Few days ago at the press briefing of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, complained about the poor hospital attendance by pregnant women, nursing mothers and outpatients, as revealed by recent official statistics. Hospital visits by these categories of patients have reportedly reduced by 50 per cent while immunization services have equally reduced by half. While the government’s statistics may have down played the reality on the ground, the minister has made an important observation which is no less concerning. Nonetheless, Dr. Ehanire’s observation should not be interpreted to mean that pregnant women, nursing mothers and the sick are deliberately shunning hospitals. The bitter truth is that since the Covid-19 problem started, many people have died because hospitals refused to attend to them, not because they failed to approach the hospitals.
It is a common spectacle to see nurses running away from sick people because they assume the patients have coronavirus. The rate of rejection is so alarming that questions are being asked as to whether people could no longer fall sick or whether every ailment necessarily has something to do with coronavirus. There is a litany of reports of sick people being left to their fate. Sadly, too, many patients died on their way to the different hospitals they were referred to by operators of medical facilities who were unwilling to attend to them. Even government hospitals whose owners have a duty of care to the public are rejecting patients. Somehow, Covid-19, in a sense, has engendered a ‘crowding out effect’ by ensuring that medical attention is almost wholly focused on fighting it at the expense of other ailments and routine medical services. Sadly, while significant mileage is yet to be covered in the battle against coronavirus, the virtually abandoned/neglected medical services that are not directly related to Covid-19 have started to exact a huge price in terms of human tolls, increasing deterioration in the health of many citizens and the inevitable but yet undetermined future health consequences of failure to carry out certain sensitive medical services such as immunization. It is therefore crucial that stakeholders in the health sector do something urgently to stop the unwholesome practice of health workers refusing to attend to the sick.
The practice is clearly at variance with the Hippocratic Oath of the medical officers. Hospitals, rather than rejecting patients, should ensure strict observance of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) protocols and guidelines in attending to patients. For starters, all hospitals should provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for their workers and in this regard, it would not be out of place for the NCDC to provide some hospitals, especially private medical facilities, with official support in this regard. Certainly, one of the unintended consequences of the current coronavirus epidemic in the country is the general fear of the virus to the extent that everybody is taking precautions not to come in contact with anybody infected with the virus. This fear has become so pronounced as to also overcome the hospital setting where many sick people are being systematically rejected for fear of having Covid-19 even without any test confirming that. This is really unfortunate and clearly unhelpful.
No one is saying the fear is totally unfounded or that health workers should not be careful in exposing themselves to patients or sick people, especially against the backdrop of inadequate PPE that could ensure that the frontline health workers are protected from infections. But this should not be to the extent of not wanting to see or attend to any sick person at all. Otherwise; it would just be a matter of time before the whole edifice of medical system collapses if the sick are left to their own devices with no viable prospect of overcoming their illnesses. Even in cases where the patients have coronavirus infection, not attending to them can only exacerbate the community transmission of the virus, which is already worrisome.
Besides, if the NCDC and the hospitals in the country work in synergy, these hospitals could even serve as another avenue for the NCDC to zero in on those who have coronavirus infection. But when patients are rejected by hospitals as is the current practice, chances are that some of those rejected are Covid-19 patients who may never visit NCDC testing centres. Consequently, even if it will require official assistance to the private hospitals that may need it, it has become expedient to provide all frontline heath workers in the land with the type of PPE suitable for Covid-19 health officials. That way, they can attend to every sick person without fear of being infected with Covid-19. And if preliminary test on any patient reveals coronavirus infection, the hospital should contact the NCDC immediately or better still, arrange to take the patient to the NCDC testing centre and get paid for the services rendered up to that point. And that will be a win-win situation for the system and the parties involved. Health workers should be protected from any infection through the provision of adequate and suitable PPE while they, in turn, should continue to attend to the sick as part of their professional commitment to helping the sick to get better.