DR. Bolaji Olusegun Adebiyi is the pioneer Medical Director of Alimosho General Hospital, Igando, established on February 16, 2006. The 100-bed hospital on the average sees over 15,000 patients and delivers about 110 babies monthly. To give it an edge among other public health institutions in Lagos, the hospital is equipped with a state-of-the-art haemodialysis centre, established by the MTN Foundation for the management of kidney-related diseases. In this interview, Adebiyi says Nigerians need to adopt the culture of going to hospitals for regular medical screening and not wait till they have serious health challenges. He spoke to CHIOMA OBINNA.
How much importance would you say Nigerians attach to their health?
Nigerians generally don’t pay attention to their health. Nigerians visit hospitals when they have problems that cannot be managed at home or pains that won’t go away after home treatment, and they suffer sleeplessness. Generally we don’t feel there is any need to have a general check-up. It is just not in our character. In fact, it can be termed unusual for a Nigerian to walk into a hospital and request for a general check-up of his or her body, or request for screening for diseases and conditions. We go to hospitals when there’s a problem that have gone out of hand and can no longer be managed at home.
What can be done to make people pay better attention to their health?
Well, a lot of advocacy will help. That is a major way by which you can bring it into the consciousness and knowledge of everyone that there is need to have a general check-up on a regular basis and one major channel by which that can be achieved is what is happening today in the hospital, a general screening of people. This is why we must thank all the facilitators of this health screening exercise, including the MTN Foundation. A good number of people will be influenced by this to see the need for a check-up in hospital settings. There is also the general education. When the literacy level increases in the society, more people will be aware of the need for regular check-up in a hospital. So a lot of constructive and well directed noise must be made. A lot of advocacy and a lot of education, especially health education will be of great help in changing our culture and attitude to general medical check-up.
Is quality health care readily available to the generality of Nigerians today, and just how affordable is that quality care, using Lagos as a case study?
I want to believe quality health care is available and that it is affordable. You may be surprised to know that in Lagos State for instance, there is a general Lagos State policy on health care delivery. One is free health care treatment for anybody under the age of 13 years and anyone over the age of 60 years. These two categories of people are entitled to and enjoy free health treatment policy. There is general anti-malaria treatment called ‘Eko Free Malaria Treatment’. That means everybody, no matter the age, even if one does not fall into the free health treatment bracket you are entitled to free malaria treatment. So hospitals are widely spread across the state, virtually every local government area in Lagos has one general hospital or the other and we have health centres spread all around. So for accessibility, yes it is accessible. Affordability-wise, I also want to believe that Lagos State is trying compared to what you may find in federal institutions. Lagos hospitals are still the cheapest.
Many experts are of the view that life expectancy for Nigerians has reduced tremendously over the last 50 or so years. Do you agree? If you do, what could be responsible for this trend and is this a global trend?
A number of causes could be responsible. I do agree that our fore fathers lived very long and healthy years and that the life expectancy for Nigerians especially, is not what we used to know it to be. For one, our diet has changed drastically. Our fore fathers did not do junk food. There were no Fast Food joints. They ate fresh vegetables and fruits. Not much of refined or processed food was consumed. Apart from our diet that has changed, our environment too has changed. We now have more vehicles plying our roads especially in the metropolis which increases air pollution via the release of poisonous emissions into the atmosphere. There is also the problem of global warming and general climate change, even the alterations in the water levels pose a big challenge. Unthinkable pressures we put on the earth’s natural resources like water is also a contributing factor. The availability of potable water to the generality of the people has reduced due to population explosion. These are all factors that are affecting the life span of Nigerians and reducing life expectancy. Stress caused by daily hustles, hectic traffic experience and many other factors add up to affect people’s lives and could take its toll on life expectancy.
What is the relationship between MTN Foundation and Alimosho General Hospital and what were your objectives for organising the Community Health Screening Exercise?
The screening was done to coincide with the World Kidney Day, which is marked worldwide and the essence of the day is to bring to the fore knowledge that kidney diseases are common in the society and if detected early can be treated. So the essence of the programme was to take advantage of the 2011 World Kidney Day and screen the members of the public to know those who are predisposed to kidney diseases and detect those who may already have the disease but are yet to show symptoms. The partnership we have with the MTN Foundationis that lent its support to the Nigerian Association of Nephrologists (NAN) to bring about the screening exercise. The MTN Foundation sponsored, promoted, and foot the bill for the reagents and much more to ensure that the exercise recorded a huge success.
Before now the Foundation had established a dialysis centre in this hospital; a two machine dialysis centre, fully functional and state-of-the-art. So there is a strong working partnership between MTN Foundation and this hospital.
Does your hospital enjoy such partnerships with other corporate organisations and do you think that corporate organisations are getting involved enough to augment government’s funding in the health sector?
Well, there is one other company that has shown us support like the MTN Foundation. For international organisations and corporate organisations based in Nigeria coming to support government in providing services for our numerous patients is commendable and is actually what is expected. The noble thing for corporate organisations is to plough back into the society from which they are making profit under the platform of corporate social responsibility and the health sector present many opportunities for corporate organisations to do this. Many more organisations will be encouraged by the efforts of MTN and others like it and would emulate MTN by signifying interest to partner with the Lagos State government especially in the area of healthcare delivery so that more people can get better services. This support could come in the form of facilities, training, increase in capacity of the hospital, provision of equipment, and other necessary tools to facilitate better service in our hospital. So many more organisations are welcome to join us.
What in your opinion is responsible for the rise in the cases of almost every disease including kidney diseases?
Well, like I said before, there are multiple factors, and they range from dietary to environmental factors, and so on, but more importantly there is lack of awareness. If you know you are a smoker the popular slogan is smokers are liable to die young, but Nigerians don’t really bother, they will tell you that something will eventually kill someone anyway. But you know that if you are a smoker you need a behavioural change for you to stop smoking. For those who take a lot of alcohol, you toy with your liver and if you don’t stop, one day you will come down with liver cirrhosis. So we need behavioural change and change of attitude, but we also need to increase advocacy for Nigerians to regularly visit hospitals for general medical check-up, which is something Nigerians don’t do. Nigerians must also exercise and must learn to relax, take time off to rest. Some people wake up in the morning as early as 4.00am and don’t get home until 11.00pm. So the body needs a lot of rest. Walking or trekking can be a good form of exercise, a short walk instead of an ‘okada’ ride will do the body great good. So a lot of factors are responsible but if people learn to lead healthy lives we won’t have some of the problems we are witnessing all around us today.
Health of a nation is key to economic and social development. Would you say government at all levels is paying enough attention to health, especially in terms of budgetary allocations?
There is a standard budget percentage recommended by the World Health Organisation, but in Africa there is virtually no country that adheres to this. So we can do better in our budget allocation to the health sector. But we must understand that when we are talking about health, it is not hospital per say. It is interconnected to several other aspects of life. We are talking about provision of potable water, good roads, education. So the health component of the budget is not what is allocated to the Ministry of Health per say. But a multisectoral allocation and that is what the Millennium Development Goals aim to achieve. It’s not limited to health as health per say. But it involves environment, water, and that is what the Lagos State government is doing, with the green revolution, cleaner environment. So government can do more but whether the means to do it is there is what I cannot say.
You mentioned a dialysis centre in the hospital donated by MTN Foundation, how has this helped the hospital in the treatment of patients with kidney related diseases?
It has been of tremendous help. And one major thing it has done is put this young hospital in the public space. It has really publicised the hospital and its potentials. The hospital is barely five years old, but everybody knows about Alimosho General Hospital.We now have the facility to treat kidney failure, which is what the dialysis centre is all about. The centre allows us treat patients and keep themalive with regular dialysis pending the time the patients get a kidney transplant. But we are even more interested in preventing kidney failure which is the essence of today’s Community Health Screening exercise.