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Private hospitals and COVID-19 pandemic

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With over 40 testings positive for COVID-19 and some died as a result of the disease, it is no longer in doubt that our medics are endangered. 

There are a few reported cases of the men on the frontline.  Some of the fallen medical doctors are Dr. Aliyu Yakubu, proprietor of Daura Clinics and Medical Centre in Katsina State, Dr. Dominic Essien of San Dominic Hospital in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State and Dr. Emeka Chugbo, a well-renowned obstetrician who died recently in Lagos.

In explaining the death of the medics, the President of the Guild of Medical Directors (GMD), Prof. Femi Dokun-Babalola, regretted that three members had died, not because they wanted to treat COVID-19 patients as speculated, but because they inevitably came across the sick persons. The late medics accordingly met some carriers who failed to disclose their true travel history. This speaks volumes to the dilemma faced by private practitioners in Nigeria, as one of the dead doctors was an obstetrician who carried out a Caesarean Section on a COVID-19 patient in distressed labour but had no idea that the patient was positive neither did she show any symptoms of COVID-19.  

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Specifically, this revelation, that some infected influential people are being treated in private hospitals is unthinkable; and a disturbing development that requires a deconstruction, because it is putting our health workers in the harm’s way. In finding an explanation for this breach of World Health Organisation (WHO) and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) protocol for treating COVID-19 patients, there are three possibilities - private hospitals treating COVID-19 patients knowingly or unknowingly; medics not having personal protective equipment (PPE), and medics not observing universal precautions in the treatment of patients. These risk factors may account for why private hospitals have decided to impose restrictions on patients and justifiably so.

Meanwhile, on private hospitals treating COVID-19 patients, knowingly, a Nigerian political office holder - Chief of Staff (CoS) to the President, set the pace for others to follow, when he said in his letter, that he made personal care arrangement to avoid further burdening the public health system, which faces so many health pressures. So, the CoS to the President went to a private facility and justified his action. 

On the contrary, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson was moved from his house to St. Thomas’ Hospital, a public hospital in Central London, where he was treated of COVID-19 until he recovered. 

Obviously, the case of the CoS to the President shows that our leaders do not lead by example. It is a case of doing what I say; not do what I do. It simply shows that Nigerian leaders cannot ‘‘eat the dish’’ that they are serving Nigerians, which exemplifies their loss of confidence in public hospitals. This is scandalous! 

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According to the president, Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr. Aliyu Sokomba, “Taking the late Abba Kyari to a private hospital is an indication of their lack of confidence in public healthcare facilities, which have been neglected in terms of infrastructure, capacity building of staff and maintenance. For some influential people, perhaps it is the penchant to feel different or superior to the masses so as not to be ‘unequally yoked’.’’ This is instructive. 

It is obvious, in the circumstances that some private hospitals are involved in the treatment of COVID-19 patients knowingly and unknowingly. As such, may be contributing to the increase in local transmission of coronavirus to the medics and non-health workers in the facilities, their family members, and contacts in the markets and other public places. 

Another issue is the non-availability of PPE. Several reports have also revealed that many of our medical doctors, who are public health practitioners, do not have face masks, thermometers, gloves, protective suits and vehicles that they need to defeat the rampaging COVID-19 pandemic. So, while our health workers continue to play their part in containing the spread of the COVID-19 and other diseases, they are working without the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE); and very little is being done to get this situation under control.

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Perhaps the non-availability of PPE may have fuelled the non-adherence to the universal precaution that medics should avoid contact with patients’ bodily fluids by wearing PPE, particularly during a pandemic as all patients should be deemed COVID-19 positive until proved otherwise. 

Therefore, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 should go beyond rhetoric to decisive actions for any private hospital that crosses the red line in the management of patients during this pandemic, to avoid spikes beyond the projected statistics. It is gratifying that some of the affected hospitals have been sealed off. 

So, to avoid needless loss of medics and deaths from other diseases, PTF, State Task Force, GMD and NMA should work in synergy and introduce telemedicine services using functional telephone lines and possibly making the lines toll free such that patients could consult doctors via audio and video channels. While doing telemedicine, the doctor will be able to determine whether the patients have COVID-19 symptoms or not and if need be, place the NCDC and State Task Force on red alert so that they can be on the ground before the patient arrives at the hospital. 

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Again, any hospital where patients with symptoms of COVID-19 suddenly present themselves for healthcare should as a mark of social responsibility, immediately call the state Task Force on COVID-19 for the evacuation of the patient and contact-tracing, instead of secretly treating the patients. In addition, such hospitals should voluntarily and temporarily shut down for decontamination of the building and fumigation. 

Given the scarcity and cost of PPE, the Federal Ministry of Health should assist private hospitals with protective kits because the COVID-19 crisis does not mean that other illnesses have ceased to exist. Federal authorities should see the provision of PPE to hospitals as a preventive strategy in flattening the COVID-19 curve. Furthermore, sick persons should make full disclosure and comply with a protocol, which includes temperature check, compulsory hand washing before the consultation, the use of hand sanitisers and possible temporary isolation.

Finally, there should be continuous sensitisation on why all citizens should be socially responsible enough to adhere to safety instructions. Besides, there should be public awareness of why those with symptoms of COVID-19 should not visit private hospitals for treatment at this time.

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