A recent online publication on the state of the General Hospital in Rijau, Niger State, is an eyesore given what a health facility should look like even by African standards. The online news platform shows photographs of in-patients sleeping on bare floor. Other photographs used in the publication show sections of dilapidated structures that look more like pens where goats are kept. While the corroded iron beds have no mattresses on them, the buildings many of which have cracked or half fallen walls are without windows. The dirty and stained walls are visible even from the photographs. Rijau is the headquarters of Magama Local Government Area (LGA) in Niger State.
In truth, the photographs published about the hospital in Rijau reveal the painful reality of what obtains in most rural hospitals and healthcare centers in many of Nigeria’s 774 LGAs today. I visited a patient at a similar facility in another part of the country where rodents, lizards and cockroaches were common sights in the cubicles called wards. These secondary health facilities which are the closest to many Nigerians in sub-urban areas of the country lack anything that can be called medical laboratories where patients could be subjected to some basic medical diagnostic tests. This is why they are generally referred to as mere consulting centers. In some cases, even the health personnel working in some of these facilities are not better than ordinary quacks. The situation in rural health centers, which are the main primary healthcare facilities at the village level clinics is even better imagined.
The consequences of this unfortunate neglect of the country’s healthcare systems are many. In the case of the middle class, this failed state of primary and secondary healthcare systems at the township and countryside levels is one reason that drives the average class among Nigerians who can afford the cost to seek medical attention at tertiary health facilities. This explains why and how tertiary health institutions have been turned into general hospitals where common illnesses such as fever, headache, diarrhea, dysentery, and catarrh are treated. Due to the pressure mounted on the tertiary health facilities by the country’s failed primary as well as secondary health systems is also making well-to-do Nigerians to find succour in medical tourism. This is another day’s topic for discussion on this page.
But how does the failed primary healthcare system in the country affects the lower class of Nigerians? The response of poor Nigerians to this unfortunate situation in our healthcare system is pathetic. A large number of Nigeria’s rural population is rather compelled to resort to alternative medicine offered by traditional medical practitioners. This is for many obvious reasons. Traditional medicine (also referred to as alternative medicine) is comparatively cheap and easy to access. While patients are charged for cards and consultation fees when they visit healthcare centers and general hospitals that are more or less mere consulting clinics, no such expenses are incurred when sick people go to traditional medical practitioners. The alarming rate at which sick persons now troop to seek medical attention from traditional ‘physicians’ in rural communities is indeed worrying worrisome.
I was privileged to recently accompany a friend to a village where his ill relation was receiving treatment from a traditional medical practitioner. The number of people we saw waiting to see the man considered to have solutions for all health problems was quite huge. Believing that alternative medicine is not a system that can be wished away, government needs to pay some attention to this group of practitioners in our local communities. In Islam, the use of herbs and plants by alternative healthcare givers for the treatment of diseases finds expression in prophetic traditions. The Prophet (Salla-llahu Alayhi Was-Salam, SAW) said, “Habbatu s-Sauda’u is a remedy for all diseases”. This herb, Habbatu s-Sauda’u, is called “Black Seed” in English.
For sake of achieving the desired goal of proper management of patients, traditional healthcare facilities should not only be regulated but also supported by government. this has become necessary because given the manner in which corruption has deeply eaten into all facets of life in Nigeria, it is not impossible to find people who should have no business doing anything in the practice of alternative medicine offering clinical services to unsuspecting patients. Besides, the current operations of most alternative medical facilities in rural areas generally present some worrisome situations. The environment where in-patients are kept, the question of hygiene, diagnostic procedures as well as the administration of drugs are some of the issues that call for government intervention in order to save the lives of millions of ailing Nigerians who patronize proprietors of this form of medical practice.
As efficacious and prophetic as the use of Habbatu s-Sauda’u is in the management of illnesses, its administration requires specific dosages to be taken at a time and for a given period. The call on government to regulate sprouts from this perspective. In the proposed regulation, we expect mutual synergy between orthodox and alternative medical practitioners. Nigeria is richly endowed with indigenous plants and herbs that have medicinal values. Educational and research institutions are encouraged to prioritize research into these God-given natural resources.
By regulating the practice, we do not mean that government should stop persons with the right knowledge and skills in alternative medicine from practicing. With a regulatory body appointed by government, relevant policies would bar quacks from practicing. Government intervention shall also improve operational standards in alternative healthcare facilities in the country. Nigeria’s Head of Traditional, Complimentary and Alternative Medicine at the Federal Ministry of Health in Abuja, Hajiya Zainab Ujuddud Sheriff, is urged to use her office in favour of this plea. We congratulate her for her two books she recently presented to the public on this subject-matter.
“Health”, they say, “is wealth”. The health of citizens is the wealth of a country. Therefore, it cannot be expensive. We urge government to declare a state of emergency in Nigeria’s health sector particularly as it affects primary and secondary healthcare systems. That will not only reduce mortality rate from common infectious diseases but will further limit the resultant pressure on tertiary health institutions. We are convinced that if primary and secondary health facilities are properly staffed and equipped to perform the functions for which they were established, government spending on tertiary health facilities would drastically reduce because there would be fewer number of patients to manage at that level, and therefore, less pressure on its personnel and services. May Allah (SWT) grant the sick among us health, and the healthy among us better health, amin.