A public health expert and spine surgeon has said Nigeria is in dire need of paramedics to strengthen emergency healthcare service delivery in the country, especially now that it is experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Biodun Ogungbo said the paramedics are also important because many ambulance drivers in the country are only drivers without any skills in life saving techniques.
He said: “Therein lies our shame and lack of understanding of the role of a paramedic. Many hospitals have just ambulance drivers and rely on other members of the healthcare team, especially nurses, to render emergency care, as necessary.”
He said paramedics are trained healthcare professionals whose primary role is to provide advanced emergency medical care for critical and emergent patients who access the emergency medical system.
Dr Ogunbgo said they were often the first on the scene of an emergency with the required training and expertise to help prevent disability and death, adding that they could drive ambulances but that not all ambulance drivers are paramedics.
The medical expert said trained paramedics could help transfer critically ill patients from one hospital to another, transfer critically injured patients from roads to hospitals and save lives.
He said paramedics triage patients (the sorting of patients according to the urgency of their need for care), help with resuscitation procedures, move patients out for investigations, and when the need arises, go out to rescue people and get them to hospital.
He said there were only a few paramedics in the country. “We do have paramedics in Nigeria, and I understand that the training takes place mostly at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH). But there are also training centres in Delta, Ogun and Rivers states.
“The programme was set up in 2008 and designed to churn out graduates every three years. In 2014, the federal government increased the period of paramedics’ training programme to five years. This starts with two years to obtain a national diploma, a year of field internship and then another two years to obtain a Higher National Diploma (HND). Nigeria just recently graduated the first set of HND paramedics, 30 in number.
“Since inception in 2008, UBTH has graduated about 130 paramedics. Unfortunately, most of them remain in the hospital working in the emergency room and involved in in-hospital patient transfer services,” Dr Ogunbgo said.
He said they were, however, underutilised as Edo State does not have an emergency medical service (EMS). He said Lagos State has an EMS and so some graduates work in Lagos and in Ogun States.
“The Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), and Ogun State ambulance service recognize and utilize the expertise of these practitioners.
“Some also work in private hospitals and ambulance services in Lagos State. One can point to some examples like Ambulance Nigeria, Ambulance Company and Brain Grace Ambulance Service,” he explained.
However, Dr Ogunbgo said a lot of advocacy was required to explain the worth of paramedics to the Ministry of Health, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), adding that “they will facilitate and compliment the work of NEMA and FRSC.”
He said there was an urgent need for paramedics and the establishment of EMS in all the states of the federation.
“We need to rethink the strategies we have in saving Nigerian lives and develop the system to ensure that every life matters in Nigeria. The paramedics already trained are a much-needed manpower resource waiting to be deployed.
“There are also a teeming number of unemployed youth in Nigeria begging to be employed. Many would gladly take up positions that empower them to save lives,” he stated.