By Donu Kogbara
TONYE Harry, the distinguished, smart and immensely likeable former Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, and Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Tennis Federation, died last week in an air ambulance.
He had collapsed a few days earlier after an exercise session and was being flown to Europe to receive medical treatment when he suddenly passed away. May he rest in peace.
The tormenting thought that keeps reverberating through my mind is this: Our dear brother would not have been snatched away so prematurely (he was in his early 50s) if he had fallen ill in a country that has adequate medical facilities.
When I told my friend, Unoma Giese, how much I regretted Tonye’s demise, she sadly opened up about the way in which she lost her mother in 1965.
Unoma’s late father, Professor Norbert Onuora Osamo, studied in Germany and came home with a German wife. A brilliant haematologist (a ward at University of Benin Teaching Hospital has been named after him), he and his family were happily based in Ibadan when disaster struck.
Mrs Osamo, who had taken up a position at St Anne’s school, decided to drive to Lagos and had a fatal accident before she reached her destination.
She was only 26 years old; and Unoma, who was only two at the time, is convinced that her mother would have survived this car cash if efficient emergency services had been available.
But Nigerian ambulances tend to be nothing more than hearses that only show up to carry corpses to mortuaries and burial grounds…rather than well-equipped and adequately manned rapid response vehicles that rush to crisis scenes and save lives.
Unoma is still haunted by her young mother’s probably unnecessary death; and I am similarly traumatised by the manner in which my beloved father left me.
Daddy had a stroke just over a decade ago. Indigenous doctors failed to heal him, not because he was incurable…but because of mundane practical factors, such as the complete absence of an operational brain scanner in Port Harcourt.
Our then Governor, Dr Peter Odili, kindly decided to send him abroad. But he quietly faded away the day before he was due to make the journey to London and I believe that he would still be here if he had received proper help sooner. The list of avoidable tragedies goes back a long way and will continue to lengthen relentlessly if nothing is done to solve Nigeria’s health crisis.
As I’ve said on numerous occasions on this page, the Nigerian authorities urgently need to stop messing around and confront this persistent demon. Every single government hospital I have ever visited is far from ideal. Some are tolerable, but let’s face it: Tolerable is not good enough within this context.
Life is too precious to be entrusted to institutions that are merely tolerable. And most government hospitals are not even merely tolerable and can reasonably be described as filthy, unhygienic, badly-run jokes.
When my driver, Tunde, got sick in Abuja, I rushed him to the University Teaching Hospital in Gwagalada and was appalled by the conditions I met there.
The place stank to the high heavens and looked like a dingy slum; and the scariest thing was that the doctors I talked to were not remotely bothered about the fact that they were working in such an insanitary environment.
When I bitterly complained about the dirt and stench, they either came up with feeble excuses or coolly eyed me as if I was an excessively fussy troublemaker. I gained the impression that they regarded my attitude as ridiculously foreign.
Tunde died shortly after he was admitted; and I wasn’t surprised. He would have had to be particularly robust to emerge from that hellhole alive.
Private clinics are usually better, but still heavily handicapped by local realities.
Since many Nigerian doctors are highly intelligent and aware of how things are done in more civilized parts of the world, one wonders why they don’t possess sufficient professional pride – and compassion for patients who place their trust in them – to firmly put their feet down and insist on high standards.
Given that quite a few of our political leaders happen to be medics, one is also compelled to frequently wonder why Nigeria is such a disgraceful death trap.
Why are individuals who possess the expertise to know what changes are desperately needed so unwilling to act? Why do those who have the power to revolutionise our health sector and make it work for everyone drag their feet?
Naija VIPs and their cronies wallow in complacency because they have the funds to flee overseas whenever sickness rears its ugly head. But the Grim Reaper doesn’t care about anyone’s bank balance! And many of these selfish, short-sighted privileged folks die before they can even board flights.
Even if they don’t give a damn about the masses, they should develop the commonsense to embrace the concept of Enlightened Self-Interest.