When COVID-19 stunned humanity last year, American billionaire Bill Gates reportedly expressed fears about the possible casualties Africa would record if it became a pandemic. Microsoft founder’s apprehension was less because of his undermining Africans and more because of his understanding of the unreliable health system in much of the continent. He was right.
Though he never mentioned any country by name, he could have been speaking directly about the unworkable health system in Nigeria. A year and two months after his accurate assessment, Nigeria has shown, once again, that the government has failed completely in overhauling or improving the health sector in the country.
Not for the first time, President Muhammadu Buhari is currently on medical leave far away in London and not at any of the hospitals in his home state Katsina or where he calls the shot from in Aso Villa Abuja.
Soon after he became president, Buhari was on medical leave for more than five months in the same city, leading many to speculate he had died and that a double was running the government in his stead. It was not true.
But what is true is that successive heads of government and top politicians – from governors down to party chairs, local government chairmen and even councillors in the country – from as far back as anyone can remember have depended on foreign countries for whatever medical condition they might be suffering from. Why is that so?
The answer is simple. The ruling class do not trust the medical personnel in their own hospitals and the establishments they manage. Period! Again, why is that so?
The answer, again, is simple. The health sector (whether federal-owned or state controlled) are shabbily run, almost always starved of much needed funding thus making them, in the eyes of many, Bill Gates, for example, death homes rather than places of treatment.
In the last few years, for instance, the Nigeria Medical Association, the umbrella body of resident and practicing doctors in the country, have gone on strike as frequently as anyone can remember. Right now, the National Association of Resident Doctors is on strike even as PMB is on medical leave. It is something of an irony that on the very day he arrived London, Nigerians in the capital city massed out at the Nigerian House where he lodged to protest his frequent medical trip there.
The protesters, according to reports, pointedly told the Nigerian president to return to his country for whatever ailment he is suffering from – a pointer, without any doubt, to the shoddy way successive administrations have handled the health sector in Nigeria. It is sad.
It must be said however that this proclivity of the ruling class in Nigeria to jet off to foreign medics at the slightest sign of a headache, toothache, earache or rumble in the tummy did not begin with PMB. Nigerians of a certain generation still remember that military president Ibrahim Babangida once spent time in a Paris hospital for what has entered medical lexicon as radiculopathy – an ailment with his foot.
Those before him had their turn in foreign hospitals. It is still ongoing, witness PMB’s recent medical leave. Whether it will stop is hard to say. But what is blindingly obvious to Nigerians is that the health sector has been serially neglected by those in positions of authority. It should not be so.
THEWILL strongly believes that if that neglect continues, the entire health sector will suffer correspondingly as it has been for ages. Nothing can change this unless those in positions of authority change their attitude: build up your medical facilities to a professional standard, a corresponding regard for the personnel running them – doctors, nurses, matrons and the sundry staff employed there.
That way, they won’t look to foreign countries for job opportunities. But above everything, Mr. President and, by extension, politicians like him, can take their much needed rest of make-over under the careful watch of a Nigerian doctor in a Nigerian hospital. After all, there is no place like home, as the saying goes.