• Tuesday, April 16, 2024
businessday logo


Economic pressure pushes Nigerians away from hospitals

Twenty reasons your organisation needs wellness experts (Part 2)

Health is not only an important asset but also the most priceless possession every individual has to protect and that’s the reason why medical centres like hospitals, clinics and pharmacies cannot be totally avoided.

Regardless, the rising inflation and the level of hardship in the country has made it difficult for the average citizen to pay regular visits to the big hospitals even at critical times where it is necessary.

If people find it difficult to feed very often, would it then be easy to pay regular hospital bills?

Some years ago, private hospitals were regarded as the most effective places for patients to get adequate attention and efficient treatment. While the elite citizens patronised the big private hospitals, the average members of the society could afford the regular private hospitals and clinics.

At that time, many people loathed general hospitals run by the government. In recent times, the reverse seems to be the case.

Those big hospitals of the old years such as: The EKO Hospital, Havana, Jolad, among others seem not to be in the reckoning any longer. They now struggle to get patronage due and as a result, find it difficult to attract quality personnel or retain experienced staff.

As Nigerians continue to grapple with the rising cost of living, many are in dire straits as access to healthcare service is becoming increasingly difficult forcing people to resort to alternative medicine and preventive therapies.

In recent months, the sweeping reforms by President Bola Tinubu’s administration occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy among other measures slowed down the purchasing power of many Nigerians and ability to seek quality healthcare.

Many people, who spoke to BusinessDay Sunday, said they only go to hospital in extreme cases, especially in cases that involve their children’s medical condition.

Some say they have resorted to alternative medicine or herbs to cure ailment because they spend major part of their salary on food, leaving little for other things.

They, however, added that they often pray against medical conditions, like surgery that would make them seek forced medical care.

Many advised the government to intervene by subsidizing healthcare service and making it accessible through primary health centres and cottage hospitals.

“Survival is what we are talking about now and food is the number one thing, except when my wife wants to deliver or my children are very sick, we don’t go to hospital.

“If you go there, they would just be writing drugs anyhow. We don’t pray to be sick, because there is no money,” Wale Ojo, a teacher said.

Medical experts say with the present economic situation, many people do not have the financial resources to seek medical care, and that they now see qualitative healthcare as luxury.

“What we have seen is that because of the economic situation people’s purchasing power has dropped; you write drugs for patients and they can’t afford them, how do they get better?

“Is worse for the elderly people who are not working again or are pensioners, some would be asking for free treatment and drugs, there is little we can do,” Wunmi Balogun, a nurse, said.

Further compounding the situation is the escalating prices of drugs largely due to unstable exchange rate, forcing many to resort to patronising quacks and self-medication. There are instances where the increase in prices of drugs is between ‪100-300‬ percent.

A malaria drug that used to sell for N2000 before now sells between N3500-N5000 depending on the location in town.

A visit to some health centres and hospitals revealed that the cost of providing medical care and buying medical equipment have also risen, forcing operators and medical practitioners to increase their service rate.

There is a rise in the price of bed space in public hospitals in recent months with some charging from N25, 000 to N40,000. Normal delivery still hovers between N60, 000 and N120, 000 while Caesarean section (CS) is around 100,000 to 250,000.

In private hospitals CS now is between 250,000-N400,000.

Also, the price of oxygen has increased significantly in public and private hospitals.

Some medical practitioners say there has been an increase in the number of cancelled appointments for surgery by patients in recent months because they can’t afford to pay.

They also said that other patients simply prefer to seek alternative means of seeking medical care that is affordable.

“It is sad, but I can’t advise anyone to resort to herbs, because it is not medically verified,” Seun Olowo, a medical practitioner said.

Chukwu Okoro, an entrepreneur, said it was obvious that a lot of Nigerians are staying away from hospitals because of the rising cost and difficulty in accessing doctors.

“Even before the economy became this bad, I hardly visit hospital, but I took my mother for treatment of an infection recently and they were writing all sorts of drugs, even to see a doctor was a problem; at the end, we used herbs and mixture; thank God she is fine now,” Okoro said.

Joseph Ekong, who is an average citizen, said that he can’t remember when he last visited a hospital because it is a lot more expensive than visiting a clinic or pharmacy.

“It is overwhelming when you first think of buying a hospital card, paying a consulting fee, and making some expenses that do not include your treatment,” he said.

Inyene-Obong Imoh, a teacher with a private school in Lagos, said that going to a hospital for the first time during an emergency is usually not pleasant as one must get a card first before being attended to regardless of the level of discomfort of the patient.

Dr. Akinwale, a surgeon with the state hospital Ota, Ogun State, who also owns a couple of hospitals in Ota, said that many people only come to the hospital nowadays as emergency cases; when things have nearly become unbearable and all alternatives or means of treatment have failed.

This, according to him, has caused many causalities especially in children and the elderly.

“For a couple of months now we have seen low patronage in our various clinics due to the fact that most patients can’t afford the bills; they rather opt for self-medication,” he said

Dr. Ahmed, a medical doctor with the Lagos State Health Service commission, said that low purchasing power was affecting many Nigerians, who now opt for primary health care centres that still provide some level of care.

Experts have warned that governments at all levels must act to mitigate the situation to check the rise in cost of health facilities, infrastructural gap so as not to worsen the country’s health indices.

Personnel and infrastructure gap

A visit to some public medical centres revealed large scale infrastructural gaps and lack of required personnel hindering access to healthcare service by Nigerians.

In some health centres, the facilities are obsolete and not befitting of hospital standards.

At the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, part of the reception was converted to bed space.

Although some big and elite private hospitals boast of good infrastructure and world-class medical equipment, these hospitals are for the rich and elite members of the society and not affordable by ordinary Nigerians.

Some experts have attributed the deplorable state of public health facilities in the country to lack of maintenance culture and called for urgent action.

“We need a board to consistently maintain public hospitals, the state can have their own and the federal can have theirs.

“It is not enough to build hospitals and there is no maintenance. Go round the country and see the state of teaching hospitals,” Toyin Ogundimu, a medical practitioner, said.

The country may be losing many qualified staff at an alarming rate as many doctors and nurses head for America, Britain, Canada, the Gulf States and elsewhere in search of better pay and working conditions.

Some experts have said that the government must do more to retain them by paying competitive salary to check the trend.

Many also agreed that there is a need to promote public-private partnership capable of delivering more joint ventures; more hospitals and better healthcare delivery outcomes to the people.

Ashish Bakhshi, Senior Partner/Head of Markets, Ernst & Young (EY) West Africa, said that healthcare was very important to Nigeria and that every country needs to have a good healthcare system.