With economies across the world still reeling under the gnawing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigerian leaders have yet to move beyond rhetorics and lamentation to leverage the opportunity it provides to lift the decaying health sector of the most populous black nation.
In the heat of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr Boss Mustapha, had posited that he never knew the level of rot in Nigeria’s health sector until COVID-19 struck. Hear him: “I can tell you for sure, I never knew that our healthcare infrastructure was in the state in which it is until I was appointed to do this work.”
For a great number of Nigerians who only look to God for healing when confronted with the sad realities of the parlous state of medical facilities in public hospitals, SGF Mustapha did not say anything new. He only allowed the open secret we are already familiar with pass his lips.
It is no fairy tale that public officials travel abroad to enjoy the best medical facilities in countries where leaders place a high premium on the health of their people, even for minor illnesses, leaving helpless Nigerians to bear the brunt of a comatose health sector. This writer’s heart sank on reading a detailed account of how a mentor and Deputy Provost of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Dr Dele Omojuyigbe, lost his wife recently in a Facebook post because there was no space in five public hospitals he visited within seven hours! The comments of Nigerians who had relatives whose lives were cut short after the same sad experience further revealed the callousness and selfishness of the ruling class.
In a piece he titled, “AND THERE WAS NO SPACE”, Omojuyigbe narrated a heart-wrenching story of how he watched helplessly as his wife breathed her last in a country that is hard to love. His article partly read: “We had traversed five Lagos hospitals in seven anxious hours. Sadly, we got the same cold, lethal refrain: “THERE IS NO SPACE”. Her health had reached a frightful state already, I admit.
But it wasn’t irredeemable, perhaps… Reaching Ile-Zik, Ikeja, my wife stopped breathing. She died. I checked the time, it was 5.01 pm…from 9.30 am. That is my country; my wife’s country, NIGERIA. I asked the driver to take us straight to Igando General Hospital for verification, since we were going in that direction already. There, she was confirmed BID (Brought-in Dead). My wife!”
Is it possible that she could have escaped the icy hands of the Grim Reaper if she were not in a country where health infrastructure pales in comparison to what obtains in decent climes? Of course, the answer is in the affirmative. The Omojuyigbe story sums up the tragedy of living in a country where being critically ill is almost a death sentence. But we didn’t get to this sorry pass just yesterday.
For nineteen straight years, the budgetary allocation to the health sector did not surpass six percent. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the sector got seven percent allocation in the 2021 budget against the fifteen percent recommendation by the African Union (AU) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). With harsh operational environment, unfavourable working condition, little opportunity for professional development, we need not bother our heads about why medical doctors ditch their fatherland to shine in countries where the health of humans is treated with gravitas.
In the United Kingdom alone, not less than 8,384 Nigeria-trained doctors practise in that country as of June, according to data from the UK General Medical Council. Also, worthy of note is the fact that at least 4,528 Nigerian doctors moved to the UK to practise between 2015 and July 2021, even when Nigeria has less than 76,000 doctors to cater for the medical needs of an estimated population of 200 million people.