Uzoma Ben Gbulie, MDTuesday, March 13, 2007
[email protected]
Washington, DC, USA



have always marveled at the state of ruin the Nigerian Health System has fallen to. I cannot claim first hand knowledge - at least not in the last five years - but I do avidly monitor news articles about the goings on in Nigerian hospitals and indeed Nigeria as a whole. And having trained and practiced in Lagos University teaching Hospital (LUTH), I do have a baseline for comparison.

With the nation now focused on the up-coming elections, an eye-opener to the state of our health system is the fact that two prominent contestants - for the number one position no less - have recently been flown abroad for medical attention:

  1. Governor Yar'Adua the PDP aspirant who was treated in Germany for complications for renal disease

  2. Vice President Atiku Abubakar just recently flown to the UK for a knee injury

Much as I feel no ill will toward either man, I think this speaks volumes of how our current and intended leaders view our own country and its health care system. Both individuals in question have access to the highest available level of care in the country - including the doctors in the State House and the touted National Hospital Abuja - yet sought succor in European health facilities.

My view is this: You cannot keep running away from the garbage in your own back yard. Our leaders past and present have treated the issue of healthcare in Nigeria like a step child only because they know that they can fly out of the country to receive medical attention elsewhere.

Nigerian doctors and nurses are found the world over. Here in the US I daresay we comprise at least 30% of all foreign health care workers - rivaled only by the Indians and Asians. The majority of these providers practice outside Nigeria not by choice, but because the environment in the country remains unfavorable. In 2007, the basic facilities needed for tertiary care are lacking in the country, and there is no initiative - from Government nor the private sector - to improve upon what we have.

And even when doctors or other health care professional resort to strikes to protest non-payment of salaries and benefits, our Government turns a deaf ear - again only because they the leaders have other options.

As Nigerians, we are unfortunate that we have a short memory. We fail to realize that society and infrastructure are inseparable, and what we do today has ramifications for everyone else as well as for ourselves in the future - hence when Gen. Abdulkarim Adisa died - after being flown to a hospital in the UK - it takes not a great mind to infer that his death was avoidable:

The auto crash he was in could have been avoided if the roads were in good condition (General Adisa was at one time Minister for Works and Housing)

Urgent medical attention within the 'GOLDEN' Hour following his accident would probably have saved him - not an intervention days later - but where are the medical facilities needed?

Our own first lady died following complications from Plastic Surgery in Spain - yet another example of our dependence on foreign health care facilities - and yet there is no guaranteed salvation therein.

Every so often even such care is inadequate and unfortunately the ultimate price of death is the result.

Nigerians die everyday - for reasons that in the rest of the world have ceased even to be acceptable excuses. Whenever there is any large scale accident or explosion it highlights the absence of even basic emergency care: ambulances, emergency personnel, fire services, even the availability of common water. It's only when there is such a mass casualty incident, or when a relative or prominent individual dies, that we acknowledge these gross inadequacies of health care delivery (or the lack thereof) in Nigeria.

But being Nigerians, we mourn, we forget and then we move on - with no sustained effort at correcting the problem.

My prayer is that sometime soon we will realize how we harm ourselves by not addressing important issues in health care, as well as in education, basic amenities, power supply and industry in Nigeria. And until that day comes, the leaders will continue to erroneously seek attention abroad for such insignificant tests as plain X-rays, the common man will continue to die because he cannot get basic medical attention - neither for cerebral malaria nor after a road traffic accident, and Nigerian-trained doctors and nurses will continue to provide care in ungrateful foreign countries because they see no way to come home. And this only because of the uncertainty, frustration and dissatisfaction such a move would portend.