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Treating gunshot patients

The signing of the bill into law on gunshot wound victims to be treated without police report by President Muhammadu Buhari is a welcome development to an issue that has been intractable for decades leading to unnecessary loss of lives and bitterness among the innocent victims’ relatives. With the signing of the bill, entitled Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act, 2017 medical workers are now free to treat victims of gunshot without waiting for a police report.

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Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters [Senate] Ita Enang said the Gunshot Act specifically stipulated that a person with gunshot should be received for immediate and adequate treatment by any hospital in Nigeria with or without an initial monetary deposit.

“Furthermore, a person with gunshot wound shall not be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment or torture by any person or authority, including the police and other security agencies,” he said.

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Over the years, people with gunshot wounds were taken to hospitals and they were often refused treatment until police were called in. The general assumption was that anyone who turned up at a hospital with gunshot wound is likely to be an armed robber or other criminal. This was a baseless assumption indeed because with so many armed criminals around, it is much more likely that a person with gunshot wound is one of their victims, not one of the criminals. Even if the victim is a criminal, it would be better to commence treatment, given the emergency nature of bullet wounds, and then inform the police to come over while the treatment is going on. This way he could provide useful information that may save the society, instead of allowing him to die, thus aggravating the situation. Many criminals have died this way taking vital information to their graves.

However the signing of the bill into law is more imperative now because there are all kinds of crime and with the proliferation of small arms in the country nobody is really safe as anybody could fall victim of gunshots. In a place where kidnapping, cult war, robbery and militancy thrive among others, it would be devastating for hospitals to reject victims with gunshot wounds.

Signing the bill into law is not the end of the matter. It also needs rigorous publicity on television and radio to counter the pervious dictate of ‘no police report, no treatment’ by hospitals which have been ingrained into people’s minds.  The issue of depositing money before treatment as is common in our hospitals even in fatal cases seems to have been addressed in this case, as emphasised by Ita Enang. Therefore hospitals have no excuse that money has not been deposited and they allow the victim to die. After all the people that have taken him to the hospital might not have known him from Adam. Even where relatives take the victim to the hospital, in such an emergency situation where the saving of his life is paramount, getting money out of the situation should be the least concern for now. They could always get it after the patient is stabilised. 

We therefore appeal to hospital managements and medical workers to comply with this law and enlighten their casualty units where the gunshot wound patients are taken to as well as others that would demand payment. All monetary claims should be settled later. The Ministry of Health and Local Government Health Departments should also map out how to go about educating health personnel on this law.

The government should ensure strict compliance by the hospitals by encouraging people to report to the authorities any hospital that rejects a gunshot victim. Sanctions should also apply where a hospital is found to breach the law. It is a matter of life and death.

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