Medical meltdown – The Nation

  • Nigerian healthcare is seriously ill

The fact that Nigeria’s health system is in dire straits has been reinforced by the recent publication of a damning report issued by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

Titled “Failing Healthcare: How Federal Hospitals are Letting Down the Poor and Making Healthcare a Privilege Rather than a Right,” the 53-page report is a comprehensive indictment of three federally-owned medical institutions located in Lagos, namely, the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi (NOHIL) and the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Ebute-Metta.

It is a sorry tale of non-functioning and obsolete equipment, critical shortages of medical consumables and supplies, overcrowded wards and waiting rooms, and widespread disillusionment in heavily-overworked staff. Work is hampered by intermittent power and water supply, insufficient personnel, and a lack of administrative and political commitment to improving the situation in the short and long-term.

As if this was not bad enough, the medical challenges in Lagos State were aggravated when medical and dental consultants at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) went on strike.

The four medical facilities are the largest and supposedly best-equipped in Nigeria’s richest and most populous state. If they have to struggle with problems as deep-rooted as these, what other hospitals elsewhere in the country will be going through does not bear thinking about. Although FMC, Ebute-Metta, has described the SERAP report as unbalanced, the point remains that the hospital is not as good as it was many years ago.

What makes the situation particularly distressing is that these public hospitals are the first line of defence in the war against disease in Nigeria, and this irrefutable evidence of their inability to carry out their functions effectively has grave implications for the quality of life in the country.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nigeria had a life expectancy at birth of 55 years for males and 56 years for females as at 2016. It has one of the highest child and maternal mortality rates in the world. Plagued by inefficient social infrastructure, the country regularly battles outbreaks of malaria, cholera and other eminently preventable diseases. In effect, its hospitals have a lot of work to do if Nigeria is to become a healthier place.

The Federal Government must take the lead in turning the country’s lamentable health situation around. In this respect, it is tragic that nothing appears to have been learnt from the disgraceful revelations surrounding the Aso Rock Clinic in 2016 and 2017. It was found that the clinic lacked basic drugs and a functional x-ray machine in spite of a budget provision in excess of N3 billion annually for drugs.

This scandal should have provided the opportunity for the Federal Ministry of Health to ensure that inefficiencies in the nation’s drug-procurement policy were fully addressed, along with issues bedevilling the supply and maintenance of medical equipment and facilities. However, it seems that nothing substantive was done to redeem the situation.

It cannot continue. The penchant for politically-exposed persons to seek medical attention outside Nigeria has focused public attention on the country’s healthcare to a greater degree than before. Non-governmental organisations like SERAP are stepping up pressure on governments to live up to their obligations to the citizenry.

More funds must be pumped into the health sector, and spent properly. Instead of wasting money on building new hospitals that are essentially white elephants which quickly fall into disuse, state and federal governments must focus on rehabilitating and expanding already-existing facilities like LUTH, NOHIL and the FMCs scattered across the country. In spite of the increasing importance of private hospitals, they still offer the critical combination of size, skill, service and cost that is unmatched anywhere else.

The procurement of equipment, drugs and other consumables must be streamlined in such a way that costs are lowered. Instead of isolated acquisitions by hospitals, for example, it should be possible to enter into bulk-purchase agreements with drug-makers and equipment suppliers for all the federal or state-owned hospitals in a state or geopolitical zone. This would have the effect of reducing costs, effectively tracking supplies and substantially eliminating corruption.

SERAP has done well to expose issues that no one was prepared to discuss. It is now up to state and federal governments to see that they are dealt with decisively.

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