AS someone who works in the health sector, getting medical attention should have come easily to Mrs. Dupe Ogunaike (not real name).
So when she took ill earlier this month, Ogunaike was not troubled by the prospects of being admitted into any hospital, especially as the 55-year-old healthcare worker was only suffering from ‘mere feverish condition.
But a visit to one of the hospitals in Ogotun- Ekiti, where she resided, soon gave a disturbing inkling of what awaited her in that period of despair. Ogunaike was surprisingly refused admission at the hospital. This came as a rude shock, since she was not a robbery victim with gun shot wounds which required that a police report be presented before being accepted into a hospital.
At another healthcare facility, where she sought attention, Ogunaike was promptly turned back. Further visits to two other hospitals in the state produced similar results. Distressed by the rejection and the grinding effect of the illness, she headed for the state Ministry of Health in Ado Ekiti, where she reportedly vomitted and collapsed.
The hapless woman who was a staff of Comprehensive Health Centre, Ogotun, was immediately labelled an Ebola victim without an adequate test being conducted. And before you knew it, those around took to their heels. Sapped and disoriented by the torturing experience, the poor woman died same day.
A similar case also played out at the National Youth Service Corps,NYSC, Orientation Camp in Ise Ekiti. A young man who had been inadequately treated for malaria collapsed and was abandoned by everyone, including the camp’s healthcare givers from 6am to 3pm when the state government intervened.
At the University College Hospital ,UCH, Ibadan a woman with blisters all over her body came to the hospital’s General Out-patient Department ,GOPD, asking to be attended to but was turned back by the nurse she approached.
That there is palpable panic across the country over Ebola is stating the obvious. This is more noticeable among healthcare givers whose primary responsibilities include helping to manage the disease.
Investigations by VanguardFeatures,VF, across some hospitals in Lagos confirmed that patients with symptoms of fever are now being denied attention.
A case in point is a patient who almost lost his life to malaria last week at a private hospital in the Okota area of Lagos.
Growing number of rejections: But for the urgent intervention of the medical director of the clinic, the patient would have joined the growing number of those who have died as result of rejection.
According to an eyewitness account, the sick person, who had high fever, was turned back by nurses despite his pitiable condition. He was said to have been left unattended to until the timely arrival of the medical director saved the situation.
The head of the hospital, it was gathered, immediately put on his protective personal equipment and treated the patient, who regained his health a few hours later.
These cases represented a few out of the growing instances where patients were rejected out of fear of the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease ,EVD, in Nigeria.
Rejection of patients is not new in the country as those with gun shot injuries are usually rejected for not possessing police report, just as not having enough money is also regarded as a condition for not being admitted.
Since the trend is not related to these reasons, many people are uncomfortable that medical personnel who swore to protect human lives are turning blind eyes to their duties.
‘’What is happening now is a bad commentary on the healthcare system in Nigeria. We all know that Ebola is highly contagious but that does not mean that people should be left to die. I would not say that we should not sympathise with them, they should also see the contagious nature of the diseases as one of the many hazards of their profession,’’ President of Citizens Advocacy Unit,CAU, Dr. Muyiwa Falae told VF.
Worried that the situation has created more problems out of the Ebola crisis, Falae said: ‘’The situation in the country now is such that people, who are symptomatic to malaria, typhoid or other forms diseases would die as a result of rejection. If it had been the practice of medical personnel in the country to use protective equipment, I don’t think we should have this issue of rejection. That is why I can categorically say that what some of the hospitals are doing, is a reflection of the dysfunctional healthcare system in Nigeria.’’
Necessary equipment and gadgets
Another person who does not find the development healthy, is a retired medical personnel, Mrs. Stella Agbogun.
For her, refusing to accept patients, who had not tested positive to EVD, is not only unethical, but unfair to the patients.
‘’Everyone in the medical field should be well prepared. There is no point turning back or refusing patients because that is their primary responsibility. Be prepared with all the gadgets that you need and then try to screen those patients. That should be done so that somebody who does not have Ebola is turned away because of fear of Ebola,’’ she stated.
The retiree of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital,LUTH, said: ‘’If medical personnel are well equipped with all the gadgets, they will screen those patients so that anyone with Ebola can be identified.’’
Not done, Agbogun added thus: ‘’Those with Ebola should be referred to the isolation centre because it will be unfair not to accept patients who had not tested positive to the virus. Government has come up with a lot of incentives like insurance scheme. I hope that they will provide all the necessary equipment and gadgets that will protect the personnel. It is a highly contagious disease and we must be very careful.’’
President of the Association of General Private and Medical Practitioners of Nigeria, AGPMPN, Dr. Anthony Omolola, was of the opinion that if the situation is not arrested, many Nigerians would die of other ailments.
‘’It is good that we are containing the virus but Nigerians, particularly the medical community, should also know that there are other causes of fever than Ebola. In my hospital I have instructed my staff not to turn anyone back because that will cause more deaths from other diseases,”he noted.
Lending his voice to this, the Medical Director of Ibijola Medical Centre, Agbara, Lagos, Dr. Jimmy Arigbabuwo frowned at the situation, adding that his hospital accepts all manner of patients.
“We should know that not all patients who turned up in the hospitals are Ebola infected,” he cautioned.
How patients are treated: Giving details on how patients are currently attended to since Ebola was brought to Nigeria by the late Patrick Sawyer, Ibijola said: “When people come with fever we use non-contact thermometers to determine their temperature. We have high index of suspicion like in the case of diarrhoea and muscle cramps and other symptoms that look like malaria.
There is no need to start telling the patients to go away. We call such act rumour managers. But if we suspect a patient, we isolate immediately pending the time the surveillance group will come.”
Arigbabuwo, who is also the Lagos State Chairman of Association of General Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria, AGPMPN, advised that people should not be too scared of body contacts.
“People who move about actively cannot transmit Ebola easily. Before the virus is transmitted to another person the level of the virus will be so high to knock down patient. The person will be seriously sick. I feel pained when I hear people quarrelling in the buses as a result of body contact. No! Ebola is not transmitted that way. It is not a butterfly that can just land on peoples’ shoulders any time,” he added.
Further throwing light on the precautionary measures the hospital has put in place, Arigbabuwo said: “We have taught all our hospital staff on how to protect themselves. From the front desk officers to the first nurse, we have taught them how to wear gloves, put on face mask, wash hands regularly and ensure that they dilute bleach in containers for patients to use before coming in. Once you have guided your first contact officers and with non-contact thermometer you have taken the first precautionary measures,” he said. He also called for adherence to the universal principles of hygiene.