News report last week that many patients are losing their lives in hospitals because they cannot afford high cost of medical oxygen has raised some fundamental questions about the state of Nigeria’s health system.
According to an investigative report by Daily Trust, patients with certain complications like acute pneumonia and heart diseases are now faced with scarcity and high cost of medical oxygen. Their plights are further complicated by the priority given to COVID-19 patients who in some cases require oxygen to survive.
The report said medical oxygen cost as high as N30,000 daily per patient. It added that the majority of patients can ill afford the cost and that it is worse for those who have extended stay in hospital for up two to three weeks. Such patients are in addition made to pay other hospital charges. With the economy of the country only very few persons can afford it. Thousands of those who cannot are, therefore, left to their fate.
Agency report a few months ago also said demand for cylinders in Lagos went from around 70 per day early last year to as high as 500 daily from November.
Experts have long warned that 625,000 deaths occur annually due to diseases associated with insufficient oxygen in the blood or low blood oxygen saturation. It was in order to cut this figure down drastically that the government developed a five-year national policy strategic plan to scale up the production of medical oxygen. However, we find it shocking and unacceptable that up to this point no significant impact has been recorded. As a result patients continue to suffer due to inaccessibility or exorbitant cost of medical oxygen.
This has brought to the fore fundamental issues about Nigeria’s health system. Even before COVID-19, no sector of the health system was working perfectly. Now with the pandemic, the situation is worse.
The Institute for Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) complained that human resources, funds and materials such as GeneXpert machines and HIV labs have been redeployed to support the COVID-19 fight. But that cannot be responsible for the problem. Ordinarily, there should be enough equipment and drugs including oxygen for people suffering from all ailments that require it.
It is disappointing that as a country we still lack basic health amenities. There are some things that should be made available for everyone.
It is time to take critical steps to address this problem holistically. Both the executive and the legislature should stop worrying about their privileges and sacrifice everything to save the lives of ordinary Nigerians. They should mobilise the funds required from whatever sources including making supplementary allocation to address the problems in the health sector in the shortest possible time.
It is gratifying that the federal government has awarded contracts worth N5.6 billion for the construction of oxygen production plants in all the states and the FCT. The process should be hastened. This cannot be treated as one of those projects that are awarded but never completed. Also we should consider manufacturing cylinders to host the oxygen locally. We do not have to import everything. Government should also consider subsidizing oxygen and remove any obstacle to do with the distribution. Furthermore, the government should intervene in serious cases where patients require oxygen and that is why we propose that oxygen provision should be added to services that patients can access under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). Nigerians should not be allowed to suffer or even die of diseases that can be treated.
This should not be left to the federal government alone. State governments should also key into the project; they should consider setting up their own facilities. At least all general hospitals should have oxygen available for patients at minimal cost.