyond lamentation. They must think out of the box and proffer solutions to the problems. Government needs to prioritise health and if necessary declare a state of emergency in that sector. The teaching hospitals are supposed to be the last hope, where researches are carried out and solutions to very serious illnesses are proffered. If they remain in such poor state, then there is virtually no hope for the majority of Nigerians who do not have the means to seek health care abroad.

The decay in the health sector started from the primary health care centers, then moved to the general hospitals and it has now permeated the teaching hospitals. The authorities must not allow this trend to continue. All stakeholders must rise to the occasion. Budgetary allocation to the health sector should be reviewed and all contracts for purchase of equipment and construction of health facilities should be monitored to  ensure that  they are up to standard. We must save the teaching hospitals.

 

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