By Sola Ogundipe
When Julie Nwokoma went to a hospital in Takwa Bay and was told she couldn’t have her baby normally, she was really distraught. “I was told my blood pressure was too high and was referred to the Island Maternity. When I got there, I was taken to the theatre and told I could settle the bill after the surgery.”
Julie had her baby safely. But three days later when the hospital brought the bill, they were unable to pay. “My husband was out looking for money without success. I had left my children at home for several days, and here I was, in hospital with a new baby, but unable to go home because I could not pay.”
Julie was really worried and upset. She burst into tears and her blood pressure began to rise again.
“I was crying. Then these people came around. They said they were from an organization called the Health Emergency Initiative, HEI, for indigent patients and wanted to help. I was very happy. I stayed in that hospital for one month until they paid my bills and I was released.”
Julie is not the only one that has benefited from this initiative. Sara Edet, a young housewife, was several months pregnant when she suddenly began to bleed. She went to the hospital immediately. “I went for a scan, and the result was not encouraging. After three days, my case was classified as critical and I was referred for surgery.
The doctor said something should be done urgently to save the pregnancy. I was taken to a health facility at Surulere for another test. By the time we returned for the surgery, we had spent all the money that we had and we had no money again for the surgery. It was the HEi that came to my rescue and paid all my bills.
Another beneficiary, Aina Shittu, whose daughter, Zainab, complained of a headache and suddenly took slumped and was taken to the hospital.
She couldn’t talk or walk or move her limbs. “We took her to the Federal Medical Center, Ebute Metta, tests running up to N10, 000 were prescribed, “ Aina narrated. Although Zainab was on the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, it did not cover the drugs that she had to take at cost of N5, 000 plus daily for 6 weeks.
“My husband and I had exhausted all our finances and we were unable to pay for the drugs. It was then someone introduced us to HEI who took over her case and paid for the drugs.”
Millions of Nigerians are so poor they cannot afford a square meal a day. There are instances of people that cannot be discharged from hospital because they owe as little as N2,000. So many are dying because they are unable to pay to obtain treatment even in government or public hospitals. But there are benevolent Nigerians that set up initiatives and organisations to take care of the medical needs of the indigent.
One of such is the Health Emergency Initiative, HEI for indigent patients.
The Initiative’s Chairman Board of Trustees, Dr. Ndi Onuekusi, said HEI has intervened in over 2,000 cases since inception and is signing Memoranda of Understanding with 11 public hospitals.
He observed that the provision of healthcare is an area of ignorance in Nigeria, and remarked that what HEI does is provide assurance of prompt settlement of bills for the indigent to obtain access to health care in public hospitals.
“The HEI programme for indigent patients is especially for indigent Nigerians some of who die because they are unable to pay as little as N2,000 for medical bills. HEI also takes care of patients detained for inability to settle their treatment bills and has intervened in about 150 patients in 20 hospitals.
“There is no burden whatsoever on the beneficiary. It is decided on basis of need. This is a needs-based initiative and support only. The beneficiary does not have to register or know anybody, but only has to qualify for the support to be provided.”
Onuekusi explained that HEI is raising funds to assist the indigent with health care services. “What HEI does is provide assurance of prompt settlement of bills to obtain access to health care in public hospitals. Medical health care is generally expensive and many die because they cannot afford it. The ordinary medical care is being made available to the indigent by HEI.
Further, the BOT Chairman said: “No health system can be functional if it does not obey three basic organizational rules of effectiveness, efficiency and equity. First, it must be effective, that is, it must do what it is supposed to do. Second, it must be efficient by do it at the least cost possible. Third, there must be no discrimination between the rich and poor.”
According to Onukuesi, HEI is a voluntary agency driven by love making it to become a powerful institution. “You cannot show greater love than by supporting someone that is about to die and the person regains life. The beneficiary must be truly indigent and the intervention is only in public and government hospitals for those who cannot access treatment. HEI has contacts with many hospitals and has intervened in Ibadan and Abuja. When we hear about a case, we investigate it.”
In the last quarter of the year, HEI is collaborating with the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, and selected government hospitals to bridge the gap between accident victims and prompt access to first hand treatment across the country. During the campaign tagged “None Should Die”, there would be guaranteed access to treatment by accident victims.
During the campaign, accident victims in critical condition brought in by the FRSC to the hospital would be immediately treated at the expense of the HEI.
“It is to guarantee access to treatment for accident victims. Effort will be made to contact relatives for continuity of treatment especially exceeding N20, 000.
Onuekusi however said the initiative requires support from benevolent Nigerians to build a support system, especially for the indigent and to give first phase treatment to road accident victims.
“For the accident victim, there is no assessment. An accident victim needs a first level care. There is no debate. Every accident victim requires first care. Anybody that requires emergency but cannot access it will be assisted in this respect. It is not really about money. “