Prior to the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic, hospitals in Nigeria were (and still are) little more than mere consulting clinics.
The rich and powerful, and prominent Nigerian leaders do not go there to be get treatment and get well. Instead, they easily register for treatment in any foreign hospital of their choice in the US, UK, Canada, Germany or France.
Everyone else had to make do with the local public hospitals, usually badly equipped, poorly staffed with doctors always on strike over one reason or the other.
Private hospitals were no help either. Even though most hardly went on strike, they were often delays at emergency, OPD, or that their services were too expensive. Some doctors too have been observed to consult the internet to diagnose and make prescriptions. Even though beset by a chronic waist pain, Mrs. Ifueko Ighodaro swore never to set foot on a prominent ‘private’ hospital in Benin City again. ‘Those people…they don’t know what they are doing. Sometimes after you see a doctor, you spend nearly three hours just to collect your drugs’, she told Alltimepost.
One prominent Nigerian who took his mother to another one private clinic in Benin City had to withdraw and take his mother home. He had no choice than employ a doctor to treat her at home. Those disenchanted with public and private hospitals have often resorted to use of herbs and native doctors.
With the Covid 19 pandemic, things are pretty much the same. What has changed though is that now, both rich and poor are at the mercy of Nigeria’s poorly equipped public and private hospitals.
To fight the Covid 19 under these circumstances has been a daunting task for Nigeria’s fragile health care delivery system. In Edo state, the government has been keen to utilize what is on ground to fight the Covid 19 pandemic. First it activated a lockdown. Then it evacuated patients from the Stella Obasanjo Specialist Hospital, and activated an isolation and screening centre to handle suspected cases. Some of these suspected cases are also being managed at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, UBTH, itself having the same issues of poor services and laid back doctors and nurses. ‘At the UBTH, you almost wait to die before you get any attention’, a patient told Alltimepost.
In a report published in the Vanguard newspaper of April 10 2020, Covid 19: New ultra-modern isolation centre at Stella Obasanjo Hospital ready to receive cases, Edo state commissioner of health, Dr Patrick Okundia was quoted as saying that ‘the continuous training of health care workers across 18 local government on Covid 19 is ongoing, and they would be deployed to the isolation centres at the LGAs. We have 30 ventilators that have been distributed across the isolation centres in the state’.
Another report on Alltimepost of April 30, 2020, Covid 19: Yongxing Steel Company Donates 350,000 Facemasks, 10,000 medical gloves to Edo Govt, Governor Obaseki was also quoted as saying that ‘the test kits donated will help fast track the process while awaiting confirmation from the laboratory. Our goal is to test 15,000 and screen 500,000 people. 10,000 pieces of medical gloves would be helpful to our medical officers as they do their best to combat the scourge’.
Alltimepost has visited two of the screening and testing centres – the one at the ADP Airport road and the Central Hospital Benin City. Manned by a group of five medical personnel led by Lab Scientist Great, there is strong evidence that health workers were indeed trained, and the kits that Governor Obaseki received were being put to use. In spite of this though, just a handful of residents at the ADP screening and test centre actually presented themselves for screening and testing. ‘I wouldn’t go near those people o. Remember those test kits are from China. When they were used in one country in Europe, there was a spike in the number of people infected, and who eventually died. Are we sure those masks, kits and all are really safe?’ an Oko ADP resident told Alltimepost.
The Central Hospital in Benin City has two hospitals as a matter of fact. The one old and decaying and the other ultra-modern and brand new. While attempting to use the toilets at the old building, Alltimepost ran into two ‘public toilets’. While the first is a disaster waiting to happen – stench from it and the rot is world class – the second is under lock and key. The roof leading to a prominent section of the building, and right at the end of an alley in that hospital are cartons and cartons of medical waste not properly disposed. Screening and test centre at the entrance of the old building of the Central Hospital did not have the same muscle as that of the Oko ADP.
What was a pleasant surprise however, is the new building. Long an object subject of acrimony, the Central Hospital annex aka Edo Specialist Hospital has the character of a modern hospital at work in a Covid 19 epoch. Straight from a pressure sanitization system at the gate, patients/customers or visitors to the hospital answered to a strict code of screening prior to gaining access to the building. The toilets were clean, the air-conditioners hum quietly in the background and the air smelled clean. Alltimepost did not gain access to the rest of the building to ascertain that services went beyond the efficiency of the reception.