It is estimated that 1.6 million Nigerians are living with amputation, and there are about 100,000 new amputations every year. In this interview, the founder of IfeanHealth Nigeria Limited, Ejike Anih, says there’s hope for those in need of artificial limbs.
What is your assessment of the health sector in Nigeria?
There has been significant progress in the system compared to many years ago – in all sectors of the health care system, be it oncology, gynecology, orthopaedics etc.
At the same time, there’s also room for so much more. The hope is that the progress continues and gains pace in a sustainable fashion. We don’t want to take one step forward and many steps backward.
What is your assessment of graduates from our medical schools; do you think they fit into this field?
Despite the many challenges Nigerian graduates must contend with, they are talented and doing their best. In fact, we see further evidence of that talent when they leave the country to the United States or United Kingdom. They excel amongst their peers.
Give us an overview of the rehabilitative orthopedic sector in Nigeria as at today.
Let me focus on the sub-sector of prosthetics and orthotics. Overall, significant progress continues to be achieved over the years. There are three major national orthopaedic hospitals —in Lagos, Enugu and Kano—and some new designations in the recent past. We have several private practices across the country—three institutions that students graduate from; and lots of innovation in the subsector. Some of the professionals have had the opportunity to travel out for foreign training.
That said, our population in Nigeria is growing; hence the work continues.
Are these three national orthopedic hospitals not overstretched, considering the number of patients in need of care and support?
I am in the private sector, so I am not in a position to have any knowledge on that. But I know that they are all providing extraordinary care and doing an excellent job in meeting the needs of their patients.
For private care providers, there is demand. My company —IfeanHealth Orthopaedics —has four locations in three cities in Nigeria: Lagos, Kano and Enugu, and our patients value and appreciate that we are geographically close to them.
How can the government and other stakeholders ensure that Nigerians in need of amputation get good medical care?
Our data estimates that about 1.6 million Nigerians are living with amputation. There are also about 100,000 new amputations every year; that is a lot of new amputees each year.
Many people will think it is poor people or vehicular accidents or insurgency, but about 70 to 75 per cent of amputations are caused by diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes are usually not the poorest in the community.
So, an important role of stakeholders is to provide awareness and messages of hope. Many people that have lost limbs are not aware they can get a new leg. In fact, many people will refuse to have their legs amputated and insist on dying with their legs rather than lose them because they think their lives are over. They think they would be stuck in a wheelchair or with crutches once amputated. But their outlook changes when they realise that there’s hope after an amputation. My team tries to convey that message.
The key differentiator is when they know that there is hope and we try to convey that message. Unfortunately, type 2 diabetes is real and some people lose their legs, but we encourage them not to worry too much because they will get back on their feet
Amputation is not the end of the world as people living with disabilities can become income earners if they get the prosthetics and orthotics solutions they need.
Many Nigerians are afraid that when they lose limbs they would be bedridden or depend on others, what are the options available to correct this situation?
There are multiple prosthetic options for both upper and lower limb amputees. At our offices at IfeanHealth, the first step is to access the patients, then we recommend a customised prosthetic limb for them.
We import the components from Europe but we fabricate the limbs here in Nigeria, then we train the patient on how to walk again.
Some Nigerians believe that they can only get access to standard facilities in the US, UK or Germany.
Yes, many used to think that way, but we are changing the narrative. My staff had been trained in Germany and certified, so when patients come to our facilities they receive the same quality of care here in Nigeria as is obtainable in the US/Europe.
We also work with several public and private stakeholders, and they trust us because of the quality of care we provide.
Others worry that prosthetics would be very expensive, but my company can provide innovative solutions for everyone. We work with the budget of the patient. For those who cannot afford it, we partner with institutions that can support.
What inspired the establishment of this company, and what has been your success story since you started?
My education and training were in the United States, and I had the opportunity to work around the world – in more than 20 countries and four continents. I have seen how quality health care saves lives across the world but not here on the continent. So, one day, sitting at home in California, I decided that I would focus on Africa. I wanted to contribute my part in rewriting the African narrative on health.
We started from the scratch, but so far, we have made some progress. We have supported thousands of patients in their journey through rehabilitation. One person that becomes hopeful inspires a family, that family inspires a community and that community in turn inspires the entire region.
What are some of the challenges faced?
We import the components we use, nothing is made locally, and the exchange rate is affecting us, so it has been very tough. We are still providing the same high quality of care, but it is tougher on the pocket because we have to buy everything overseas.
I am hoping that there would be a special exchange rate option for the health care sector. If we can get a better exchange rate, it will bring down the cost of care.
In addition, most health insurance plans do not include prosthetics; there are some private plans that do, but most do not. If it is included in major plans (even if it is a pilot plan at the outset) and provides access to more people, the cost of care will go down. A strong government policy will really help in this.