THE death of five children at the Jos University Teaching Hospital, JUTH, is a partial verdict on the state of our teaching hospitals, just refurbished at great cost and their supposed attainment of international standards celebrated with an embarrassment to the array of equipment that were brought into the hospitals without much attention to the relevance of the equipment and supporting facilities for them to work.
JUTH, where the children died in the Intensive Care Baby Unit of the hospital during a power failure should be of interest to Nigerians, who witnessed the media hype about the intervention in eight teaching hospitals. The Federal Government claimed it spent N17 billion in the intervention project that was done in the dying days of the Obasanjo administration.
Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, University College Hospital, UCH, Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, ABUTH, Zaria, Jos University Teaching Hospital, JUTH, University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, UMTH, were among the beneficiaries.
JUTH authorities say though some babies in the incubators died in ICBU, it had nothing to do with power failure. The hospital insists the babies died either of congenital infections or because they were born pre-term and not because of power failure.
Parents of the dead babies are unimpressed. They complained that the hospital was without electricity for two hours. Babies in intensive care survive on equipment that require electricity to power them.
Nigerian doctors are good. They are in demand all over the world, one of the reasons that they leave in their droves in search of opportunities overseas. Without equipment, what are the doctors supposed to do in cases like the one at JUTH, which moved into its permanent site, a sprawling estate this year.
The new site is an empty edifice that those, who built it delighted more in its beauty than its functionality. Patients, especially pregnant women lumber from the parking lot to the main building that is inaccessible to patients unless they trek to it. Vehicles cannot get near it.
JUTH has for years served hundreds of thousands of patients, who troop in, some using it as their primary health centre. Its major challenge remains facilities to meet their needs.
Electricity supply has added to that challenge in a dangerous way. Erratic supply has left the hospital, like many other institutions in Nigeria, with no alternative than to provide their own power at costs that exceed budgets. The generators are also unreliable.
The movement to JUTH’s new site has added to its electricity needs. Where would it get the money to fuel generators that would serve the sprawling estate?
It is not a problem unique to JUTH. Other teaching hospitals are groaning under electricity problems in a way that has reduced these health institutions to glorified health centres. The most outstanding thing about these places now is the architecture.
The mammography machine installed at the UCH, Ibadan, in 2005 is yet to be calibrated. Cassettes meant to complement the equipment are not compatible.
Unreliable power supply the equipment and operations of the hospital. On paper, UCH is still rated high for the same mammography equipment.
At LUTH, equipment are either outdated or where they are new, poor electricity supply has placed them out of use. Some that are installed cannot be used since the generators cannot power them. The Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife runs on generators too.
Our teaching hospitals cannot sustain the high costs of running generators. They ration the use of the generators to fit their budget and not the need of patients.
If the parents did not protest the death of the five babies which makes the point again that Nigeria should have priorities in its development; the incident would have gone unnoticed. Electricity supply is a recurring challenge that governments fail to address.
The consequences of the neglect spread across all areas of our lives.
What happened in Jos is a testament to the consistent failing of our public and private institutions because those they are under their care refuse to see these institutions as service delivery points.
The renovation of the teaching hospitals is another of the charades that governments place in our faces and expect our applause.
Little will change in the fate of these hospitals — and ours too — for as long as our leaders, who should be concerned about the state of our hospitals, meet their medical needs abroad, sadly at public expense.
Attempts to use the deaths to judge the capabilities of doctors at JUTH will fail for its exclusion of the fact that JUTH like other teaching hospitals has equipment that never work and electricity challenges that keep these places in the dark ages no matter how fanciful their new buildings appear.
Governments can stop these preventable deaths by making Nigeria work, by making electricity available, instead of wasting time, like the public lamenting the wastes poor electricity supply causes.