December 16, 2018

Nigeria’s Dire Medical Care Challenges: The Need for Corporate Intervention

By Kingsley Ekwujuru

The  saying, ‘health is wealth’ is one that many Nigerians, rich and poor, find difficult to understand. They do not easily differentiate the pangs of everyday living in Nigeria from the pangs of ill health but when sickness calls, the import of the saying becomes very obvious.

In our usual way of seeking own solutions to social and medical problems, most of us can afford to go to local hospitals or travel to cities where there are better equipped hospitals for treatment, leaving the lower class, market traders, commercial service providers etc in our midst at the mercy of unprescribed local herbs or no medical attention whatsoever.

If there is any country who needs to take this agenda 2030 seriously, it is Nigeria, given our poor health statistics. According to the 2018 CIA World Factbook, Nigeria ranks fourth and eighth highest in the maternal and infant mortality in the world, with a record of 814 deaths per 100,000 live births (maternal), and 69.8 deaths per 1,000 live births (infant). In general, Nigeria has the 19th highest death rate in the world with an estimated 12.4 deaths per 1,000 population annually.

One other disturbing fact addresses Nigeria as ‘very high risk’ in the prevalence of major infectious diseases like diarrhoea, hepatitis, typhoid fever, malaria, dengue fever, Lassa fever etc.   Many factors may account for these grim statistics, but chief among them is the country’s poor health care service delivery,  the lack of prompt and quality medical attention, broken down into lack of medical equipment and consumables, inadequate health personnel among others on the hospital’s part which most low income earners might not be able to afford.

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to address these poor statistics through adequate and targeted funding. Our health expenditure is on the average of 3.7 percent of the annual budget which is much lower than the UN-recommended 15 percent. It calls for extra-governmental funding – from donor agencies, non-governmental organisations, corporate entities and philanthropists – to address the various challenges bedevilling our health sector.

It is interesting to see some corporate organisations such as MTN Nigeria contribute in making efforts towards reversing this status quo by equipping hospitals, training the health personnel and further taking healthcare to odd and busy locations such as the markets in order to reach out to the low income earners in Nigeria.

When it comes to choices we make on various issues of life, we do what we think is best and therefore live with its consequences whichever way it turns out. But, when it comes to one’s health, a second thought needs be given as to whatever decision we make. It is alarming the rate at which the local concoction popularly known as Agbo jedi jedi or Sepe is hawked on the streets of Nigeria and the widespread consumption of Herbal bitters, especially at market places or motor parks. The questions that readily come to mind are; Is it more effective than drugs prescribed at a standard hospital or do they consume it because it is a cheaper and faster way to get treated?

Speaking with Iya Iyabo, one of the herbal concoction (Agbo) sellers at Ojuelegba Motor Park, she said “Agbo is a very good natural remedy with no artificial chemicals added.” When asked about the ingredients and the health benefits of her herbal mixture she said, “Agbo is a mixture of herbs and roots which are soaked in either alcohol or pap water. They are roots and herbs our forefathers depended on before the introduction of modern drugs and they lived longer and healthier than us. These herbal mixtures are used to cure ailments such as malaria, typhoid, pile (hemorrhoid).”

What consumers of these herbal mixtures especially ‘Agbo’ are not aware of, is the appropriate dosage. Some might take too little or too much and excess of it can cause the liver to shut down or causes multi systemic complications that affect the kidney and liver which are the powerhouses of the body. Also, it might cause blood psychosis and other mild complications which include gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, aphasic anemia and in rare cases, affects the bone marrow.

Most of these informations are not communicated to the customers or patients who consume these mixtures, most of these customers are usually market traders, commercial drivers, street hawkers etc all low income earners who barely have the time to visit the hospital or plainly can not afford to pay the cost for medical check up and prescribed drugs.

Taking medical care to these markets is one way to curb the use of these harmful herbal mixtures while using that opportunity to educate individuals on the life treating dangers they face by consuming such.

The corporate social responsibility (CSR) arm of MTN Nigeria which was launched in 2005, chose health as one of its focal points for intervention.

As part of its aim of improving the health sector in Nigeria, as well as the reduction of morbidity and death arising from any form of disease, the Foundation has embarked on some impressive projects overtime such as partnered the Sickle Cell Foundation Nigeria (SCFN) to provide services to over 7,293 Sickle cell patients and thousands of carriers from inception to date, provided state-of-the-art Haemodialysis and Mammography Centres as well as providing medical supplies to the Emergency wards in various hospitals in Nigeria.

The foundation’s recent initiative called Market Doctor was designed to take medical care at not cost to the markets, directly to traders and market goers who need them.

Currently in its second phase, MTN Market Doctor has seen the Foundation visit buyers and sellers in New Layout market, Borokiri, Rumuwoji market (Mile 1 Ultra-Modern Market), Oyigbo Main market, Echi-Eta market, Eleme and Ndoni main market, Onelga in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, attending to their medical needs.

The prospects of this initiative cannot be better encapsulated than in the words of  Director, MTN Foundation, Victor Odili, while addressing guests at the flag off ceremony of MTN Market Doctor. According to him,”The sad part about it is that the men and women who make our markets a lively busy place, do not have time to take care of themselves.

This is what allows simple medical issues to become complicated, leading to illness and loss of revenue from staying at home.”   Although, the impact of MTN’s health initiatives may not be felt so much on the macro level that it could be picked by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, its impact has manifested on the micro level as thousands of individuals who are beneficiaries of these gestures have MTN to thank for the improved health status that they enjoy.

A life saved is half a generation created. A takeaway from MTN’s Market Doctor is that corporate organisations could as well impact the society, not only by the commercial services they offer but by electing to take up pro-people projects that elevate the wellbeing of ordinary citizens.

The MTN Market doctor will be visiting Tejuosho Market, Phase 2, Yaba on December 17, 2018; Ayangburen Market, Sabo, Ikorodu on December 18, 2018; Mile 12 Market, Ketu on December 19, 2018 and Folashade Tinubu-Ojo (FTO), Ebute-Ero Market, Gorodom, Lagos on December 20, 2018.