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Opinion

Death of three ‘corpers’ and a nation’s dark soul, By Niran Adedokun

That Nigeria is so easily moving on from the untimely death of three young participants in the National Youth Service Corps is a clear mirror to the darkness of the soul of the nation. The three “corpers” died in national custody within 48 hours of one another, while fulfilling the compulsory requirement of a one-year national service.

The first incident involved Miss Elechi Chiyerom. The 27-year-old graduate of the Ignatius Azuru University of Education, Port Harcourt, reportedly died at the Bayelsa State Orientation Camp from excessive bleeding and vomiting.

The very next day, we woke up to the news of the death of the duo of Miss Ifedolapo Oladepo and Mr Ukeme Monday.  In addition to being young, these latter two were of the best breed of their generation, being first class graduates. Oladepo graduated in Transport Management from the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho, while Monday studied Petroleum Engineering at the University of Uyo. They died on the NYSC orientation camps in Kano and Zamfara states respectively.

It is also heart-breaking that they all died of medical conditions that a responsive and responsible medical system would have nipped in the bud. But this is Nigeria, a country which like the hen, occasionally swallows its own eggs.

To be fair though, the Federal Government and the NYSC, the agency in whose care these promising Nigerians lost their lives, surpassed any previous performance on this one.

The Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Solomon Dalung, took time off his random commentaries on the All Progressives Congress, to issue a statement on the unfortunate incidents. He commiserated with the families and promised that a panel of inquiry to ascertain the circumstances that led to the deaths would be set up. Director-General of the NYSC, Brig. Gen., Suleiman Kazaure, also condoled with the families and promised “high powered” investigations.

But like someone who puts a little sugar in your mouth and then positions his backside to release a long, offensive fart while you still savour the delish, Kazuare ruined it when he dismissed reports that the “corpers” lost their lives to the negligence of medical officers ahead of the promised investigation. In a country where members of the larger society daily deal with half-hearted medical professionals, it was totally presumptuous to assert the innocence of anyone without evidence. But events on Tuesday showed that the DG might have deliberately laid the foundation for the exoneration of the NYSC medical staff.

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While handing over the report of his “independent investigations” to Dalung, Kazaure gave a long explanation as to a kidney infection that the female corps member did not disclose on presentation at the hospital. He, again dismissed allegation of negligence.

But I find the NYSC DG’s logic curious. In fact, if this were not a tragic event, one would find pathetic hilarity in the rationalisation of the systemic rot that cut down the lives of these three Nigerians and so many others unaccounted for at the prime of their lives.

First, there were insinuations that the late Oladepo knew that she had an untreated infection but refused to disclose that and that perturbs. The first question is, does a patient explain symptoms to her doctor or diagnose her own ailment?  Are Nigerians sufficiently educated about their health as to identify a urinary tract infection which is suspected in this case and how it can escalate into a kidney infection and generate all the symptoms she presented with? How is a patient really able to link a previous medical challenge to extant symptoms, especially when they are not manifestly identical? Isn’t this the reason why medical personnel attending to her should have taken the call of the nurse sister who could have provided useful and timeous information on her medical history? Although the DG indicated that the CMD at the camp  eventually spoke to the late corps member’s personal doctor, he did not tell us at what time in the progression of her illness the almighty CMD allowed this conversation to happen.

And then that line about repeatedly associating second hand clothing to the rashes on the patient’s body is so gallingly pedestrian, the DG should never say it again!

For heaven’s sake, a patient could attribute her symptoms or illness to anything including her grandmother’s co-wife, it behoves the medical personnel to investigate and arrive at scientific conclusions. Isn’t that why we call some people doctors? Isn’t this why inventors have bequeathed us medical diagnostics?

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Which is where the shame of the health systems or the lack of it in Nigeria glares. Even in this century, Nigeria runs a health structure which largely depends on guesswork and concealed voodooism.  Or, how else do you explain the fact that “31 qualified and registered doctors, 20 pharmacists and 11 nurses” said to be present at the Kano State NYSC camp took Oladepo’s layman explanation of her rashes without any investigation until it became too late?

And in the legendary lame speak of over indulged power mongers that Nigeria is infested with, Dalung, Tuesday, “ordered” the overhaul of clinics at the NYSC camps like he expected the NYSC authorities to fund such huge expenditures with the abundant sand on our sea shores. Such tentative outbursts are at the roots of the rot that assail not just the health sector but every stratum of our lives.

It is a good thing that Dalung encouraged governors to upgrade their hospitals. It is to the eternal shame of the Kano State Government that a secondary facility like the 46-year-old Gwarzo General Hospital was found wanting in spite of the spin that the DG tried to put on the story. If the hospital is as well-equipped and staffed as he hinted, why would Dalung call on governors to upgrade hospitals?

But the problem is not just with governors or state hospitals! What is the state of our federal hospitals? What effort is the government making to deliver quality and affordable healthcare to the people? Are we even thinking about community health insurance, what level of  coverage has the National Health Insurance Scheme attained, what plans do we have to scale it up?

What are we doing about the following:  welfare of medical personnel, the rivalry that exists among professional bodies, instituting a universal standard for referrals, and the training of doctors?

What step are we taking to reform the residency programme and rescue it from corruption and nepotism?  As we speak in this country, we have doctors who have been in the queue for residency for 10 years, they may never get into the programme because they do not know the President, his deputy, governor or the minister of health. A professional and academic programme on which the establishment of a health system and the survival of the people depend is subjected to political patronage and we think we have a country.

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Are we ever going to have digitalised records such that a patient could travel to Kano from Osogbo and his medical history would be assessed at the tap of a computer keyboard? Are we ever going to be able to hold medical personnel accountable?

In Nigeria today, one out of every 13 women is likely to die from childbirth or a complication related to pregnancy. Most of these deaths are avoidable but here is the reality: Less than 35 per cent of deliveries are attended by a skilled medical personnel in Nigeria!

This is the country where people still die of cholera; where malaria ravages lives; where polio is still being spoken of; where quacks have a field day in medical practice including the all-important area of diagnostics!

And the health minister of this country, which clothes itself in rags recently, humoured himself by promising new Christmas clothing for South Sudan. Nigeria, which does not even have its acts together, promised to help rebuild South Sudan’s health sector!

But such occasional lapsus linguae tells of the grand delusion that goes on in government in Nigeria. Since our leaders and their families can jump on planes to access medical attention anywhere they choose, they have totally neglected the very urgent need for reform at home. Even as they deceive themselves that all is well.

In spite of the allocation to the Aso Rock Villa this year, our President needed to see a specialist in the United Kingdom for his ear infection just as his Chief of Staff was reportedly hurriedly flown out recently. It is the same story with our governors. This is why as a sad as the deaths of these young Nigerians are, it is only telling of the instalment death awaiting Nigerians until we dare a holistic reform of the health  sector. Nigerians must demand this and now!

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