Universities where students lack access to health centres, diagnoses, drugs
The Nigerian health system is relatively weak, thus expecting the health centres in the country’s higher institutions to be stronger is unthinkable. UJUNWA ATUEYI writes that no matter how academically equipped an institution is, it is a calm and healthy mind that brings inner strength and self-confidence, hence the need for quality and optimal healthcare services for undergraduates.
The corner where the building is tucked gives the impression that it is being hidden from prying eyes. Well, maybe! The facility in no way befits the standing of a higher institution.
It is a bungalow with an adjoining building that represents everything but modern. This is one facility where students are supposed to get first treatment when they are ill, but how many students are bold enough to go there?.When The Guardian visited Yaba College of Technology (YabaTech), the facility does not only look decrepit in nature, its environment also appeared tatty for an institution of its status.
The brick walls, the grasses and the monumental image give the centre an odd appearance, as well as justify students’ claim that the centre is in a bad shape.Inside the centre, scanty activities are going on, as a handful of students are seen moving from one table to the other, while some members of staff are wandering around making and receiving calls.The most significant ingredient of life is health, therefore, modern healthcare facilities are needed to enjoy a healthy living on earth.
A country as endowed as Nigeria is expected to have an organised healthcare delivery system at all levels.But that is not usually the case in Nigeria, especially the healthcare centres in universities, polytechnic and colleges of education.Often, Nigerian students go on rampage, protesting against the death of their colleagues and accusing the management of their various institutions of being responsible.
Not that the management literally ‘slaughtered’ the victims, but they are not sufficiently worried about the state of their respective institution’s health centres and this irritates the students.They protest, lament and agitate for a day or two, in the end, the incident fizzles out and the victim is gone… gone to the world beyond.
Then the living continue in their various activities, little or nothing is done to forestall further occurrence until another incident, and then the students protest again and rest their cases. This has been the trend in Nigerian higher institutions across the country. Death is inevitable and can occur anytime, anywhere, and even in an environment with the most efficient and state-of-the-art facilities. But when such occurs, the families of the victim accept the situation in good faith without hostility.
But when it happens probably as a result of perceived neglect, inadequate facilities or poor attitude of medical personnel, it becomes a different issue.As complex as the issue of life and death is, every institution or organisation saddled with the responsibility of providing healthcare services should endeavour to do so at its best.
This, however, implies that health clinics on campuses should be well-equipped with experienced personnel, modern diagnostic equipment, drugs, adequate facilities and 24-hour services.The recent incident at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, has again brought to the fore the need for managers of health centres in Nigerian higher institutions to be on top of their game.
Just recently, the management of the university and the students refused to agree on the circumstances surrounding the death of a part three student of Microbiology in the university, Kayode Omotola.
According to news reports, the deceased slumped during a football match between fresh students of the department and the old students of the school. While the management claimed that the student died before they brought him to the health centre, some students alleged that poor services at the institution’s health centre led to the student’s death.
“The insinuation that Omotola died before getting to the health centre was incorrect. If he was even given something like a drip (intravenous fluid), he could have survived. He wasn’t attended to properly. He needed oxygen at that particular moment, but I think it was not available.”
Also, on July 23, 2018, students of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, barricaded the school entrance roads and other parts of the community in protest against the death of one of their final year colleague, Francis Chinedu Mmadubuobi.
Mmadubuobi, a 400-level student of the Department of Applied Microbiology and Brewing, was said to have died around 9:00p.m. on Saturday due to the delay of the school’s medical centre to attend to him on the grounds that the doctor who would attend to him was not available.
According to the protesting students, Mmadubuobi was playing basketball with his friend when he suddenly slumped around 5:30 p.m. and started gasping for breath.Immediately, his colleagues called the health centre to send an ambulance but help did not come, then they decided to take him to the school medical centre, yet they still didn’t get help.
“I feel bitter about everything. He slumped while playing basketball in school. We rushed him to the school clinic. On getting to the place, no single doctor was there to attend to him. The nurse there couldn’t even attend to him and he was right before us dying. After many hours, a female doctor came and was looking for her apparatus. No oxygen was in the clinic.”
Also, in July 2017, students’ protest at Federal Polytechnic, Kogi State, prompted the management of the institution to shut down the school for four weeks.A student of the polytechnic was reportedly stabbed by hoodlums who attacked his lodge. The victim was rushed to the school clinic for treatment. Unfortunately, the clinic officials allegedly refused to help the dying student because he was not holding his school identity card.
On Sunday, October 8, 2017, the Federal Polytechnic, Ado Ekiti was closed indefinitely after students trooped out to protest against the death of two of students of the institution.
According to reports, the two students, who had reportedly complained of malaria on Friday, October 6, 2017, were rushed to the Polytechnic’s Health Centre for treatment, but instead of getting relieved of their ailment, their condition worsened and they both passed away in the early hours of Saturday, October 7, 2017.
The same incident happened in February 2016 when a female student, Comfort Dazan, who fell ill was allegedly asked to pay N35,000 before she could be admitted into Yaba College of Technology Clinic for treatment.Her colleagues reported that Dazan was left unattended to when she could not raise the money. It was when her sickness deteriorated that the clinic staff thought it wise to transfer her to the Federal Medical Centre, Oyingbo. She never made it to the hospital.
Again, in February 2017, a 300-level student of the Federal University of Technology Minna, Emmanuel Olalekan slumped while playing football on the school pitch. He was rushed to the school clinic and his story ended.These are just few instances of death cases in Nigerian higher institutions where students largely depend on roadside drug hawkers for healthcare services.
In all of these, the schools’ public relations officers were always quick to refute the claims by their popular slogan “the students die before getting to the health centres.”However, recent investigation by The Guardian shows that the provision of healthcare on Nigerian campuses seems to be at a low ebb, as many students appeared displeased with the services.
Findings from Lagos State University (LASU), University of Lagos (UNILAG), Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED), and Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH), revealed that the major challenges of health centres in universities, polytechnics and colleges of education in the country include, poor funding, poor training, lack of appropriate health facilities, poor enrolment and deployment of the health workforce, and these have consequently prevented optimal healthcare delivery on campuses.
According to experts, a good healthcare centre in every university should have state-of-the-art facilities, like oxygen concentrators, defibrillators, cardiac monitors, ventilators, and should be able to provide 24-hour healthcare all through the year.
But The Guardian’s checks revealed a lot of gaps and cracks in the system, when compared to health centres in developed climes.Though some of the clinics at the institutions visited appealed to the eyes, some were eye sore. But they all have a unifying factor: poor diagnosis, lack of drugs, inconsistency in services and unnecessary protocols.
The time, according to observers, is long overdue for federal and state governments to formulate policies that will enable healthcare centres in various campuses to provide ultimate healthcare services to students. The reasoning behind the provision of school identity cards in cases of emergency needs to be reviewed, as well as the sluggish and nonchalant attitude of health workers should be looked into. More auspicious is that the narratives surrounding lack of drugs and modern facilities is changed.
A Higher National Diploma (HND I) student who doesn’t want her name in print said the environment of the medical centre is disgusting and the medical personnel reminds her of council workers. “The medical workers there are so insensitive, they address students with so much disrespect and don’t understand what it means that this person is feeling sick. I will rather go home and receive treatment than visit that centre. The location and the premises piss me off.
“A lot of my course mates complain bitterly about the centre. If you go there and complain about head or stomachache, they would give you drugs for stooling. They administer drugs carelessly without wanting to carry out proper screening and ascertain the true situation of the patient.
“Also, they are heartless. A student who just resumed was ill, and he went to the centre. They refused to attend to him because he was yet to receive his school Identity (ID) Card and his course mates were there to identify him, yet they refused. They know that the process of getting the ID card was slow and not all new students have received theirs. Yet they turned their back on the student and he had to travel back to Kwara State for medical attention.”
Another Higher National Diploma (HND1) student claimed that she once complained of cold and catarrh and was given malaria drugs. “I know that cold and catarrh could be one of the symptoms of malaria, but it is not always the case. I expected them to give me drugs for cold but they gave me malaria drugs, though I didn’t take them.”
An Ordinary National Diploma (OND 2) student on her part said, “the nurses there are heartless. I visited the clinic around 5:15p.m. when I finished lecture and observed I’m feeling sick. You needed to see the way the nurse shouted at me, asserting that ‘they have warned students to stop visiting the centre after 5:00p.m.’ I was not aware of the instruction, we finished lecture and I was feeling sick, so I decided to go to the clinic before retiring to the hostel, but the hostile treatment I received made me feel more sick then. I had to go and buy drugs at a chemist outside the campus, because the one inside the campus exploits students.”
“Despite paying N2,500 as medical bills, I don’t go there because of what I heard. Apart from that, the location and the facility are not befitting of a health centre. I will rather go home for medical checks than go there,” another student asserted.
Meanwhile, an HND 1 student who was just coming out from the clinic told The Guardian that there was a lot of improvement at the college’s health centre when compared to what it used to be in the past. “I was feeling dizzy and they attended to me to my satisfaction,” he said.
A female student who was sighted at the centre and later accosted, said, “their services are okay. I complained of headache and high temperature and the doctor gave me Lumapil tablets. He said the second drug is out of stock that I should buy it outside.Efforts to speak with the medical directors of these institutions ended in vain as some of them referred the reporter to the school’s public relations officer.
The Public Relations Officer, YABATECH, Ndubueze Ejiofor, said the students claim were unfounded as the YABATECH’s medical centre runs a 24-hour service. “Since this current rector came on board, the centre has never had it this good. I went to the centre and the place is well stocked and they have enough dedication compared to the picture the students painted.
“Of course, you cannot completely have 100 per cent report from the centre, may be one or two students encountered a nurse that is in a bad mood; we cannot use that to generalise the attitude of the whole workers. Professionals are running the place, and as a worker my family member was once injured in the past as a result of robbery incident and we went to the centre at an odd hour and my sister was attended to.”
At the Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, the story was also the same. Not only that the facility looks like a primary school hall in a rural setting, the bed space appears so small when compared to the population of the school.
The walls did not only look unkempt, the seats in the clinic were capable of increasing the temperature of a sick person.Though two ambulances were stationed in front of the clinic, it was not certain that they had life support facilities.Above all, insufficient drugs and excessively complicated administrative procedures were part of the deficiencies the students pointed out.
They also lamented insufficient health information, unfriendly attitude of health care employees, the waiting time, medication shortage and unkempt environment.The Guardian spent over two hours at the clinic and none of the patients at that time were completely given their prescribed drugs. While some got one or two, others did not receive any drugs at all.
A 200-level student of the school (name withheld) lamented that the clinic cannot afford an eye drop after paying a health bill of N10,000. “They should have enough drugs after all we paid N10,000 health bill in our school fees. This is the second time I’m coming here, because I don’t fall ill often and on the two occasions no drug was given to me. They only prescribed drugs and asked me to go and get them outside.”
A second student who was approached said, “I have toilet infection, I have been here since 10:a.m. and this 12:15a.m. yet I am not through. In the end, the doctor prescribed Amoxicillin, Mycoten cream and Flagyl. Then I went to the pharmacy now and they gave me only Amoxicillin, and asked me to get the rest outside the campus. I am amazed that they don’t have ordinary Flagyl of N50.
“If an institution that harbours teenagers and adults who are sexually active in an environment where the lavatory system is commonly used cannot afford the treatment of toilet infections and sexually transmitted diseases, one wonders what else it could treat.” “I came here since 10:15a.m. and this is 12:45a.m., I’m not through yet. At first they will request your identity card, after that you will have to wait for long before they bring out your file and then you wait for eternity to see the doctor. At the end, the doctor will prescribe drugs for you. I have a sore throat and I’m feeling heavy pains on my neck, but the drugs prescribed for me are not available. I’m just coming from the pharmacy. I only pray I won’t have serious health issue in this school till I graduate,” said the third student.
Another student who was running temperature, said her blood sample was collected and she was asked to check back in an hour, wondering how long it takes to do malaria/typhoid test.
Meanwhile, a group of four female students who also interacted with The Guardian seem not to be happy with a certain doctor. According to them, “We have a particular doctor who is always suspicious of pregnancy. Just tell him your temperature is high and your head is aching, he will spend the next 10-15 minutes dwelling on your last menstruation and the last time you had sex. And I find it very upsetting. He is popular for that.”
Coordinator, Centre for Information, Press and Public Relations, LASU, Mr. Ademola Adekoya, who did not dismiss the students’ claim out right, stated: “Those students did not pay N10,000 as medical bills, those who paid N10,000 as part of their medical fees are the new students who just resumed. The old students did not pay any dime for medical bills. The issue of lack of drugs also happens even to members of staff. If you see the rate at which people approach the health centre for one complaint or other other, you will find that rarely all of them are given drugs at a time. Sometimes, the amount of drugs students take in one semester is more than what they have paid.
“Also, when the drugs finish, the university will have to get another supply and we don’t just get drugs anywhere, we have to meet the company that produces directly for us at a subsidised rate. The required drugs students need are available, just that sometimes the clinic ran out of that drug at that particular time. Even in a typical hospital, it is the same. So the university is not relenting, it is also a concern for us. We are not saying we are perfect, but we are working towards perfection.”
Affirming that the infrastructure is too small when compared to the school’s population, Adekoya said: “There is a structure behind the health centre, it is built by the Federal Government through the intervention of the president. It is a very big structure that will complement what we have at the centre. We intend to link it to our health centre to serve our students and people within LASU environment.”
The accounts of students at University of Lagos (UNILAG) also appear similar to the ones from their counterparts in other schools.
At the UNILAG’s medical centre, but for the stench that oozes from its drainage system adjacent to the entrance of the clinic, the facility appears conducive. The health workers were attending to pupils obviously from the university staff school, while a few undergraduates were seated at the waiting lounge.
A 300-level student, alleged that she was running temperature on a Saturday morning, and her friends took her to the institution’s medical centre. But to her greatest disappointment she was left unattended to because it was a Saturday. “The staff at the centre, urged me to go back to the hostel and return on Monday, saying they can only attend to emergency cases on weekend. I mean, asking me to return on Monday was very silly. She didn’t even understand my situation at that time. If I could survive till Monday then, it was none of her business. I found that incident very disheartening.”
Another student who spoke on the condition of anonymity, alleged that the centre hardly has drugs in its pharmacy. “There drugs are never complete, they give you one and ask you to go and get the rest outside the campus. I think their services are okay, just this no-drug issue. When you need drugs that will save your life, they will tell you no drugs.”
When contacted, the Medical Director, UNILAG, Dr. Ramota Apampa, after several attempts to speak with her, said that she would need to seek approval from the vice chancellor, promising to get back to The Guardian.Though the interior and facility of the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED)’s health centre looks great, the students lament incomplete drugs and inconsistency in service as the centre closes work by 5:00p.m. daily and doesn’t operate on weekends.
When The Guardian visited the centre, the scenery looks strange and scary considering the width and breadth of the forest surrounding the building.There is no activity around the building, but for the direction of the students and few cars that parked in front of the building it appears lonely and deserted.
“Two things I detest about the centre, the location and their irregularity in service. Every institution that cares about the wellbeing of its students should operate 24-hour service daily, weekend inclusive. But that is not the case here. Most times we don’t even remember we have a health centre because they are not always there when we want them. So we patronise chemist shops outside the college.
“Also, the environment is terrifying, you need to see the volume of the bush behind the building. Their choice of location is bad and even a sick person will imagine ghosts coming out of the forest to attack. Also, they don’t always have complete drugs for our ailments and they are not always available.”
In all these narratives, one thing is certain, management of the aforementioned institutions and the managers of their health centres, as well as other tertiary institutions in the country need to sit and have a roundtable discussion on how to improve healthcare services in their respective schools, even though some of them claimed to be offering excellent services.