“Most times when we go to hospitals for hepatitis immunisation, we are told that vaccines are not available and we have no other option than to go to private clinics where they charge us exorbitant rates. This disease is one that can be disastrous but the government cannot even make the vaccines available and abundant,” said Mrs Catherine Banjo, a nursing mother.
Then cancer: more alarming is the revelation that many women die from cancer every week due to late detection and lack of medication. The most vulnerable group are women among whom the case of cervical cancer has increased. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there is an estimated 100,000 new cases of cancer in the country each year and there’s the possibility of the figure becoming as high as 500,000 by 2010. Most cancer cases documented in Nigeria are cancers of the cervix and breast for women and cancer of the liver and prostrate for men.
Professor Clement Adebamowo of the Division of Oncology, Department of Surgery, University of Ibadan, disclosed that cancer is fast emerging as an important healthcare priority for the country. Investigations show that very few hospitals operate screening programmes for cervical cancer and even where these screenings are carried out, the clinical services are grossly inadequate and poorly distributed. And where clinical services are available, the cost is high.
Dr Kin J. Egwuonwu, a histopathologist said “the rate of cancer disease in the western world was as high as what we have in Nigeria now, which is over 70 per cent, but because of universal screening, the rate fell by 99 per cent in such countries. But the reverse is the case in Nigeria as it is continually on the increase.” Most health specialists are of the opinion that unless compulsory screening is included and made free for all, late detection and analysis will continue to be the bane of the rising cases of cancer in the country.
Apart from cancer, kidney failure is one ailment that is also on the increase. The medication or alternative cure which is a transplant is above the income of the average worker in Nigeria. Doctors say the disease is on the increase because on a weekly basis, the number of patients diagnosed with the disease keeps increasing. Dr Emmanuel Atenyi, the Chief Consultant and Nephrologist, National Hospital said early this month when Weekly Trust spoke to him that “when people come it is usually at the end stage which leaves little or no option left than dialysis or transplant which is above the income of a common Nigerian citizen.”
In this case too, there is a gross inadequacy of medical facilities to cater for the patients suffering from kidney failure. Healthcare specialists have suggested that as with cancer, screening of kidney ailment should be included in the healthcare system and made compulsory for all, and probably free considering the expensive nature of the treatment.
After kidney disease, diabetes is another ailment that has been afflicting Nigerians without regards to age or gender. It is no longer just common among adults. It is becoming prevalent in younger children which when not well-managed, could be fatal.
Cardiovascular disease is also another ailment that has been reported to be on the rise. Dr Matthew Ogah, a heart surgeon, said, “the increase in heart disease is as a result of the consumption of junk food and there are no appropriate medical facilities in the country to cater for such cases. So, most times, people seek assistance to be able to go abroad for even the simplest surgery to be performed. It is really a pathetic situation for the country that we have to travel out for anything medical.”
Nigeria is also reported to have the highest maternal mortality rate in the world after India. But reality could be worse because India has thrice the population of Nigeria. It was disclosed that over 600,000 women die annually from pregnancy-related causes worldwide and Nigeria accounts for 15 per cent of this figure. Health agencies say “one Nigerian woman dies every ten minutes”. Statistics from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) indicate that the maternal mortality rate of Nigeria worsened from 1350/100,000 of live births in 2003 to 1380/100,000 in 2008.
Reduction in the rate of maternal mortality is one of the MDGs of which target is to reduce by three quarters, the statistics by 2015 the number of women who die while giving birth. Though from all indications, Nigeria may not achieve that goal. An official of the Ministry of Health who preferred to be anonymous said, “we are aware that there are some loopholes in our healthcare system and the government is doing everything possible to put things in place so that better medical services can be provided by these health institutions. But again, it is evident that we are meeting up with the needs of the citizens.”
Before the sudden alarming situation of the other various ailments which claim thousands of lives, Nigeria has been contending with the notorious killer: Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune-Deficiency Syndrome. Latest statistics from the government puts those killed by HIV/AIDS at 3.8million while there are about existing 5.3million people living with the killer virus.
The healthcare system is one of the priority sectors of a nation that has direct impact on the economy. Medical treatment for preventable or manageable ailments will continue to cost money and reduce national productivity because of those who take ill. Health specialists are unanimous on needs to resuscitate Nigeria’s healthcare delivery system.
“It is sad that Nigeria keeps spending so much on paper and less in real terms trying to provide the best medical facilities for its citizens and is spending much on less beneficial things to the society,” said Mr Kennedy Nwodo, a civil servant. “The rate at which the government is tackling the health sector nonchalantly shows that we have a long way to go to achieve the halfway mark by 2015.”
Nigeria spends less than five per cent of her national budget on health.