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Why Lagosians shun public hospitals for self-medication, herbal remedy

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PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

As fear grips Lagos residents owing to rising number of COVID-19 cases, many are resorting to home care and therapy, as the pandemic seems to overwhelm government hospitals.

In the last one week, there has been a rash of developments. The use of oxygen by COVID-19 patients in isolation centres across Lagos is on the increase.

Akin Abayomi, the Commissioner for Health, said out of the 498 total bed capacity in the state, only 177 spaces are vacant as of January 13. The isolation centres are now 64 per cent filled up – IDH at 95 per cent, LASUTH, 75 per cent, Amour, 86 per cent, FMC Ebute Meta, 100 per cent – with Gbagada isolation centre being reactivated.

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A new centre, Armoured Shield Isolation Centre, set up by Reddington Group in Lagos, was also commissioned. The Armoured Shield Medical Complex and its command structure are situated in four different locations across Lagos, with an Incident Command Office in Victoria Island.

It is the only private hospital in Lagos with in-house facility for PCR testing, ambulance response, CT scan, isolation care, hospital care with Level 3 ICU capacity for COVID-19 treatment.

But beyond the second wave crisis in the country, there are other reasons why citizens are shunning public health facilities for medical attention, often preferring self-medication and herbal remedies.

One factor is the trauma and endless waiting patients go through before being attended to, especially at the general hospitals.

Another, according to some patients who spoke with The Guardian, is the unfriendly attitude of health workers.

In the case of Ajayi Bidemi (not real name), she was rushed with failed eyesight by one of her relatives and a friend to see the doctor. As she wobbled in pains, she had to go through the five-hour wait from registration point before being checked by a physician.

Arriving Isolo General Hospital around 8:00a.m. on a weekday, there was a crowd already waiting at the out-patient hall anticipating the commencement of work by the health workers. The routine began with a nurse asking everyone to step outside; those with registered cards are given priority to wait inside while the wait begins for those queuing for registration.

When asked why the processes are arduous, especially for patients with severe ailments, a nurse retorted: “In as much as you walk in here and can talk, your case is not an emergency. So, you have to register for card first and wait until it is your turn to see the doctor.”

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The process of seeing a doctor is in three stages, which may last for about four to five hours. There are two queues for registration at Isolo General Hospital, which a patient must go through. This takes more than an hour depending on the mood of the medical personnel on duty.

The payment point is the first stage, where you are asked to pay the sum of N1,000 to obtain a card.

At Mushin General Hospital, the card costs N500, and it qualifies you to access the hospital’s facility, except for emergency cases. Afterwards, you join another queue for bio-data capture, where your information is taken. This lasts for more than an hour. It is at this point the patient learns to be truly patient.

The next stage, if you eventually scale through, is the Blood Pressure checkpoint. At this junction, you may be exhausted from the drama put up by patients, who are getting impatient with the long wait and devising all means to get ahead of each other.

A nurse at Mushin General Hospital, commenting on the tortuous process, said getting the card at a time was free until Lagosians abused it.

“Sometimes patients come to see a doctor and leave without registering, and then they come another day to do the same. And it was as if doctors were just lounging without actually working. This I believe is the reason management decided that outpatients should pay for cards before seeing a doctor while emergency patients should be attended to, then afterwards get registered,” the nurse said.

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Some of the patients said the time wasted was a price too much to pay to seek help in a government facility.

One Adetola said: “I have been at the hospital since 8:00am and I’m still waiting to see the doctor at past 1:00pm. The procedure is just too slow.

“Who has that time to waste in Lagos and they are not even considering that what would make you come to the hospital is a serious health challenge. In fact, I just punished myself for coming here despite the traffic, I should have just gone to a neighbourhood clinic and treat myself.”

A medical doctor, Femi Oloyede, said the government must invest massively in healthcare infrastructure and welfare of health workers before the current trend in public hospitals could be redressed.

He also called for an overhaul and adequate funding of the Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) across the state to reduce the pressure on general hospitals.

Across borders, the attitudes of nurses seem to be the same when it comes to attending to people in need of medical attention. One would conclude that most deaths in the Lagos State public hospitals might have stemmed from some unprofessional attitudes of these medical personnel.

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