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‘Nigeria’s prosthetics industry needs more awareness to become a tourist centre for quality artificial limbs’

Medical tourism has been a major challenge facing Nigeria’s health system. Also, lack of awareness of the prosthetics industry in the country has made Nigerians to seek care abroad. In this interview with the chief executive officer of Goldville Prosthetics and Orthotics Limited, Onyenucheya Chinedu, analyses how the prosthetics industry can thrive in Nigeria, as well as the challenges and solutions. He spoke to Anthonia Obokoh. Excerpts:

How would you appraise the prosthetics business environment in Nigeria?

Nigeria is a country with an estimated population of over 200 million people with a high number of amputees and people with musculoskeletal disabilities. Prosthetics and Orthotics is a field in Nigeria that is underdeveloped with a few professionals.

Although there has been gradual awareness on prosthetics in Nigeria, the people are yet to fully embrace the services as those with little knowledge move abroad for prosthetic care, not knowing we can offer such quality services in Nigeria.

We at Goldville Prosthetics and Orthotics Limited are into rehabilitation of amputees and individuals with musculoskeletal deficits or disabilities by providing Prosthesis, otherwise known as artificial limbs to amputees and Orthosis, which is an assistive device. We ensure that people who have lost all hope regain their mobility back.

What are the challenges facing the prosthetic industry?

There have been several challenges in the prosthetics industry and these include the rate of quackery, which is higher than professionalism in the field.  The number of quacks is more than the professionals and the patients are the ones who suffer in the hands of these quacks who provide them with services that are of poor quality. These poor quality services provided by quacks most of the time injure the patients. For example, a diabetes amputee could have his/her leg amputated over and over again due to the infection caused by the injuries gotten from the poor prosthetic device. It is not easy to see one’s limb amputated severally; the pains alone could lead to depression.

Sometimes this could cause another health challenge for the patient.  One difference between professionals and quacks is that, professionals make a general/full assessment of the patient before offering the appropriate prosthetic device to avoid complications, while quacks just go ahead to module up devices and give to patients, which end up causing danger to the patient’s body part and general health.

Secondly, most of the prosthetic components used to build prosthesis for amputees here in Nigeria are imported and due to the high exchange rate (naira to dollar), patients tend to pay more for securing a good and quality prosthesis, that is, artificial limbs.

Not all patients can afford such quality prosthesis; they end up in the nets of the quacks.

Thirdly, lack of awareness is another challenge facing this industry. Not every Nigerian is aware of the fact that professional prosthetic services are offered here in Nigeria. We have qualified prosthetics and orthotics centres in the country.

What is the rate of amputation in Nigeria and how affordable as well as accessible is prosthetics service in Nigeria?

There is no national data on the exact number of amputees in Nigeria; any figure given is based on an estimate. But from my experience, the rate of amputees is high, while those who have prosthesis devices are low due to the affordability.

I had to set up Goldville Prosthetics and Orthotics Limited to make these services affordable and accessible to amputees at our centre or at the comfort of the amputee, whether at their homes, offices, companies or organisations in whichever part of Nigeria they are.

However, there seems to be a high number of amputees in Nigeria who do not use prosthetic devices.  Due to the high number of amputees in Nigeria, with the ration of those who can pay for a prosthesis to those who cannot pay standing at 3:10, especially as the components used in producing the prosthesis are imported, the government and Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should fund part of the cost of this prosthesis to enable amputees procure the devices.

 Moreover, companies and affluent individuals should also play a part in funding the cost as well. We also need government, Non-Governmental Organisations, private organisations, philanthropists and individuals to partner with us to make prosthesis affordable and available to users in order to make Nigeria be among the top in the delivery of prosthetic care/services, the government should upgrade the services and also regulate the rate of quackery and unprofessionalism in the field.

 Private prosthetic centres or establishments should try and improve in the recent prosthetics technologies by training and retraining their staff.   Also, government and private prosthetics centres should encourage and sponsor research in the areas of prosthetics technologies.

As a stakeholder in the health and medical service industry in Nigeria, what makes people travel overseas to seek prosthetics care?

As a stakeholder and from a professional point of view, people travel overseas in search of quality prosthetics services.  Most people feel they cannot get good and quality services due to the lack of awareness and sometimes to avoid quacks.

 But the truth is they can get quality and essential prosthetic services here in Nigeria. There are quality prosthetics services here in Nigeria so individuals do not need to spend exorbitantly in order to get these services outside the country that is why my team at Goldville Prosthetics and Orthotics Limited is in Nigeria to restore hope and confidence in individuals with prosthetics and orthotics needs.

You were recently given the CEO of Today Africa awards, among others that were also given the honour, what lessons did you learn from previous years that you would apply to make year 2020 a better year in spite of the covid-19 pandemic?

As professionals we must be open to learn new things. Challenges are inevitable; nobody expected the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shaken the world. I have always strived for perfection in all that I do, I don’t rely on the old methods, I research to know the latest technologies and inventions in the prosthetics and orthotics field that have made me stand out.

  I ensure that I give my patients the best satisfaction. The reason why we are not moving forward as a country is because we keep doing things the old way, we need to take up new challenges, build new technologies, we might not get there immediately, but certainly we would change the face of how businesses are done in the country.

Of the wide medical field, why did you venture into Prosthetics and Orthotics?

What motivated me to go into the prosthetics and orthotics field was because I saw the huge need for individuals with amputation and disability to return back to their normal daily activities.

 I feel moved whenever I look at amputees and people with musculoskeletal disability not being able to compete with their peers, unable to provide for themselves and some face stigmatisation in the society, especially at work places where they are not given jobs due to their disabilities.

This causes most of them to fall into the state of depression. Looking at all these challenges faced by amputees and people with musculoskeletal disabilities, I decided to make an impact by venturing into the field of Prosthetics and Orthotics in order to restore hope and confidence to these set of people in the society.

 Where do you see yourself and company in the next five years?

Though doing business in Nigeria is not that rosy, keeping the vision and mission of Goldville prosthetics in mind, my goal is to ensure that amputees regain their hope of mobility. They are normal humans like us before the unfortunate incident that befell them.

We also hope to change the face of the prosthetics and orthotics industry in Nigeria, making the country a destination for prosthetics and orthotics care/services in the world.

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