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Treatment of gunshot victims

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National Assembly


The signing into law of the bill that empowers medical personnel to treat gunshot victims without waiting for police report has given legal backing to the persistent calls for higher premium to be placed on life than hitherto done. The predilection of hospitals and other health facilities to deny traumatized gunshot victims and accident victims medical attention until police report is obtained as require by law has been a serious flaw which has endangered the lives of many unlucky citizens.

The law signed by President Muhammadu Buhari entitled “Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act, 2017,” was among six other bills passed by the National Assembly (NASS).The Act stipulates that a person with gunshot shall be received for immediate and adequate treatment by any hospital in Nigeria with or without initial monetary deposit.

Furthermore, it states that a person with gunshot wounds shall not be subjected to any inhuman or degrading treatment by any person or authority, including the police and other security agencies, in the process of having his or her life saved.The law certainly, represents a step forward in an attempt to respect human dignity and preserve life. It is uncivilised, indeed, inhuman, to abandon a traumatized and distressed person who urgently needs medical attention on the flimsy ground that there is no police report on the circumstance of his or her injury. This is doubly so in a dysfunctional system like Nigeria’s where innocent citizens are often such victims.

It needs to be reiterated, of course, that the fear of being implicated by the police makes hospitals refuse to attend to such unfortunate victims and the police, therefore, shares in the blame.Usually, perhaps as a result of high crime rate, overzealous or high-handed law enforcement officers often fail to see reason and refuse to understand why a person in danger of death from gunshot wounds should be given treatment. This obstacle is what the new law has effectively removed.

This save-the-life-first law is, therefore, simply human and should be commended. But that is not the end of the problem. The issue of who pays for the treatment of the victim still needs to be clarified.The law mandates hospitals to provide “immediate and adequate treatment” for gunshot victims with or without initial monetary deposit. Who then pays the medical bill ultimately, particularly, in a situation where the victim dies?

Should the hospitals, especially, private ones, administer treatment free of charge? Or, who picks the bill in a country without proper health insurance cover for the citizenry?A similar law exists that mandates the Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC) to rescue accident victims, administer First Aid treatment and take such victims to the nearest hospital or medical facility for proper medical attention. But, again, the law is silent on who picks the bill.

Members of the public face the same predicament. Whereas hospitals may, under the law, accept to provide treatment without police report, since a traumatized person can’t negotiate his treatment at a most critical moment, the law should be clear on who should pay the incurred bill.In essence, it is not just enough to mandate hospitals to treat gunshot and accident victims without making provision for the settlement of the bills, especially in a system that has no functional health insurance cover for the people.

Apart from being implicated by the police, most hospitals refuse gunshot victims purely on the basis of payment of the cost incurred and all hospitals in the country, including the General Hospitals operate on cash and carry basis. Patients pay for their treatment.If the system has a functional health insurance scheme whereby the cost incurred on treatment could be recovered, there would be no problem.

The way out, therefore, is to amend both the FRSC Act and the new law to make provisions for accident and gunshot victims. Payment of medical bills must be guaranteed for the hospitals to accept and give such people medical attention so that no hospital will have any excuse not to treat a victim.

Additionally, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) should be made functional to facilitate such treatment.By their professional calling and their Hippocratic Oath, doctors have a duty to save life. That professional tenet is upheld in countries where the system has made provisions for proper healthcare delivery. Unfortunately, the Nigerian system is still lagging behind and a lot needs to be done to correct the anomalies.

While the search for improvement in the nation’s health-care delivery system continues, the new law is certainly commendable as it protects doctors who may obey their professional calling to treat injured persons irrespective of the cause or circumstance. It is one law that accords the human life the required dignity.



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