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44 DAYS AFTER UN HOUSE BOMBING: Another look at emergency medical response

*An update on patients flown abroad for treatment


Four months ago, when the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, visited  Nigeria, he called on the federal government to expedite action on improving access to healthcare for its citizenry, particularly at a time when Nigeria continued to experience one tragedy after another.

Ban Ki Moon, who was on his first official visit to Nigeria, like many concerned Nigerians often directly affected by the nation’s poor health system, spoke during  an inspection tour of the Maitama General hospital in Abuja.

He maintained that the UN recognised the need for healthcare systems all over the world, lamenting that in Nigeria, 1000 women along with 2000 children who are dying on daily basis was a “totally and truly unacceptable situation, as most of these deaths are preventable.

Governments must place top priority on health. Healthy women, healthy mothers, healthy children mean healthy societies and this mean a healthy world”.

June 16, 2011, the first suicide bomber in Nigeria struck.  He allegedly drove few meters behind the Inspector General of Police, Hafiz Ringim’s, convoy in the premises of the Police Head Quarters  was directed by a police man to the car park where he detonated the bomb in his car bomb, leaving  behind 72 burnt cars and a number of deaths and injuries.

This unfortunate incident was a wake up call to the Nigerian government that the nation needs to take a decisive stand on securing its people from the hands of unscrupulous element – especially the Medicare response after such acts.

Few hours later, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,  Dr Goodluck Jonathan, visited the scene of the blast and expressed his commitment to avert reoccurrence of such, saying that the government will make sure that such incidents  never happened again and those responsible, brought to book.

On the 26th of August, 2011, lives were not only cut short, dreams were shattered.  A bomb blast at the United Nations, UN, House, in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, affected all of 106 persons through injuries and deaths.  Over 20 people died.  Some 17 others among those seriously injured were evacuated to South Africa (12 UN and 5 non UN staff) for specialist treatment.

At the blast scene, it was not hard to notice the anguish, pain, frustration and disappointment on the faces of many Nigerians, particularly relatives of the victims, not just seeing the bodies of their loved ones blown beyond recognition, but the feeling that, even those who were rescued alive from the blast scene may not survive due to the nation’s ailing health system.

For many of the fortunate victims who eventually survived emergency medical treatment in Nigeria, one can only imagine their anxiety, knowing full well that hospital facilities in Abuja that day were overstretched.

For those who were taken abroad for treatment,  they were indeed lucky, as the UN came to their rescue by taking that course of action, because, the world body at the time felt that, if these victims were left  in Nigerian Hospitals, mortality might be the song because of lack of equipments.  This has been a major set back.

In one of his recent speeches, the representative of the World Health Organisation, WHO, Mr. David Okelo, made it clear that lack of equipments was a major problem in Nigerian hospitals.

He lamented that any hospital that will not be able to resuscitate lives in 48 hours, is a big problem.

“The condition of people we took to South Africa for specialist treatment was too bad to be left in the hands of Nigerian hospitals; some, their intestines came out; some, their brains were out and others with complicated broken bones.

Just to make it clear, we have competent medical personnel in this country,  but we took them out to South Africa because of lack of Equipment in the Nigerian hospitals, because of the state they were at that particular moment, any hospital that can not be able to help a patient in 48 hours, then there is a problem.

“Their conditions have improved, for those who were in coma are now talking one out of the three most serious cases has been discharged”.

In his reaction, the Public Relations Officer, National Hospital, Mr. Tayo Haastrup, explained to Sunday Vanguard in a telephone interview that, there was nothing wrong in the UN opting to give the best medical treatment to selected victims of the blast.

His words: “The UN wanted their people to get the best treatment in the world; it was what we could not stop; it is not that we could not handle the situation, because we have the best hands and equipment you can think of.  All the patients that were brought here all survived, none died even those that were taken out for specialist treatment if they were left under our custody we would have done our best”.  But the UN chose not to wait for that “best”.

But in spite of these assurances, weak and often unpredictable medical response during the series of bombing has continued to elicit anxiety, particularly in the seeming lack of facilities in Nigerian hospitals.

The issue is that most hospitals do not have ambulances. Where they have one or two, they are not functional.  Where emergency ambulances are available in hospitals, there have been instances where such hospital ambulances have been converted to official cars by individuals for their personal usage.  You notice some ambulances on the roads atimes used as staff bus.  Another major issue is the lack of life support skills.  In other better climes, even non medical staffs are trained on life saving skills in case of emergency.

Recent occurrences in Nigerian hospitals – even in the management of routine medical cases – seem to suggest that, the nation’s health system is plagued by lack of facilities.

Many have also suggested that passage of the National Health Bill may remedy the short-coming in the health sector. The Health Bill, if passed, according to its proponents, would provide access, equity and efficiency; it is also expected to take care of women and children, people with disabilities; and health financing.

The expected benefits of the Health Bill, not withstanding, the question of how to enhance emergency medical response and ambulance services in Nigeria, seems to be one of the biggest concerns at the moment.

That is not all. There have been instances of sending nurses to rural areas without commensurate remuneration or worst still, instances abound where there are well staffed hospitals, but lack of the necessary drugs for patients.

It is time for the government to take a decisive measure for effective emergency medical response which includes equipping the police, emergency medical services, appropriate medical workforce and effective inter-agency cooperation between agencies of government and head of the emergency teams.


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