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Daughter’s letter stirred controversy over mother’s death as COVID-19 suspect in Enugu

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A wave of worry has enveloped Enugu state since last weekend when news filtered out that a 70-year-old woman was suspected to have acquired the deadly coronavirus.

The worries were not because the deadly disease was reported in the state but because of the way and manner; medical experts reacted and handled to the case as well as the preparedness of the state government in tackling an outbreak of such nature. In fact, what has assumed discussion in certain quarters at the moment is the poor state of healthcare in the state.

It took the alarm of the purported case by medical practitioners for the alleged lip service the state government had paid over the menace since it hit the globe to become public knowledge.

Sources stated that the 70-year-old grandmother had travelled to the United Kingdom to see her children. She was said to have spent five months overseas and returned to the country on March 11 through the Owerri airport in Imo state. On return, she allegedly exhibited symptoms of the virus. Her family was promptly said to have rushed her to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu.

The Guardian gathered that on arrival at the UNTH, she was allegedly rejected with the emergency ward of the hospital closed against her. The report had it that the health workers including nurses and doctors on duty allegedly ran away, apparently due to lack of safety gears to handle her case.

The isolation centre


It was gathered that at this point she was transferred to the Enugu State University Teaching Hospital (ESUTH), Parklane, where a couple of tests were recommended and her blood samples taken for proper examination at a Specialist Hospital in Irrua, Edo State. She was promptly transferred to the State Disease Isolation centre, Colliery hospital, Ngwo, an annex of the ESUTH (Parklane hospital), pending the outcome of the tests conducted on her.

With the news gone viral that a suspected case had been moved to the Isolation Centre, the state government had reacted with the release of N20 million to upgrade facilities at the centre. This was an indication that the center was not ready or prepared to handle such cases until the alarm was raised. It had also asked the residents not to panic, insisting that the situation was under control and that it was ready to contain the scourge and other medical emergencies.

A statement from Commissioner for Information, Chidi Aroh, while announcing the release of the fund almost signposted this: “Following the suspected case of Corona Virus - COVID19 in Enugu, relating to a 70-year old woman, the state government has released the sum of N20 million to the management of the State Isolation Centre to ensure that the facilities are optimally ready to deal with the situation and any other emergency that may arise over the weekend”

Aroh had added that: “Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has provided the required leadership and logistic support to ensure that the State Ministry of Health and the Emergency Operation Centre are functioning at optimal level and fully ready to deal with any emergency in the state.

Aroh said the state government has also ensured that the suspected patient, who had a recent history of having traveled to the United Kingdom where she spent five months and had just returned to the country, is very stable in the isolation centre and receiving the best available medical treatment.

He disclosed that the state government in line with routine protocol had informed the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and necessary samples collected and sent to IRUA Specialist Hospital in Edo State for investigation, saying: “We await the results of the investigation soon”.

While assuring the public that all the relevant agencies and institutions in the state are fully activated and very ready to respond to any issue arising from the Corona Virus - COVID19 or any other health emergency, the state government maintained, “there is absolutely no reason to panic.”

“The good people of Enugu State are further encouraged to ensure the highest level of personal hygiene including the regular washing of their hands and use of sanitizers in public places”, the commissioner said.

Indeed, hospital sources had assured that the result of the tests would be ready by Monday. But by Sunday, the results had been received. It confirmed that the old woman was negative of the virus. The news had brought some relief on the residents; at least, there was no confirmed case in the state for now.

The controversy
However, a day after the results were released, the woman had died inside the Isolation centre. Her family members had kicked, insisting that their mother died as a result of negligence and derelict facilities at the Isolation centre where she was quarantined. They accused the state government of operating a facility that was not suitable for human habitation with some unqualified hands.

One of the daughters, who refused to disclose her name, had written to the Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. Her text, which had gone viral on social media, exposed the underbelly and poor facilities at the centre and has continued to unsettle the state with heightened fresh worries over the readiness of the government to battle any scourge in the state.

She had said: “I am writing on behalf of myself and family in regards to the 70-year old woman suspected of the Covid -19 in Enugu published on Saturday 14th March 2020. The patient who is my mother, unfortunately, passed away on Sunday 15th March 2020 having tested negative to the aforementioned virus. She returned to Nigeria on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, after five months trip to the UK to visit her children.

“Whilst the health workers/officials at ESUTH Colliery Parklane had to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves against this virus, the manner and state at which they treated my mother was inhumane.

“My mother was isolated in a dilapidated environment that seems to have been left uninhabitable over a long period of time. The isolation centre in Enugu is an abandoned old section of the hospital, where the grass and debris were being cleared whilst my mother was there.

“The staff at the hospital were unprofessional in the way they handled my mother. She was stigmatized and this made her feel worthless. My mother arrived at the hospital on Friday, March 13, 2020, blood samples were collected on Saturday, March 14, 2020, with results expected on Monday, March 16, 2020.

“As declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that this is a global pandemic, one would expect a faster testing time. My mother had to spend 3 days in a dire situation, without adequate health care and unsure of what is happening around her. If the result for Covid-19 was ascertained on time, my mother would still be here with us, as she would have been moved to a better-equipped hospital with the right experts to deal with her underlying illnesses. My mother died due to the negligence and unpreparedness of the state in putting adequate facilities including staff training in place. The new strand of the coronavirus was detected back in December 2019 and it is absolutely disappointing that there is no appropriate isolation centre in Enugu State.

“After the death of my mother, finding a workable stretcher to move her body was impossible! You would expect any hospital to provide basic facilities such as a stretcher – my mother’s body was carried into the ambulance on a wretched tool”

She continued: “Considering that the Covid-19 result proved negative, we can conclude that my mother died due to the following reasons – The state of the said ‘isolation centre’ ( pictures attached), Wrong treatment and Staff stigmatization due to lack of training in dealing with such cases.

“Furthermore, shortly after the news of a suspected Covid-19 patient was published, the Enugu State government responded by releasing 20 million nairas for the management of the state isolation centre. In my opinion, that is a little too late as strategies for dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic should have been put in place before now. It should not have taken my mother’s suspected case to prompt an action from the government. The government should have anticipated this and appropriate measures and facilities put in place.

“As l writes this, l am sure that no plans have been made for any future case of Covid-19 despite the promised allocated funds.

“In conclusion, l would like to reiterate that the environment of the isolation centre, staff behaviour and the unpreparedness of the Enugu state government resulted in my mother’s unexpected death.

“The objective of this letter is to make sure that no other person will have to go through what my mother went through. I am therefore appealing to the governor of Enugu state to ensure that the funds allocated to the isolation centre are rightly used for the purpose for which it was meant for.

I urge the Enugu state government to ensure accountability to this respect”, she said.

Another anonymous writer who claimed to be medical personnel in apparent response to the alarm from the purported daughter of the late old woman had debunked the claims of abandonment and neglect, stressing that people should be sensitive with matters of the dead.

He said: “First of all, it is immoral and insensitive to play politics with the dead. Secondly, the flawed narrative by the purported daughter of the woman is not only strange but a calculated attempt to undermine the efforts of the medical personnel who must have worked tirelessly to manage the situation. But, nothing could be farther from the truth”

He also posted pictures to contradict the ones posted on social media by the late woman’s daughter. He had said that the pictures were a pointer to the fact that the allegations peddled against the medical personnel, the state government and the facilities at the centre were untrue, mischievous, and evil and should be disregarded in its entirety.

“It is, therefore, doubtful if, indeed, it was the woman’s daughter that was behind this mischief. Otherwise, why should she display fake pictures of the Enugu Isolation Centre? What does she want to achieve by such blatant falsehood?’, he said.

At the Colliery hospital
The confusion created by the incident had prompted a visit of the Guardian to the centre yesterday. But movements in and around the facility had been barred as fierce-looking police officers had blocked the only entrance to the premises of the centre.

The Police officers who claimed they were acting on “orders from above”, clearly stated that they were not told why they were hurriedly deployed to the site, stressing that they were actually billed for duties along the Enugu-Makurdi road when counter orders came that they should return to the facility.

“It can only take the governor or Dr Ifeanyi to allow you into the facility. You can see that even staff is not allowed to go in. you may return some other time but not today”, one of the officers had told the Guardian.

But from a vantage position, the Guardian observed that the premises are housing very old buildings. One stretch of the block is painted but many others are dilapidated and unkempt. A source stated that the painted block serves as antenatal and maternal needs of the people as well as other minor and referrals from the ESUTH Parklane.

He stated that a park of the hospital is used as “Isolation Centre” and was designated the state’s Centre of infectious diseases during the Ebola epidemics in the country in 2014.

“In fact, it was in 2014 that the centre was upgraded but as you know, we did not have any case of the disease and as such, priority was not accorded to its facilities”, the source said.

Colliery hospital was established during the colonial days for coal miners. Enugu State government purchased the hospital complex, known as Colliery at the cost of N238 million from the Nigeria Coal Corporation (NCC) in 2012. That was during the administration of Sullivan Chime. It was then running skeletal services under the control of a retired medical practitioner who employed and paid those working in it.

Its acquisition was to mitigate the office space problems facing the state. The Colliery Hospital would serve as an annex for the state’s Teaching hospital as well as function as a dedicated hospital for children and pregnant women under the free maternal and child health care.

“The Enugu State Teaching Hospital is already overstretched with the influx of patients demanding attention. “The complex will serve as a referral centre from the district hospitals on issues of child and maternal health,’’ government had said then. Unfortunately, the place was not upgraded until Chime left office.

Sources told The Guardian that the facility is not running alone for some time now. “It is being managed by Parklane Consultants and this means that every case referred here must be overseen by doctors from the Parklane. That is part of the problem here and for truth; the hospital is different from the Isolation centre though they exist in the same premises”.

Government’s reaction
The occupation of the premises of the Isolation centre by Policemen may have learned credence to the allegation of porous facilities at the Isolation centre raised by the daughter of the dead woman. In fact, residents took turns to visit the area to ascertain the news that it had actually been occupied by the police as well as the truth about the place housing poor facilities. It would, however, appear that the alarm raised by the lady and concerns by residents were the tonic the state government needed to begin to act towards solving the problems at the centre, at least going by the outcome of an emergency meeting convoked in the state yesterday.

The meeting was in response to the rising tension in the state. It was an expanded emergency meeting of the executive council of Enugu State government convoked Wednesday afternoon. It, however, chose to remain silent on the allegations raised by the woman’s daughter.

Briefing on the outcomes of the meeting, Dr Ifeanyi Agujiobi, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, stated that government had approved the release of N320 million to fight the disease, adding that the Council approved the immediate upgrade and relocation of the state Isolation Centre to ESUT Teaching Hospital, Parklane, Enugu.

Agujiobi disclosed that the Council’s decision was based on the medical team’s recommendation and in line with the advice from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that Isolation Centres are best located within the Specialist Hospitals of the states for prompt and effective emergency response.

He explained that the relocation “will be more convenient, easier for patients who may have Coronavirus or suspected to have Coronavirus to be attended to by medical specialists promptly and timely”, adding that the patient will have access to “the X-Ray machines, the dialysis machine and other high tech machines domiciled in the Teaching hospital”.

He said they appreciated Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi for his efforts and effective leadership role in driving “not just the health sector but the entire sectors in Enugu State”, further disclosed that the Council considered and approved the procurement of more personal protective equipment, sanitizers, masks, respirators and all that are needed to aid the physicians to manage their patients.

He pointed out that the team requested for the procurement of fully-fitted ambulances and incident vehicles to help respond to emergencies as they may arise, as well as the release of funds for mass advocacy and enlightenment in every nook and cranny of the state, churches, markets and schools.

“In a couple of hours, all the radio stations in Enugu will be agog with jingles and everything that we need to know regarding the Coronavirus.” He also added that the Council equally approved that funds be made available so that the health workers will have the requisite training and pursue contact tracing of those who may be suspected or may turn out to be positive, “so that we don’t need to have anything lacking”, he said

Agujiobi further explained that the sum of N150 million was approved by the Council to tackle the issue of Coronavirus and to ensure that the state is fully prepared, while the sum N80 million was also approved for the procurement of important and essential drugs that may be needed to treat and manage Coronavirus, Lassa fever and other communicable diseases.

According to him, “the Enugu State Executive Council, in addition, approved N100 million to be kept in the Emergency Operation Centre account, in case of any emergency or any need to access fund before the next EXCO, so that we won’t be talking that there is no fund”.

The team leader stated that the toll-free line is 117 and 112 while the dedicated line for emergency response is 08182555550.

Speaking on the development yesterday, a Health Practitioner, Prof Joshua Nze , stressed that it would have been a wonder how the state intended to manage a disease as high as coronavirus at a facility like Colliery hospital.

“I have not been there for some time now, but I know the place is dilapidated. That was why I doubted the pictures posing that government upgraded the place. The government may have upgraded the hospital to take care of clinical cases but not the Isolation centre because they did not think it is something that matter to the state since, we have not had any major outbreaks. So to me the relocation and the fund approved for release is an indication that we want to be serious”, he stated.


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