You go in for severe headache. Without checking your pulse, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature; without taking fluid samples and testing them, they diagnose you with Typhoid fever. They don’t even ask for your medical history! They prescribe you medications for Typhoid fever when, in fact, you are suffering from hypertension. You pick up the medication at the pharmacy they set up just outside the hospital…their own private pharmacy which they set up with medications they stole from government hospital. On your way home, you slump over the steering wheel and die of heart attack. Your family superstitiously blames your death on jealous family members; that subordinate of yours at the office who wanted your job; or that neighbor that cursed you out the other day for parking in his spot. Or they blame it on God.
That is the horror that ordinary Nigerians go through daily in the name of healthcare delivery. I had thought that with our much-vaunted #Change government, we would have, by now, emplaced a radical plan (if not real action) to move our healthcare delivery system from the Medieval Ages, into, at least, the 17th century. That is why I was miffed when the wife of the sitting #Change president recently criticized the administrators of Aso Rock Clinic, and by extension the entire Ministry of Health, for lack of basic medical amenities and medicines. I had to wonder if she cleared the criticism first before leaving “za aza room”. Or did she just have an epiphany and went rogue?
And to my surprise, quite a number of commentators were falling over each other praising Mrs. Aisha Buhari for having the courage to come out and say openly what nobody else that worked or lived in that Villa in the past ever had the cojones to say; which is that we appropriated multibillion naira to that clinic and there is no guarantee that even Mr. President can get ordinary analgesics there if he gets a headache. What this volunteer army of Buhari sycophants working itself into frenzied apotheosis fail to understand is that Mrs. Buhari and President Buhari are not in the Opposition. They are in government. While it may be a smart thing to conduct self-evaluation for the purpose of identifying deficiencies and fixing them, you can’t be in government, especially at the very top of that government, and blame your employees for not doing what they are supposed to do? You fix the problem. If the wife of the president is wringing her hands helplessly and hopelessly, what should ordinary folks do? To whom should they complain?
I would think that the day Mrs. Buhari discovered that the Villa clinic had just one X-Ray machine and it was non-functional; that the only ambulance there was down because it didn’t have fuel, and that the place lacked common cotton wool and syringes, should have been the day she briefed her husband. The President should have called the Minister of Health over, invited the press, and together, do a walkthrough of the clinic. After identifying all the shameful lapses, the President should have ordered the Minister to conduct similar walkthroughs of all the University Teaching Hospitals owned by the federal government and report back to him in no more than a month. That’s what an Action leader would do.
If he did that, the President would have found out that our healthcare system had no system…no order, no method. It is in total shambles. He would have found out that our hospitals are filled with apathetic medical doctors to whom the Hippocratic Oath is alien. They don’t come to work on time. When they eventually show up, they are not gentle, not caring and they are disrespectful to the patients. Even if they come to work and want to treat their patients with dignity, they lack some of the most basic equipment needed to do their job the way they are trained. On top of not having equipment, they are owed months and months of salaries. Mr. President would have found out that, because of the need to eke out a living, these doctors and their cousins - nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists, etc - now cut corners. And while it may be okay to cut corners when fixing yourself a sandwich, you should never cut corners when dealing with human lives.
If Mrs. Buhari really wants to come after my heart, she needs to take a tour of some Federal government-owned hospitals (unannounced and incognito, if possible) and pay particular attention to Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN) sections. She will be alarmed to discover how many young women, in their mid-20s to late-30s, routinely die from childbirth; many of them their first child. Of course, women die from childbirth all over the world, including even in the United States. But not at the rate we see in Nigeria. It is sad to see that in this day and age (and due to a fatal combination of lack of training, experience, equipment or even dedication to duty), our doctors fail, for example, to diagnose women whose cervixes aren’t good enough to undergo the rigors of natural birth. They leave these women to labor for hours and hours, some even for days, leading to the death of either the baby, or the mother, or both. Mrs. Buhari will be mortified to learn how many women die from fibroids removals, which are almost routine surgeries in some parts of the world. And again, the hapless family blames such preventable deaths on all sorts of reasons except the real one – absence of a systematic healthcare system.
As a country, we have a decision to make: either governments (Federal, State and Local) continue to underfund government-owned hospitals and medical centers or they get out, become facilitators for private entities that want to run health centers and maintain overall regulatory oversight over the sector. I will opt for the latter. And this is why:
Recently, a Nigerian friend who resides in the US called me and asked that I enquire for him about a particular hospital in Ghana. The hospital - FOCOS Orthopedic Hospital – was supposed to be based just outside Accra and it specialized in the correction of spinal curvature. Spinal Curvature? I had never heard of such an ailment, let alone know how common it was. Naturally, my first question to him was who needed to come to Ghana. It turned out to be him. I did a search on the internet, pulled up a map and drove up there. I was pleasantly surprised at what I saw. The hospital is tucked away from the main road leading to Aburi…yes, the same Aburi where Gowon and Ojukwu met to try and avoid our civil war. FOCOS sits on a relatively large expanse of land with neatly manicured lawns, clearly named and marked buildings – Reception, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy, Cafeteria and even Laundry.
I didn’t need to ask anybody for directions. As I drove in, the massive gates closed behind me and I parked without any tout haranguing me. I walked into the Reception and the first thing that caught my attention was the huge plaque on the wall directly in front of me. It listed the names of sponsors, donors and benefactors of this specialist hospital. At the top of the list was former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg. He is worth $47 billion. Next was the Sultan of Brunei. He is worth is $22 billion. Other names followed…probably about 20…but none sounded Ghanaian to me. They were mostly North Americans, Europeans and Arabs.
As I stood there transfixed, mouth agape, the receptionist walked over and with the widest smile I’d ever seen from an African hospital staff, she asked how she could help me. When I told her I wanted to find out more about the hospital and possibly schedule an appointment for my friend, she handed me a binder/brochure and offered me a seat.
In the brochure, I found that FOCOS was the brainchild of one Dr. Oheneba Boachie-Adjei, a Ghanaian who had emigrated to the US in 1971. The man completed his undergraduate studies at Brooklyn College and obtained a Doctor of Medicine degree from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. More enquiries revealed that Boachie-Adjei is actually known globally for his extensive knowledge of spine deformity. He specifically is renowned for his special expertise in the treatment of scoliosis, kyphosis, and spinal reconstruction in adult and pediatric patients – ailments that I had never heard of until then! At some point in his life, he served as a Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and as Chief of the Scoliosis Service at the prestigious Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York. He was also an Attending Orthopedic Surgeon at both HSS and New York Presbyterian Hospital. You can hardly get more qualified than that.
But he did not let his brilliance go to waste. Neither did he forget his roots. He could have established this hospital anywhere in the US where many people would have more trust and confidence in the services provided there. A native of Kumasi, he chose to set it up in Ghana. I asked one of the staff members how Boachie-Adjei managed to put a hospital of the US standard in Africa and maintain the standard. Was the government of Ghana funding it? No. The only tangible assistance he got from the government of Ghana was approval for license to practice medicine in the country. He prepared a realistic and believable business plan, and searched for people with good hearts like Bloomberg and the Sultan. He also was smart enough to find scores of companies from around the world willing to donate money and hospital equipment for the venture. Dr. Boachie-Adjei embarked on a very aggressive and continuous fund-raising campaign that has brought huge companies like Goldman Sachs, Medshare, Bloomberg, Biotronic, Haemonetics, Alchemy, and Allard on board. They seem happy to be associated with such a laudable project.
Once in Ghana, he set the hospital up and set the same standards of ethical handling of patients, cleanliness, thoroughness, and dedication to duty that existed in the US hospitals at which he had worked. All initial consultations were consolidated and booked (in Ghana) in such a way that enabled him to travel down to Ghana and be personally present to make diagnosis and chart treatment plans. He hired and trained other doctors – Ghanaians and foreigners – who could continue treatment when he was not around.
The hospital proudly claims on its website to have conducted “successful, life-changing surgeries” of complex spine deformity, joint replacement and other spine disorders on 2,405 patients from 32 countries. Those countries include the United States and Germany (yes!), Argentina, Turkey, Mexico, Colombia, Ethiopia, Oman and, of course, Nigeria. The hospital is also involved in research and education.
So, instead of continuing to pour ungodly amounts of money into the bottomless abyss of healthcare delivery, our governments in Nigeria should become facilitators for individual doctors who have the expertise and specialization in particular fields so that they can set up world-standard medical centers in Nigeria. I know more than a handful of Nigerian doctors who are based in the US and Saudi Arabia dying to come home and offer Nigerians world-class medical care. There are Nigerian medical practitioners all over the world who have the kind of world-class professional heft that would be attractive to philanthropists all around the world. And who says they must be Nigerians? They can be anybody, as long as they set it up in Nigeria. All they need is encouragement from government. How nice would it be if we can have a world-class OB/GYN medical center somewhere in Nigeria? What about a world-class Cancer treatment center? What about a center just for Ear, Nose and Throat?
No, the services will not be free. And they may not be cheap. But our presidents, governors and other key government officials will no longer have to surrender our national security to foreigners as a result of seeking even routine treatments in foreign countries.
Abiodun Ladepo writes from Ibadan and can be contacted at [email protected].