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There are growing concerns that public health facilities in the Federal Capital Territory are gradually turning into “torture” centres. DEBORAH OCHENI reports on some of experiences of parents

The human body is like a machine which is built to last for a number of years but requires regular maintenance for it to work at optimum capacity.

It is natural that human beings would, once in a while, fall sick and need medical care. At such periods when the body system witnesses a breakdown or malfunction, the best option is to seek help in a healthcare facility, popularly known as the hospital.

Ideally, a hospital ought to be a home for the sick (patient) to receive quality care, right medications and good rest in order to recuperate from an illness.

However, hospitals in the Federal Capital Territory are fast becoming places where the sick dreads to seek help.

A number of patients who have had the misfortune of falling sick and going to any of the General Hospitals in Abuja have returned home with tales of woes.

Indeed, a casual visit to any of the hospitals and an interaction with an average patient in the hospital ward , would reveal the pain, anger and feelings of dissatisfaction about the quality of services available in these places.

Inside Abuja visited some of the General Hospitals located in Maitama, Wuse, Asokoro, Kubwa and Nyanya and observed that these facilities had common challenges. They ranged from lack of sufficient manpower, inadequate facilities, poor attitude to work and high cost of accessing medical care.

Patients who rush to these hospitals on daily basis with emergency cases are often confronted with excuses such as no space, no bed, doctor is not around and we don’t have that drug among other challenges. Many patients, including pregnant women, accident victims as well as children caught up in sudden health crisis have lost their lives to these excuses.

Beyond these systemic problems, there is a new trend of extortion whereby a patient, apart from obtaining a hospital card for a fee to see a doctor and paying for admission into a bed space, is further required to provide certain items before accessing medical services.

At the Nyanya General Hospital, a patient is required to purchase and submit, a family size bottle of Morning Fresh liquid detergent; a canister of GBC air freshener; a jumbo pack of Omo washing powder; 100 pieces of latex hand gloves and a big size bottle of Jik bleach before the patient would be attended to at the Accident and Emergency Ward of the hospital.

In the alternative, the patient is expected to part with the sum of Five Thousand Hairs (N5,000), the monetary value of these items.

Idoko Johnson, who took one of his relatives to the hospital and was confronted with these demands, expressed frustration that a hospital would be asking a patient to provide such items as a pre-condition to accessing medical care.

Idoko described the situation as uncalled for and wondered why it must be the responsibility of a patient to provide such items after battling with the issue of unavailability of space at the hospital.

According to him, he had rushed his sister to the hospital because she collapsed at home and needed urgent attention, only for him to be confronted with several obstacles that compounded the situation of the sick person. He said that rather than creating unnecessary stumbling blocks, it could have been better if the doctors at the Nyanya Genneral Hospital had promptly referred them to another hospital if indeed they had no space to admit an additional patient on that fateful day.

“What was expected of the hospital management was to simply refer us to another hospital if truly there was no space to accommodate a patient in the hospital because of the emergency nature of her case. It’s not good to be pushed up and down and to be asked to buy some household items just to be given bed space in a hospital,” Idoko said.

Rose Eleojo, one the patients Inside Abuja encountered at the Accident and Emergency Ward of the Nyanya General Hospital, said she spent five days before she was able to get full medical attention at the hospital.

She said when she met the doctor on duty on the day she was rushed to the hospital, the doctor sent her to an appropriate ward on admission.

“Upon getting there, I was told there was no space to accommodate me but I sensed something funny because when I went back to the doctor to tell him that there was no space, the doctor followed me there and instructed that a stable patient (a lady) should be discharged in order to create space for me.

“As soon as the doctor left for his office, I was ignored for about three hours. I was feeling very dizzy, yet I was not given a bed to rest on until my sister got the items on the list they gave us. The items included Morning Fresh dish washer, a packet of hand gloves, air freshener and a lot more.

“I came to hospital that day as early as 7.00am. I saw the doctor around 2.00pm. I was given a bed at about 5.00pm and I was giving the blood around 9.00pm. I was disappointed at the huge amount that I was charged and I regretted coming here in the first place because the charges are high and you have to buy everything that they use on you and yet, they talk very rudely to patients. Only a few of them are polite in their interaction with patients,” she said.

For Doris Sule, another patient, the story is not too different from the usual sad experience. She lamented that despite all the items she provided, the doctor on duty couldn’t get detergent to wash his hands after examining her on the same day of her admission.

“Some of the staff here are very wicked. Imagine that I bought big pack of Omo, Morning Fresh, air freshener, Dettol, jik and other things before I was given a space. They refused to change my bed sheet when it had blood stains during my stay there. I had to sleep on bare mattress. When I complained, no one answered me. Rather, I was told that it’s my blood and if I’m not comfortable sleeping in it, I should go to my house because no one called me here. I felt really dehumanized getting that kind of service and I still paid for it,” she said.

However, a staff of the hospital who declined to disclose her names for fear of victimisation, said those requesting for the items were truly in need of them for effective service delivery.

She said that though some medical personnel do some unprofessional things in the hospital, the items they request for were needed because those are the things they work with to keep the ward clean and safe for everybody.

“Those in the Accident and Emergency Ward are working with blood and they constantly need to wash their hands and keep the place disinfected. The hospital is well organized just that we have three categories of staff here.

“Some are privileged to have connections that landed them here, others are here because they couldn’t get any other job elsewhere while the third group are qualified professional staff who know the etiquettes of the care giving. The problem patients have at times is poor communication by some staff who are not passionate about this job, especially those in the first two categories and it breaks my heart to hear hospital staff speaking rudely to patients who see health workers to be comforters.

“At the end, some patients leave the hospital premises sad and dissatisfied and that is affecting the image of the hospital. But in all sincerity, the doctors are trying as there are so much success stories coming out from the hospital,” she said.

A shop attendant at one of the pharmaceutical and provision shops near the hospital, said that patients usually troop into their shop to buy drugs, Dettol, Jik, tissue paper, air freshener, morning fresh and many other items prescribed by the hospital staff.

She confirmed that patients who failed to provide all these items or provide the monetary equivalent rarely get the needed attention in the hospital.

Agatha Iyalowo, who also runs a kiosk adjacent to the hospital gate, revealed that in the past, some patients were asked to buy the items in twos and that meant more business for shop owners who stocked these items.

“We used to sell very well then because these items are more or less as important as hospital cards to the patients. In other hospitals, some of these items are restricted to expectant mothers but in Nyanya here, almost all patients buy them and that makes us that are selling by the road side to have good sales because we already know what they will request and that is what we are selling here,” she said.

Sadly, Inside Abuja investigations revealed that some of these items bought by patients and taken into the hospitals often end up being smuggled out by the staff of the hospital who convert them to their personal use.

It appears that the hospital whose mission was to ensure the provision of safe, quality and affordable, access to healthcare services to all citizens has deviated from its primary responsibilities. While patients who are in dire need of help are subjected to financial and psychological torture, the care givers who are paid from the public coffers are feasting on the system.