A child in my family needed a test result as prerequisite for entrance into a training programme. We already knew that the Gwarimpa General Hospital where we usually took members of our family would operate skeletal services because of the Easter holidays. That was why we opted to visit the Federal Medical Centre, off the Airport Road in Abuja. Even though the Federal Medical Clinic was said to have been built by the Chinese and handed to the Nigerian government as a ‘gift’, there appears to be very little on ground for it to bear the ‘Federal’ title as a medical clinic. With a name like ‘Federal Medical Clinic’, you would expect that its services would be a showcase of Nigeria’s investments in its health sector. It is not so.
It was about that time of taking this child to this Federal Medical Clinic that three curious reports filtered in. While one of them said that the United Kingdom, UK was placing Nigerian health care workers – doctors, nurses and care providers – on red alert, the other report stated that a Nigerian law maker was beginning to push for Nigerian doctors serve their country for 5 years before they ever think of traveling to go work in the health care systems abroad. The last report, published by Punch newspapers on December 24, 2022 indicated that throughout his time as president, Muhammadu Buhari, as Nigeria’s president had spent over 7 months or thereabouts in Hospitals abroad, treating one ailment or the other.
It is important to get at the meaning of the phrase ‘red alert’ – to be put on red alert is a signal of danger or a vote of no-confidence. Early in 2023, Nigerians received with great shock another report that certain Nigerian ‘nurses’ in the US were fake, that is, they had acquired fake papers to be able to travel abroad to work as nurses. If you know the import of that incident, you would recognise why the international community, and especially the UK would be placing health care workers from Nigeria on red alert. These people take health of their citizens very, very seriously. At some of the time I spent abroad, I was to discover that EU governments invested heavily in the health care of their citizens, and often went out of their way to engage interns and care givers to take care of the elderly, infirm or sick – even to their graves.
So on this day at the Federal medical centre, it was not so difficult to see why other countries would be placing Nigerian health care workers on red alert. Because it was Easter holiday, the place was deserted like the Gwarimpa Hospital. Being deserted could only mean one thing, and that was that it was run like a Nigerian government office, and everyone was on holiday. Which country ever runs a public hospital like a Nigerian government office?
But on the day we were to collect the test result, the place was packed full at the seams. Members of staff appeared extremely ignorant and extremely inefficient. I do not say this recklessly or carelessly but with every sense of vexation in my spirit. For a urine and blood test which we should pick up in less than 5 minutes, we spent nearly three hours being pushed from one office to the other. The people at the lab who refused to give us a result insisted we must see a doctor, even though our child is not ill or sick. The accounts people tossed up back and forth, and we paid fees that we had already paid again and again. The doctor on duty sent us to the admin department four times, for a medical report that we did not need. The member of staff taking us back and forth was a very old man, who the doctors told us was very experienced with guiding anyone seeking a medical report for work, training and jappa things. He refused to listen to my explanation that we were not interested in any of these items. At a point he confronted me and said ‘Oga, you want to teach me my job ne?’
We eventually managed to get a doctor to sign the unnecessary medical report. While waiting for him to sign it, I had occasion to observe the medical examination of a 4month old baby. The baby was brought in crying and it appeared in a lot of pain. According to its parents, the baby had been circumcised just after it had been born, and its parents brought it in after they discovered some puss oozing from its genitalia. Even though both doctors who examined the baby spoke in medical gobbledygook, it was not so difficult to know that the circumcision had been carried out by improper hands.
Anyone reading this may likely assume that I have something against Nigerian doctors. No. As a matter of fact, Nigerian doctors in the best of conditions are considered some of the best worldwide. A question put out on Quora recently, asked ‘Why are Nigerian Doctors the best in America? And the response simply was that Nigerian doctors are known for their excellent education and training, and many have gone on to have successful careers in the United States. Additionally, Nigeria has a strong tradition of medical education, with many well-respected universities and medical schools. Some studies have also shown that Nigerian doctors in the US tend to have higher levels of education and work experience than their counterparts from other countries.
While we lost valuable time and money at the Federal Medical Centre in Abuja, it was worse for others who will lose loved ones, and especially for that baby who was treated by very improper hands. What I think is responsible for this are the leaders and public officials. It would amount to sacrilege and a huge security breach to have President Biden or Vladimir Putin or even leaders of Asian or Latin American countries or of the Caribbean travelling abroad for treatment.
But let’s sound the note however – we do not care who they are, but we must put incoming leaders at the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government in Nigeria on notice that they must fix our health care systems and stop embarrassing Nigeria by going abroad for treatment. Let there be legislation that bars ANY public official from accessing medical treatment abroad. Until we fix our health care systems, let’s all die here. It is morally and politically wrong to campaign to improve on the welfare of Nigerians only to hop on a plane to get treatment abroad.