Removing obstacles to gunshot victims’ treatment – Punch

Abuja branch of the Nigerian Medical Association has demanded police protection for its members who treat gunshot victims, especially armed robbers, in the wake of threats to their lives and those of their families. In addition to police harassment, it is a double whammy that the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, should address.

These concerns were expressed at a conference by the NMA local chapter recently. Philips Ekpe, the branch chairman, said, “By the time you report them to the police…we have a case where the robbers came back and wiped out the family.” He emphasised that, for these reasons, some doctors were reluctant to treat such patients. The law requires medical doctors to treat gunshot victims, but should report the case to the police within two hours of commencement of treatment.

No matter the difficulties faced, a doctor’s insistence on the presentation of a police report first is as unprofessional and degrading as the police harassing medical personnel for treating a gunshot victim. Victims of a gunshot, most often die from blood loss, rather than the injury itself. Jeffrey Kerby, a Surgeon at University of Alabama says, “Someone can bleed to death in five to eight minutes.” Such misconduct, therefore, exposes the victim to the danger of haemorrhaging to death. Besides, other doctors insist on cash deposits before they could proceed to handle such an emergency. These demands are wide of the mark in an emergency case as enshrined in The Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshots Act, 2017.

Reprisals by robbers against doctors are grave and should be treated accordingly by the authorities so that they don’t hide under such refuge to deny gunshot patients the right to life. At the same time, it is erroneous for the police to assume that every gunshot victim is an armed robber who might have escaped with injury.  In fact, most of such patients are victims of robbery attacks, police stray bullets and cult gun attacks. For instance, a 39-year old lady, Busayo Owoodun, in Ijegun, a suburb of Lagos, was hit by a police stray bullet at the balcony of her family house recently, while shepherding her children into the room. She could have been rushed to a hospital for treatment had the shot not been fatal. In their attempt to arrest suspected internet fraudsters, the police shot indiscriminately and killed her in the process. This is certainly how not to conduct such operation.

Even before the law came into force, government and police hierarchies had several times warned hospitals not to reject gunshot patients and for the police not to harass hospitals under such emergency situations. Doctors’ abnegation of their responsibilities was why Christopher Ojiaka, shot in Port Harcourt, died in November 2017 and Saka Saula, a former chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, Lagos State chapter, in 2008, also died in similar circumstances. It is unfortunate that the law has not been able to curb these tendencies.

It is inhuman and degrading for lives to be lost avoidably, contrary to Section 33 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantees the right to life. No one, the constitution emphasises, shall be deprived of it, save in the execution of capital offence. Apart from the constitution, The National Health Act 2014, in Section 20, states partly: “A healthcare provider, health worker or health establishment shall not refuse a person on emergency medical treatment for any reason. An offender is liable to a fine of N100,000, a jail term of six months or both upon conviction.”

For doctors, whose concern is profit first, as in the case that involved a Lagos hospital, which demanded a deposit of N1.5 million when one Benedict Azubike, victim of a stray bullet from drunken policemen in 2017, was taken there, they need to be reminded of their Hippocratic Oath once more.

Legal actions should be instituted against hospitals that indulge in this mala fide. Human rights lawyers and non-profit organisations should come to the aid of families of victims who are less privileged in pursuing such cases. A law that underscores the sanctity and dignity of life should be enforced by all means. Human life here should be valued the way it is done in other civilised societies. In the wake of the upsurge in knife and gun violence in the United Kingdom, civil rights activists and the police in 2007 pressed for a change of attitude from medical officials to emergencies. “The patient should remain the medical team’s prime concern at all times and the police’s arrival should not be allowed to delay or hamper treatment or compromise the patient’s recovery. The healthcare team and the police must abide by this decision,” said the UK General Medical Council.

Anybody could be a victim. The attitude of the NMA members should be – save life first – just as the police should give the doctors protection as they discharge this sacred duty.

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