“Should we buy a rechargeable fan?” I asked my wife, the patient.
The hospital had suffered a power cut again. The heat in the room was unbearable. My wife has been here since yesterday.
The silliness of my solution asserted itself when someone pointed out that we had to charge the rechargeable fan for at least 14 hours before using it. We needed a short-term solution.
Then I thought of another one. I learned during the day that the hospital had a generator. Could we fuel it? Yes, we could, the nurses told us. While we were arranging to light up the hospital, someone drew my attention to the situation of a woman in labour in another room. Armed only with a torch, the medical personnel probed and prodded, while the woman, legs stretched widely, sweated in darkness. Is this how we treat human lives so casually in this country?How much would it cost to use solar panels to light at least the bulbs and fans? I asked no one in particular.
As we went to hunt for petrol, my brother in-law told me that he once took the son of his security man (maigadi) to a hospital in Minna after the boy fell and was losing a lot blood.
Obviously this was an emergency case. But they ignored him. “I was disturbed that the nurses were astonished that I sought urgent attention for the boy,” he said. “’Don’t be so concerned, this is a simple matter,’ they told me as they continued to ignore us. By this time, the boy was bleeding from all over.”
As he told me this story, I remember reading somewhere that 75 percent of our body is water and even a drop of 10 percent can lead to the shutdown of the system and death. The nurses and doctors certainly knew this basic fact?
“If they did, they didn’t care!” My in-law said. “I had to call someone who called the commissioner of health to intervene. It was then that they rushed to treat him as if they had just discovered the boy. I’m a lawyer and they did this to me. Imagine what they do to the poor masses who, for reasons of power distance, fear and ignorance can’t complain.
“Actually, you don’t have to imagine. Let me tell you how they shafted one poor guy who came in with a deep cut in his neck, which was said to have been left there by a Fulani man. The man came to the hospital at 8pm, but didn’t receive treatment until 2am; after, and I witnessed this, his family bribed the doctor! I saw how they stitched the guy up at three different layers. How he survived that long was a miracle. This was at a public hospital. “
There’s also the disturbing trend of nurses trading in hospital supplies including medicine, from their car boots, a cousin told me. Now, car boots are not the ideal environment to store medicine, which usually needs “cool dry place.” The boot of a car, in our hot environment, is more like an oven. But the nurses are not exactly overburdened with this reality. “Actually, the medical staff rummaged through their stock and sell you what they have, not what you need. Irrespective of the doctor’s prescription. And the doctors know this!” Someone told me of his experience.
The medicine, I’m told, is meant for the patient. But the staff share them among themselves and then sell to the public. Why the Federal Ministry of Health has not set up a whistle blowing programme for the people to confidentially report these cases is beyond me. Actually, the ministry of health in the states can randomly go to the hospitals and ask the nurses to open their car boots.
Regarding our hospitals, every Nigerian has a sad story to tell. For example, I lost my only sister to childbirth in Kaduna, because she was allowed to lose a lot of blood.
Fortunately, the many problems in the health sector in Nigeria are matched by the determination of the new government. The Federal Government is already planning to resuscitate about 4,000 primary healthcare centers (PHCs) across the country.
This is a good move. The focus on the ongoing incremental rehabilitation of the PHCs must not waver. Functionaries in the health ministry must then monitor and evaluate the PHCs like crazy, because experts say 80% of our healthcare need is primary healthcare.
They should also fashion a way for Nigerians to report the atrocious dealings of medical personnel.
But most importantly, the focus on the PHCs would reduce maternal mortality. In Nigeria, maternal deaths account for 32 percent of all deaths among women age15-49, according to Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) 2013. What this means is that if 100 women in this age group died last month, 32 of them died due to child-bearing related illnesses.
Many things kill women: accidents, cancer, AIDS, natural disasters, wars, etc. But when only one cause of death takes up to 32% of their lives, every government must sit up and do something.
In a column titled: “Why and how we kill our mothers,” I wrote:
“That was why more than 10 years ago, in 2004, Nigeria released a policy called National Policy for Sustainable Development with the objective of improving ‘the quality of life and standard of living of the Nigerian population.’ (NPC, 2004).
Specifically, it wanted to:
Reduce the infant mortality rate to 35 per 1,000 live births by 2015
Reduce the child mortality rate to 45 per 1,000 live births by 2010
Reduce the maternal mortality ratio to 125 per 100,000 live births by 2010 and to 75 by 2015
Unfortunately, we must lower our heads in shame because if NDHS 2013 is an indication, we’re nowhere near achieving these targets. For example, we wanted to reduce “the maternal mortality ratio to 125 per 100,000 live births by 2010” but it was 576 in 2013!”
As for my wife, when she was discharged from the hospital, she had to go to another one the same day because of complications resulting from the treatment she received at the first hospital. We can survive mechanics who fix our vehicles by damaging other parts. But when our medical personnel adopt the same work ethics, we are in deep trouble.