Someone Please Call 9-1-1

It was a perfect picture-in-picture Nollywood full moon night in its full regalia – galaxy of stars, gently rolling clouds, occasional comets, cool breeze, trees nodding in unison, and a silence that was lightly tinged with soft music emanating from my silver-paneled Boss radio. I was fully awake, prolifically writing at Usain Bolt’s speed to meet a 7am deadline. I checked my Swatch watch, it was 1am.

In the midst of the tranquility and natural serendipity, a loud screech arose from only-God-knows-where; and in the twinkle of an eye, I stopped the music. But when I couldn’t hear anything, I thought it was Sade Adu that hit a high note.

About ten minutes later, the bangs on the front gate caught my attention and I hurried to see who was knocking. To my utmost disbelief, it was my neighbor whose heavily gravid wife was about to deliver. As a medical professional, I’m used to unscheduled late night calls; hence without any hesitation, we packed ourselves inside a Volkswagen Golf en route the University College Hospital, Ibadan.

Along the way, we were stopped by several local security men (vigilante groups) and policemen. At every intersection, I flashed my identity cards and we were able to bye pass several protracted, usually unnecessary interrogations. After safe delivery, I asked the husband why he came to me instead of driving his wife to the hospital. In response, he said it’s only medical workers that can handle emergencies well.

At first, I couldn’t decipher what he meant since I didn’t perform any caesarean operation, but when I replayed the scenario, with focus on what would have happened if a medical professional didn’t join the crew to the clinic, I got an understanding of what my neighbor meant.

Last Saturday, I was listening to a radio programme on BCOS Ibadan. Towards the tail end of the live radio show, a listener called in, calling on rescue workers to come to the aid of an accident victim who was hit and ran over along a major road in Ibadan. The accident occurred about 12 hours before the caller called in.

Few months ago, truck loaded with bags of sugar that belonged to Dangote Group somersaulted and fell on eight passers bye. When residents of Oremeji area along Lagos/Ibadan express road saw this, they mercilessly descended on the spoils and plundered the Fortune 500 Nigerian business mogul, not minding to help eight fellow citizens who fought a lost battle for their lives when help was not forthcoming from their fellow citizens who chose free bags of sugar over saving lives. God did nothing but looked on and watched the unique ways that Nigeria?the heart of Africa, and Nigerians?good people great nation?handle emergencies.

Etymologically, emergencies are situations that are sudden in onset, and call for urgent actions since every second counts. In medicine, emergencies are the medical conditions without prior warnings. Whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, evening or in the middle of the night, emergencies happen. Road accidents are some of the popular emergencies in our society occurring as a result of bad drives, driving and drivers.

When accidents happen along any road in Nigeria, the victims are often at the mercy of passers bye that are free to decide whether to help, or simply walk away. In a recent survey to determine the reasons why some people don’t wait to help accident victims, a lot of respondents blamed the attitudes of security operatives who often seek to blame somebody for the accident. Some put the blame on the high cost of transporting victims to nearby hospitals. Other reasons that were given include haemophobia (fear of blood), lack of first aid skills, and no known medical facility in the area.

These issues are not peculiar to the Nigerian people, they are global. There is no nation on Planet Earth whose entire demography knows what to do in emergencies. Furthermore, even in the developed countries, not every citizen has a car or can afford to transport accident victims to the emergency departments of nearby medical facilities. These nations also have strangers in their communities who do not know the location of the nearest hospital. However, the major difference between Nigeria and these countries is the availability of an active emergency ambulance system that comes around at the dial of 9-1-1.

These days, phone companies save 911 in all their phones and users can call for ambulance, policemen, firemen and other emergency workers. In Benin, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria and several other African countries, there are effective 911 Emergency Services. But in Nigeria, the giant of Africa, 911 is a wrong number.

An effective emergency service is the best gift any government can give its people. On a daily basis, especially in the “ember” months, accidents are frequent, armed robbers are on the prowl, several houses and offices are going up in flames, and the entropy level is highest. A lot of accident victims on Nigerian roads could be saved if we have a toll free emergency system that victims and passers bye could call when the need arises. Also, a lot of houses could be saved from being torched if residents could contact the firemen via the 911 Emergency Service.

Currently, the Nigerian Police has lots of phone numbers that Nigerians could call. Also, hospitals and ambulances, fire services and other emergency services frequently advertise phone numbers that citizens should dial to connect with their control rooms. The limited success of the system is as a result of the inability of citizens to remember all the numbers. If the government is serious, there is a simple guide to achieve this.

What will it cost us to have a 911 service since almost every reality TV show has multi-networked short codes? The organization of the 911 service requires the compilation of addresses, phone numbers and contacts that the call center operators can quickly and easily access at the click of a black IBM mouse. Unlike the customer call centers of Nigerian mobile operators, Nigerians deserve a 911 system that is void of the liturgies that waste lots of time. Hence adequate planning is required to guard against putting bleeding patients on hold for long.

It’s still beyond comprehension why our leaders who often sojourn developed countries of the world often forget everything they’ve learnt in duty-free shops at the expense of tax payers’ hard earned money. It’s even more disheartening to come to the fact that when in need, few Nigerians are like the Good Samaritan that the Bible talked about.

What if the government of Samaria had an effective 911 system, would the passers bye find it difficult to call, toll free, for ambulance knowing the call is free, and they’ll be seen as their brother’s keepers? No. I’m sure that despite the passive selfishness and self-centeredness, the religious chief wouldn’t have left the victim at the site of the accident without calling for ambulance. Our case in Nigeria is also similar.

Despite the fact that Nigerians are becoming experts, on a daily basis, at self-sufficiency and basically looking out for themselves, they are not wicked to the extent that they won’t call for help if they can’t help the situation.

One of the problems that have been militating against the progress of Nigeria since independence is the detachment of the leaders from the led. Nigerian governments rarely formulate policies that directly impact positively on the lives of its citizens but spend millions, sometimes billions of dollars on wasteful, corruption-prone white elephant projects that will make few people richer. A vibrant 911 service is all that we need to jumpstart a revolution

in our healthcare system.

If Nigerians can call 911, we can reduce the fatality of road accidents and lower the mortality of emergency health conditions. A reliable 911 service can initiate the restoration of lost confidence in the leaders by the led, and would give people like me long hours of sleep since no one would dare to interfere with my peace when he can simply dial 9-1-1.

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