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Covid 19: Private hospitals in Nigeria feel the pinch of government’s neglect

Six months into the covid-19 pandemic, medical practitioners in Nigeria complain that their hospital and personnel’s capacity to tackle the ongoing emergency has been hampered by the lack of essential medical supplies.  

“No doubt, we are not keeping to the promise of prioritizing the health needs of Nigerians and the reason for that is not far-fetched,” says Consultant Cardiologist, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Dr. Ramon Moronkola.“Despite the many challenges we face in recent times, the level of support we receive from government is nothing to write home about.

“Government said they have provided the PPE to health workers. That is not true — they only provided the PPE to those in public hospitals, forgetting that majority of Nigerians access healthcare services at private hospitals.

Private hospitals are victims too

“That said, private hospitals are in the business to make profit and they have staff on their payroll. With the safety measures spelled out by government that all private hospitals would need to put in place if they still want to be in business, hospitals are now running at a loss,” he added.

Moronkola said during the early stage of the pandemic, most private hospitals were shut down, simply because they could not keep up with the cost of running the hospitals, adding that the prices of medical facemask, hand sanitizer, hand gloves and other medical supplies had skyrocketed.

“Private hospitals didn’t receive the necessary support from government. The government gave the order that if a patient who is receiving treatment in a hospital, later tested positive, the hospital should shut down, the staff who attended to that patient should be isolated and the management of that hospital should decontaminate the premises before resuming for business.  

Dr Ramon Moronkola

“It takes huge funds to put those measures in place. To avoid spending unnecessary funds, private health sector then decided to reject suspected COVID-19 patients, demanding for COVID-19 certificate before admission”, he added.

 PPE for all

To avoid unnecessary deaths, Moronkola said the government should designate more hospitals to handle patients with suspected COVID-19.

 “Such hospitals should have isolated space to treat patients with suspected COVID-19 before the test result comes out,” he told The Daily Report. “The patient will be managed and treated, while awaiting the result.

“All the staff who will attend to that patient must be given PPE to protect them. If the patient is negative, he/she will be moved to the general ward, but if his result comes out positive, then he should be referred to hospitals designated to treat COVID-19 patients. By then, the patient would have been stabilised.

“I will also plead with the government to assist the private hospitals by providing the PPE for all health workers, because, even when a hospital does not have enough space for demarcation, they can allocate a safe space to attend to these patients with suspected COVID-19, if they have PPE to protect themselves with.”

With more than 40 health workers in Nigeria confirmed to have been exposed to COVID-19, president of the Association of Resident Doctors, LASUTH-ARD, Dr Itohan Oaku has called on government to provide the PPE to all health workers in Lagos and Nigeria at large. 

Oaku, in an interview with The Daily Report said this will help to protect health workers from being exposed to COVID-19, thereby mitigating the fear of treating patients with suspected COVID-19.

The frontliners’ side-effect

He added that one of the reasons why health workers are afraid to treat patients with suspected COVID-19, was because a lot of them have been exposed to the virus due to the fact that government only focus their attention on the COVID-19 response team, called the ‘front liners’ while neglecting those working in general hospitals, private hospitals and even Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs).

Dr Itohan Oaku

“Government said it has trained health workers and provided them with PPE. The so called frontliners are the only doctors trained, but government is forgetting that patients will still go to the general hospitals, other teaching hospitals, private hospitals and even the PHCs, to meet doctors who are not given proper health training. 

“These doctors are being sidelined because government feels that it is the frontliners that need the PPE, that need to be trained and they are the only ones they should focus on. Meanwhile, they fail to realise that with community transmission now on the rise, people who have contracted COVID-19 are going everywhere, including the private hospitals, so all health workers are at risk, hence the reason for the rejection,” she added.

She called on the government to treat all health workers as frontliners and, not just those at the Isolation treatment centres. “For health workers to be protected government would need to provide the PPE to all health facilities in Lagos and Nigeria at large and these equipment must be available at all time.” 

Royal Ibeh is a freelance writer who reports on the health sector, with a special interest in maternal, newborn and children health, family planning, grassroots health and HIV. Twitter:@royal_uche

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