Our decrepit national health infrastructure

by | September 26, 2017 12:50 am

Last week, the Nigerian health sector received a damning indictment from an insider – Prof Thomas Agan, Chief Medical Director (CMD), University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) and Chairman, Committee of Chief Medical Directors of Federal Tertiary Hospitals in Nigeria. He was quoted as saying that over 90 percent of deaths in our hospitals are due to poor attitude of health workers. He said some health workers were not taking the lives of patients seriously in spite of their professional training and work ethics.
This is not new. The collapse of the Nigerian health sector is almost total as both government officials, no matter how patriotic they claim to be, fly abroad for every minor health problem and health workers also jostle to leave for greener pastures abroad where they could earn decent wages. For instance, Nigeria losses over $2.5 billion annually to what has now being termed “medical tourism”. As we write, the nation’s president is holed up in the United Kingdom receiving treatment for an undisclosed ailment. He has frequented the United Kingdom since his inauguration for treatment and even flies out for treatment of minor ailment like ear infection.
Similarly, statistics have it that there are now as many Nigerian doctors working outside the country as are working within. According to a particular statistics, there are about 37, 000 Nigerian doctors in the diaspora, with about 30, 000 in the United States alone, and over 5, 000 in the United Kingdom.
The challenges of Nigerian health sector are myriad. The first and obvious is underfunding. Nigeria spends less than 5 percent of its budget on health. In 2016 it allocated only 3.73 percent while in 2017, it budgeted 4.15 percent of its budget to the health sector. This is against the recommendation by global international health institutions that countries spend not less than 15 percent of their total budget on health. In many ways this underfunding is responsible for the many ills bedevilling the health sector in Nigeria as infrastructure continue to decay, health workers poorly remunerated and disoriented, and industrial action becomes prevalent. Unable to bear the shameful treatment, thousands of Nigerian trained doctors and nurses leave yearly in search of better working condition outside.
One of the greatest repercussions of poor funding of the health sector is in the area of training of doctors and other health workers. According to key insiders in the sector, beyond the attitude problem of our health workers is the issue of incompetence due to the poor quality of training received by doctors in residency training and even medical students in the universities. These insiders allege that the current mode of training is so deficient it throws out half-baked and incompetent doctors who frequently misdiagnose ailments and give wrong treatments. This, combined with poor attitude, has turned many Nigerian hospitals into funeral homes rather than care centres. No wonder the hospitals are avoided by the country’s rich, government officials and even the middle class who prefer to spend everything they have to seek medical attention outside the country.
In realisation of the problem, President Muhammadu Buhari promised, in April 2016, that the Federal Government would not provide funds to any government official to travel abroad for medical treatment unless the case cannot be handled in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the President broke the promise barely a month later in early June 2016 when he was flown to London to be treated for an ear infection.
Of course, government officials and those with means continue to seek medical attention outside the country while leaving the vast majority of Nigerians to their fates or at the mercy of our disoriented health workers.
We urge the government to have a rethink and reorder its priorities. True, resources are scarce with competing needs. However, the government should realise that the terrible conditions they create at home will eventually catch up with them or their families and/or relatives. It is unacceptable that we allocate less than 5 percent of our budget to the health sector.