Let me start this article on a very personal note. I know of a medical doctor who is so dear to me. She is such a wonderful soul and has been a blessing to my life. When the first coronavirus case involving the Italian was announced on the 27th of February 2020, she was undergoing an internship programme at one of the major government hospitals in Lagos State. I feared for her life as I had seen what the virus did to Dr Li Wenliang (the famous coronavirus whistleblower) and other medical practitioners in China.
Even though statistics from China are largely unreliable as a result of the constantly alleged cover-up, 1,760 health workers were infected with the virus as at the 14th of February with 6 death recorded. The medics are very vulnerable to the virus as they have to be perfect when dealing with it to prevent being infected. This lady and I discussed the virus at length as well as some quick protective measures she could employ to stay safe.
The following day, she went to work and realized that the only measure taken by the government/the hospital management to tackle coronavirus was to paste a few awareness posters about the disease around the hospital premises and it stopped there. Hand sanitizers, face masks, gloves and other Private Protective Equipment which should have been readily available to protect health workers were as scarce as good news during this pandemic. It was a clear case of soldiers going to war clothed like rockstars with guitars and other musical instruments.
Things never improved. Fortunately, there was no local transmission or community spread of the disease then. She finished her internship safely. A month later, she got a memo urging medics to come forward to join the fight against Covid-19 in Lagos, Nigeria. She declined and expressed her fears about the dangers ahead of the battle. As a patriotic Nigerian, I felt disappointed in her. I expected her to show the dedication and resilience of the healthcare workers in the United Kingdom, United States of America, Italy, Spain, South Korea and other affected countries of the world. These special people that I regard as ‘earthly angels’ have been toiling on the battlefield, away from their family members as their mental state is bastardized with the regular sight of body bags. Despite being a patriotic and passionate professional who has trained most of her life to save lives, she was scared of dying cheaply. She didn’t trust the system to protect her. Many of her colleagues who are brilliant heads shared the same sentiments with her. I tried not to judge her due to my close knowledge of her, but I still hope to convince her in the nearest future to join the war, as we are far from reaching the peak of it.
In just 5 weeks into the odd war, it has claimed the lives of three doctors namely Dr Emeka Chugbo, Dr Aliyu Yakubu, Dr Oluwayemisi Adetokumbo Otegbeye and a nurse working for the medical charity Doctors Without Borders. It didn’t stop there, a total of 40 health workers have been infected according to a recent announcement made by the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire. While this is like a case of having casualties in a war situation, these cases are saddening and to an extent preventable. Countries of the world have recorded massive casualties among health workers turning into hapless patients in a twinkle of an eye. The Nigerian case is different in the sense that most health workers have become victims in the hands of their patients. Patients probably dealing with delusion associated with medical conditions conceal their symptoms and travel history when being treated in hospitals. For example, a man who was treated at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH in early April hid some essential details that pointed towards coronavirus when he was admitted. He later opened up at the point of death when four doctors were already exposed. Also in Kwara State, the index case was brought in as someone who was just feeling unwell in general with the facilitator of the move reportedly having a clue of the danger on the ground. He later died and those who attended to him were exposed. A similar scenario also played out in Kano and Borno States. The gory tales never end.
Like every occupation, there must be a fee to be earned after the delivery of expert services by the health workers. The remuneration of the medics are not encouraging and can only afford them the basic things of life. This is an aberration to what is obtainable in developed countries where they regard them as ‘high-level workers’. For example, the hazard allowance given to doctors working on the frontlines was initially N5,000 per month before it was reviewed by the government for the Covid-19 period pegged at three months. A premium life insurance cover of N122.5 million has also been approved for frontline workers. The upward review of the hazard allowances doesn’t amount to a significant fee in comparison with the danger they confront every day. The poor earnings account for the reason why most doctors pursue oversea jobs. A medical doctor once confided in me that out of the over 130 doctors which his class produced, about 110 have left the country to work abroad for bigger pays. According to a 2019 report, the UK employs an average of 12 Nigerian doctors every week. Nigeria has about 42,000 doctors available to treat a staggering population of 200 million people. It would be recalled that the Nigeria Medical Association registered 75,000 doctors but 33,000 of them later left the country for better opportunities abroad. The World Health Organization estimates that at least one doctor should be available to 600 persons but in Nigeria today, we have a case of one doctor to 5,000 persons. Nigeria’s domestic budgetary allocations have also failed to meet the 15% mark set by 52 African country leaders after a meeting in Abuja in 2001. Nigeria allocates less than 6% of its yearly budget on health. So what do these health workers stand to gain? Like the teachers, their rewards seem to be in heaven.
In the UK where the lives of more than 69 workers of the National Health Service, NHS have been lost in the Covid-19 fight, the citizens are showing appreciations to the health workers. They have designated days set aside in which they congregate at the corridors of their apartments, windows and open areas to clap for the health workers. It’s the same in the US, Spain, Italy and other developed countries. This might be little but it goes a long way in psychologically boosting the morale of the health workers and showing them how much they are loved for their services.
Unfortunately, no such open gesture is shown towards health workers in Nigeria. They are seen as normal professional s working for their earnings and not unconventional soldiers bleeding on the field to save our lives from the scourge of the imported disease. Nobody claps for them, their faces are hardly seen and their identities apart from a few government officials are not known. Coronavirus cases in Nigeria have surged above 1,000 amid a present exponential rise and a potential national spread. This means the needed break by the health workers might be uncertain.