Guest Article

COVID-19: NIGERIA’S SAPPED HEALTHCARE, HEALTH SECTOR AND SYSTEM- FOLORUNSHO ABIODUN (FOLLYOMOYABEJI)

According to United Nations Development Program(UNDP), the novel coronavirus is expected to place extreme and unprecedented pressure on the country’s poor, underinvested healthcare system. Estimates indicate that around 20% of COVID-19 cases in the country require hospitalization and another 7.5% require intensive care.

In total, there are 330 ICU facilities in the country, including 30 in Lagos. Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) currently has five testing centers and treatment centers designated for COVID-19. An isolation facility in Lagos is equipped with 100 beds but the capacity outside Lagos is very limited (as at the time of writing).

Based on the recent assessment of eight treatment centers by WHO, majority of these centers are not well equipped, and their capacity to respond to emergency cases is particularly weak in the North. Paradoxically, if confirmed cases reaches numbers similar to that in Italy – 53,578 at the time of writing– it is projected that almost 15,000 people would need to be hospitalized/require intensive care in Nigeria.

Unlike what is seen in Nigeria, governments in advanced countries pay quality attention to their healthcare system. Some of the hospitals in these countries are either government, private or charity-run. One of them is Johns Hopkins Hospital regarded as one of the world’s greatest hospitals and medical institutions. It’s a teaching hospital and biomedical research facility of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. Founded about 131 years ago by city merchant, banker/financier, civic leader and philanthropist Johns Hopkins (1795–1873), the Johns Hopkins Hospital and its school of medicine are considered to be the founding institutions of modern American medicine and the birthplace of numerous famous medical traditions, including rounds, residents and house staff.

Among the numerous achievements of the hospital is the formation of many medical specialties such as neurosurgery, cardiac surgery, and child psychiatry. The hospital occupies approximately 20 of the 60 buildings on the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus. The complex is said to have over 80 entrances and receives 80,000 visitors weekly. It also houses over 1,000 beds and has a staff of over 1,700 doctors with over 30,000 total employees.

Another hospital that ranks among the world’s biggest is the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. Owned and operated by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. The hospital runs a 170-acre campus in Cleveland, as well as 11 regional hospitals and 19 family health centres in northeast Ohio, and hospitals in Florida and Nevada. Outside the US, the hospital also has a facility in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and a sports medicine clinic in Toronto, Canada, as well as a campus in London, which is scheduled to open in 2021.

Cleveland Clinic, consistently ranked as one of the best hospitals in the US, had operating revenue of $8.4bn in 2017, recording 7.6 million patient visits and 229,132 admissions. As of 2019, the hospital had over 60,000 employees, including 11,800 nurses and over 3,953 physicians and scientists in 140 specialties.

There is an African idiom that says “If a man does not eat at home, he may never give his wife enough money to cook a good pot of soup. This might just be true when applied to politicians on the continent seeking medical help anywhere but home”. Africa’s public health systems are in a depressing condition, with preventable diseases still causing a high mortality rate amongst a large number of women and children, and people still traveling long distances to receive health care across the continent, and patients still sleeping on hospital floors.

On top of this, Africa’s health professionals emigrate in large numbers annually to search for greener pastures in more advanced countries. It is well documented that politicians from across Africa (notoriously in Nigeria), go abroad for medical treatment. The reasons for exercising this choice is obvious: The government lacks confidence in the health systems they oversee, and they can afford the trips, given that the expenses are paid for by taxpayers.

Since the beginning of 2017, President Muhammad Buhari of Nigeria has spent more time in the UK for medical treatment than he has in his own country. By seeking treatment abroad, Buhari broke one of his own electoral promises – to end medical tourism. Buhari is just one of many heads of state to find help elsewhere.

Patrice Talon, the President of the Republic of Benin, underwent surgery in France a few months ago. The cases of Buhari and Talon, however, aren’t as bad as other presidents who have had decades to fix their countries’ health care systems, but haven’t. Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe for the past 37 years, frequently sought eye-related treatment 8,240 kilometers away in Singapore. Jose Eduardo dos Santos who recently stepped down as Angola’s leader after 38 years also traveled occasionally to Spain for treatment. The picture painted above is shameful.

As long as Africa’s leaders keep going abroad for medical reasons, the ambition for better health infrastructure will remain an illusion. However, this is not the case in Western Countries. When the United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson was infected with the coronavirus on March 27, he was admitted to the St Thomas’ Hospital on April 5. According to findings, the hospital is a large National Health Service teaching hospital in Central London, England. Originally located in Southwark, but based in Lambeth since 1871, the hospital has provided health care freely or under charitable auspices since the 12th century. It is one of London’s most famous hospitals and a prominent London landmark, largely due to its location on the opposite bank of the River Thames to the Houses of Parliament.

As of January, the St Thomas’ Hospital, and three other hospital trusts in the UK, were put on standby to receive suspected COVID-19 patients.

One would wonder where all the enormous budgets being driven yearly into the Health sector in Nigeria is going, when in fact there are far better-equipped private hospitals than government-owned ones in the country. This explains why many citizens would rather seek medical attention in private facilities. For instance, one of such private hospitals is St. Nicholas Hospital located on Lagos Island. Founded about 52 years ago a gynecologist and obstetrician, Moses Majekodunmi, also an ex-Minister of Health in the First Republic, the hospital has facilities at different locations in the country. It has recorded laudable feats including successful renal transplant in Nigeria.

This period is indeed a daunting one for Nigeria, and if necessary precautions are not taken as soon as possible, and channeled into the Health Sector, the country would be in big trouble in the coming year due to the ravaging impact of the pandemic.

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