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Onyemere: Our task at HSH is to look for healthcare gaps, fix them

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Onyemere

Healing Stripes Hospital (HSH), established by the City of David Parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) foundation, His Love Foundation (HLF) recently won the sixth edition of the Nigerian Healthcare Excellent Award for the Outstanding CRS Health Project of the Year. Dr. Ezinne Onyemere, the doctor in charge of the hospital talked about challenges in the health sector and the way out, among other issues. Eniola Daniel reports

What is Healing Stripes Hospital doing differently?
We have been able to impact lives in Lagos State. We have also been able to reduce pressure on public institutions.

The dialysis support scheme, which is the reason we won the 6th edition of the Nigerian Healthcare Excellent Award for the Outstanding CRS Health Project of the Year, we got by offering free dialysis to the less privileged.

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This award means so much to me, because I conceived the idea after witnessing renal patients’ suffering. Each time we open the dialysis centre to reach the less privileged, the statistics tell us there are so many people with renal chronic diseases and very little access to dialysis centre.

Yes, there are dialysis centres springing up here and there, but there are many patients that can’t afford the care, as each dialysis session costs between N25, 000 and N40, 000. Imagine an individual having to do that three times a week on their salary. So, you have people that need dialysis, but who cannot afford it, which created some sort of imbalance. The public system doesn’t have enough centres and we have the platform of being a faith-based organisation, where we could reach out to people. And those passionate about people’s welfare came to assist these patients and ensure they get dialysis.

How does it feel winning the award and the recognition it brought?
We are excited about the award because the little we’ve been able to do to alleviate cost burden for chronic kidney patients is making impact. We’ve been doing this for the past four years, running diagnostic support scheme and we are really happy that we are beginning to get noticed and we hope to affect more lives.

This is our own way of saying whatever you put your mind to do is possible, regardless of the circumstances. The healthcare system is a complex one and it’s really something you can do, if you determined to make a difference.

What is your view of healthcare generally, with regard to access and affordability?
There is a lot of neglect in that sector. We have all it takes to offer the best, but we just chose to ignore it. Whatsoever we go out there to get in medical tourism, you can get even better here in Nigeria, if we focus on making our system work.

The church doesn’t have all it takes to fill the vacuum, but the church has to put a foot forward to show everybody that it’s possible to close the gap in your own little way. We are not just leaving it to government alone to do.

Imagine every church in Nigeria trying to ensure that people have access to healthcare, which is the most important thing. Mind you, somebody is paying for that ‘free service,’ but by so doing, someone down the line is being given access to much-needed healthcare. Someone has to partner with government to close the gap we have with healthcare delivery.

How are beneficiaries selected?
When it comes to what we call recruitment of patients that really require help, we do some sort of profiling. No one can just walk in to complain of inability to pay for dialysis. We undertake a thorough background check; else we run the risk of everybody just coming in, including those that can afford it.

We usually observe patients that have been in the system for about four weeks to see to how they pay. From this, we are able to see if the individual is really qualified or not. These are some of the parameters we use to profile them.

And there is no segregation in this hospital. It’s called the Healing Stripes Hospital and not the Healing Stripes Christian Hospital. It’s just owned by RCCG. So, it is open to all. We reach out to all. The profiling doesn’t require you to state your religion. It only checks your status, and whether you have the ability to pay or not.

What are the long and short-term solution to the country’s health sector?
It’s time for us to sit down and create a system that will work. Our system is not working. Healthcare is a system. It’s not about the individual, government or General Hospital. Once we are able to correct the system, we must ensure that services are available and accessible and well funded.

Our healthcare service delivery is not in good shape. There is a problem with the system, and all that you see are just symptoms of the problem. For instance, how well are we funding and making sure medical schools serve the right people? How do we engage doctors graduating from our medical schools? How do we ensure they are properly trained to be able to give proper care or we just throw them out to sort themselves? How well equipped are our hospitals? How well do we maintain them? So, it’s a whole package, and it can only be solved when we sit down to think and begin to fix the system.

Our goal is to look for those gaps and close them. So, we are not doing what everybody is doing, as we look for the gaps to help.

With the harsh economic situation, people are resorting to self-medication…
Ignorance is not an excuse. The health centre might not have everything required for it to function well, but people must visit the health centre. The rise in chronic kidney diseases is caused by indiscriminate self-care. The issue is not just that of herbal hawkers selling mixtures of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). Some young people coming down with renal issues have to do with these mixtures. Poor access is not the same as no access. I would also blame lack of awareness because I don’t think they know so much.

How do we stop brain drain in the health sector?
The issue of brain drain in the health sector is more complex than it seems, because you cannot stop anybody that decides to relocate. But you must find out why they are relocating, what they are being offered. Can we offer it here?

It’s all about trust and confidence in the system. We should have realised the danger in our personnel leaving the health sector. What will happen to the system in the next five years, if the trend continues? So, if we are looking at it holistically, we will be able to address it. However, I don’t think the people in charge see it as a problem.

Nine years down the lane, what are the achievement of Healing Stripes and how many lives have been restored since inception?
Healing Stripes Hospital was established in 2010, but the dialysis centre has been in operation for four years. We’ve had over 64, 000 discharged patients. And we’ve done outreaches in communities in Victoria Island to reach out to people who can’t come to us, in partnership with the church and the Arise Women Group.

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We have been able to dialysed 9,000 sessions till date. We started with two machines and we now have 10. We hope that winning this award would help get people’s attention on the need to support people suffering from chronic illness in Nigeria. Our target for that scheme is to be able to reach 100 patients monthly. And the goal was to relieve the cost burden of dialysis on the patients and help them save for kidney transplant.

What have been the challenges and how have you been able to handle them?
It has not been a smooth ride. Of course, every good thing comes with its own share of challenges. One of the challenges I have is that sometimes, the money we get from donations is not able to cover everybody. Indeed, that’s our biggest challenge.

There was a situation where a technician who had kidney issue was getting help from someone, but we needed to put him on the scheme. But I couldn’t because we didn’t have enough funds to take on another person. We eventually lost that patient because he couldn’t wait that long. The challenge is fund and losing some patients.

We have regular support from 70 persons, and most of them are from City of David parish.

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