Dr Mathias Nnadi, a neurosurgeon with the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) died a few days ago. His death, apparently from failure of our health care delivery system rippled through the neuroscience community like a pandemic. Yes, he was probably killed by Covid-19 disease as he tested positive, according to reports. But he need not have died. He should not have died, without us, his medical colleagues giving him a good fight. We were not given the opportunity to assist him in the dying minutes with spirited attempts to save his life.
He died on the dusky roads en route to hospitals without the basic facilities and manpower to save him. He struggled to get to a hospital, any hospital, and died in transit. He died because we do not have good roads. He died because we do not have an ambulance service that can save lives. He died because no one even respects the ambulance in Nigeria.
All he needed was oxygen.
Being one of only about 100 neurosurgeons in Nigeria (responsible for over 200 million people) did not save Dr Nnadi. Being the most senior neurosurgeon in Calabar was of no help to him in his dying hours. The private hospitals in Calabar could not help him. The Navy hospital and the UCTH could not render the necessary care. They did not even have the opportunity.
Here is the truth.
A patient of mine died recently. We simply could not get an intensive care bed for him anywhere. The hospital beds were either full, unstaffed or of poor quality. Many hospitals claim to have ICU beds that are mere shadows. Many have hearses called ambulances. Some ambulances are seen in the market shopping for Madam. This leads to the lack of respect for ambulances on our roads. People are not sure if the ambulances are on emergency or trying to pull a fast one on the roads.
I once asked members of the Guild of Medical Directors (GMD) if their individual hospitals can save them. If they were to be taken to their own hospitals in an emergency? The likelihood is that friends and family will take such a practitioner as Dr Nnadi to his own hospital, the place where he worked….for emergency care. The question therefore remains the same for all of us. Can your hospital save you? Because, if your hospital does not have a viable ambulance, a working emergency room, oxygen and emergency drugs…your life is worthless.
We are all potential Dr Nnadi and walking, breathing corpses in Nigeria. We are already dead people and hiding behind the respectability of healthcare practitioners will not change our situation. No one is safe in the Nigeria of today and we do not have a life we can be proud of.
We have been very silent and aloof in the face of all the deterioration in quality of healthcare and life in Nigeria. We have been browbeaten into submission and become cowards. So, if you tell you die and if you do not talk, you die. Let us talk, elevate and escalate our predicament in Nigeria.
Let us start with the damned Covid-19. Covid-19 has killed many good doctors and only a few politicians. That is not good, and we should pray for change. Remember, the government engaged doctors in the fight against the virus and then did not pay them. It left many front-liners in the battle front and we did not fight for them. The Covid-19 relief money as well as the palliatives were appropriated by government officials without a care. As sure as tomorrow, some in government are already queuing to scam or steal any money related to the second wave.
The Nigerian government has taken a leave of absence in the fight against the Corona virus. The government has lost credibility with the people and cannot get a believable message out. The government has no money and no plans for the vaccines that many countries are developing. We are not equipped to develop or even to distribute vaccines if someone dashed us some.
The healthcare system is broken and needs to be swept up and deposited in the rubbish dump. Health should become the number one priority in Nigeria, and we must all become actively involved. We cannot continue to be silent. We cannot blame the older generation. Or the millennials. We are the generation to make it happen. We are the lives at stake. We are all Dr Nnadi.
All he asked for was oxygen.
Oxygen, free and readily available in the air.
The same oxygen that you and I are breathing now without a care.
All we need to ask for is an equitable healthcare system: for all!
If it was not available for Dr Nnadi, it will not be available for you or me.