Why deaths in NYSC orientation camps may persist
As Camps Open Tuesday
With the proliferation of fake medical reports bandied by Prospective Corps Members (PCMs), and the revelation by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) that some of them come into camp with peculiar health challenges, conceal their health status and attempt to participate in strenuous activities, incidence of deaths in orientation camps may not abate anytime soon.
In barely 24 hours, the scheme will throw its doors open to PCMs, who will be part of the 2018 Batch ‘B’ Orientation Course, which commences on Tuesday July 24 across the country.
Just as the excitement is building up among the PCMs, anxiety and apprehension is equally building up in equal measure among parents and loved ones, especially in the wake of stories about worsening state of many orientation camps, the grossly inadequate medical facilities on ground during the exercise, and the now frightening Man ‘O’ War drills, which many are of the view requires a review.
In April this year, a female corps member, Miss Hilda Ichechukwu Amadi, a graduate of Oil and Gas Engineering from the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, died in circumstances that are still unclear after sustaining an injury at the NYSC Camp at Yikpata, in Edu Local Council of the state.The deceased was said to have suffered a bone fracture during the morning drill on April 23, after which she was rushed to the camp’s clinic, thereafter to the General Hospital in Share, and later to the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, where she breathed her last.
Since Amadi’s death, some corps members and members of the public have berated the scheme for allegedly failing to ensure that adequate medical facilities and personnel are on ground in orientation camps. Even though the NYSC in the wake of the Kwara incident maintained that being a responsible organisation, it does not take the safety and wellbeing of corps members lightly, and always has a medical consultant on ground a day before the commencement of orientation camp, stakeholders are quick to conclude that the number of deaths in camp in recent years seems not to support the 45-year-old scheme’s claim.
For instance, during the Batch C, first stream of 2016/2017 service year, which orientation exercise began on November 24, 2016, three deaths were recorded in Bayelsa, Kano and Zamfara states, where Chinyerum Nwenenda Elechi, Ifedolapo Oladepo, and Monday Asuquo lost their lives respectively.
The outcry that followed these earlier deaths was fuelled by the belief in several quarters that the incidents could have been averted if adequate medical personnel and facilities were on ground. This was the case soon after Oladepo died in Kano State Orientation Camp.Exactly a week after, 26-year-old Oladepo, a first class Transport Management graduate of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho, Osun State arrived Kano State, it was her corpse that was returned to her family after she allegedly passed on following complications arising from an ailment few days into the orientation programme.
After her death, her family members who claimed she was in good health before departing home, maintained that she could have been saved if corps’ authorities had given her the necessary attention as soon as she took ill at the orientation camp.The family further alleged that lack of qualified medical personnel and wrong medications contributed to the death of their daughter. However, in the Federal Government-ordered probe, it was claimed that the allegation of negligence on the part of NYSC was unfounded as the deceased corps member was well attended to.
It also revealed that the camp’s clinic where Oladepo was initially attended to had a total of 31 qualified and registered doctors, 20 pharmacists and 11 nurses and no student doctors as all the doctors are fully certified by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN).It also added that the camp clinic runs 24-hour service, hence she received attention at 3:00 am when her friends first brought her in from the hostel.
All these notwithstanding, the concerns of members of the public in the wake of Amadi’s death in the Kwara State camp, also attracted the attention of the House of Representatives, which mandated its Committee on Youth Development to investigate the circumstances leading to the death.The committee was also asked to extend investigation to the deaths of many other corps members within the compulsory one-year programme.
The House at that plenary session decried the state of infrastructure in NYSC orientation camps across the country, and urged the Federal Government to give them a facelift, even though it is within the purview of state governments to do so.
The resolution was sequel to consideration and adoption of a motion, which came under matters of urgent public importance from Blessing Nsiegbe (Rivers). Nsiegbe, while canvassing support for the consideration of the motion, lamented the deaths of corps members at the camps, stating that reports indicated that Amadi’s death arose from injuries sustained during a Man ‘O’ War’ drills.
The fuss surrounding the Man ‘O’ War drills notwithstanding, the NYSC says there are no plans to review them, insisting that some of the comments in the wake of Amadi’s death clearly indicate a lack of adequate information on the subject, and lack of idea about the operations of the NYSC scheme.
According to the spokesperson of the scheme, Adenike Adeyemi, while adequate measures are put in place to ensure safety of corps members during Man ‘O’ War activities and indeed in any activity on camp, “the management of NYSC is faced with the challenge of corps members that come into the camp with peculiar health challenge that will not allow them participate in strenuous activities. Such corps members sometimes conceal their real health status and attempt to participate in such activities. This is where complications occur and they will later confirm their true health status. That is why management came up with the idea of corps members presenting a certified medical report indicating their health status on arrival at orientation camps.
“We now use such report to exempt those with serious health challenges from participating in strenuous activities on camp. However, some corps members still refuse to disclose their true health status. There is no way we can help them since they are covering up their situation. We also have what we call “instant relocation” where corps members with serious health issues are relocated and asked to leave camp to either states where their parents reside, or where they receive medical treatment immediately after registration.”
As part of efforts to improve medicare in camps, she said the “scheme is into a partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health in the area of deploying medical personnel (i.e. medical consultants, doctors, paramedics etc) from federal medical centres, teaching hospitals, who through combined action with corps medical team, play critical roles in addressing healthcare delivery in camps.
She pointed out that the agency reviews/updates its policies and operational guidelines regularly through adopted resolutions at the end of every pre-orientation, pre-mobilisation workshop, annual management conference and other such fora in order to remain relevant. It is pertinent to note that the level of implementation is being tracked to ensure operational efficiency and timely implementation of the workshop/conference resolutions as they affect departments and secretariats.”
State secretariats, she said, also “send in reports on monthly basis where strengths, weaknesses and opportunities are noted with a view to improving on our operations. We equally sample the opinions of corps members during orientation exercises, through administering questionnaires on all activities during the orientation exercise. At the end of the service year, we do same for a general assessment for the service year. We equally organise corps employers’ workshops, where the end users of the services of corps members rub minds with NYSC officials and corps members on how to improve the operations of the scheme. The Corpers’ Forum is another area where feedback is received for policy formulation.”
On efforts to improve the dilapidating state of camps, she said that, “robust liaison is put in place, to ensure that state governments discharge their statutory obligations to the scheme; opportunities are being explored for deeper involvement of the chief executives, and other critical stakeholders in the development and upgrading of orientation camps.
“However, the scheme supports the orientation programme with available resources to provide an enabling environment for the corps members/camp officials. From time to time, the management of the scheme pays advocacy visits to state governments, requesting them to continue to support the scheme by carrying out their various statutory responsibilities, which also involve camp facilities development/maintenance.
The introduction of one per cent of the consolidated revenue fund in the 2018 budget was to ensure that all youth corps members are covered by the National Health Insurance Scheme, but the scheme says that counts for nothing at the moment since the “NHIS is yet to be implemented. However, the scheme is awaiting guidelines from the government on the implementation of the programme following the approval. Corps doctors and consultants from tertiary health institutions will continue to play their roles of attending to corps members and other members of the camp community, as the camp clinic is the first port of call for corps members during orientation exercise, while serious cases are referred to secondary and tertiary health institutions.
When implemented, the inclusion of corps members in NHIS will go a long way in supporting what the NYSC scheme is doing in the area of healthcare delivery.”Commenting on ways to curb deaths linked to strenuous physical exercises that corps members are subjected to in camps, Founder, Zonefitness Ng, Esta Morenikeji said, “Because the risk of injuries to the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems goes up as exercise intensity increases, anyone with an existing cardiovascular disease, or metabolic disease (i.e. diabetes) should not engage in a vigorous exercise regimen (the only exception is if the person has a medical clearance, and the exercise programme is supervised by an appropriate qualified professional).
“Healthy individuals (those who don’t have any existing cardiovascular or metabolic disease, and do not present with signs and symptoms suggestive of cardiovascular diseases) should be screened using the basic Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q) before starting a rigorous exercise regimen. PAR-Q comprises of seven questions, which predict the risk level for an individual,” she stated.
On basic minimum medical facilities that should be on the ground at orientation camps to guarantee safety in the event of any eventuality, she said, “At the minimum, a well-stocked first aid box and qualified personnel who can carry out CPR in case of any cardiovascular event.”
Since some PCMs arrive orientation camps with falsified medical certificates, are there other ways, which one’s fitness for such drills can be ascertained?Morenikeji responded: “It starts with the people leading the exercise sessions. They must put people’s safety above everything else. Don’t force people to do drills because you can do them; because they may not be at your fitness level. If someone cannot do the drill, they can’t do it. We can’t assume someone is fit because she is young or slim. One’s age or body size does not determine fitness.
“So, instead of shouting at the top of one’s voice, and harassing people to take part in drills, we can let people do what they can at the moment and allow them to progress at their own pace. People should also be advised to listen to their bodies and not push themselves out of their safety zones. Safety should always come first,” she admonished.Weighing in on the alleged dearth of adequate medical facilities in orientation camps, the Medical Director, Charis-Med Hospital, Lagos, Dr. Olayide Jinadu said, “I have heard conflicting reports about the state of medical facilities in our NYSC camps. However, my experience was an awesome one. I was the camp CMD when I served in Ogun State, and the camp clinic was fairly well equipped, which made us able to attend to basic emergencies. The camp was also situated not too far from the Olabisi Onabanjo Teaching Hospital, Sagamu.
Also speaking on falsified medical certificate paraded by many, and what other steps can be taken to determine corps members medical fitness to participate in para-military drills, Jinadu said, “Talking about medical certificates, a lot of these certificates are falsified, I personally saw quite an amount of hilarious medical reports that could not have been written by medical doctors. My point is that, medical reports have not proven to do the job. My opinion is that medically unfit individuals should be exempted from camp. They do not need to present annoying medical reports, since they would be examined by health professionals to confirm such claims. I saw over 30 asthmatic patients (corp members), and just two of them came to camp with their inhalers and medication, I see that as the height of irresponsibility.”
On the ideal medical staff that should be on ground to ensure that chances are not taken with human lives, he said, “I believe the medical staff are not the problem, but the infrastructure available to work with. It is not a question of competence alone but of the availability of basic life-saving facilities like nebulizers for asthmatic emergencies; oxygen cylinders filled with oxygen, and all other emergency medications.My discussion with my colleagues who served in other states led me to this conclusion, as a lot of them said there were no single medication in the camp clinic except for Paracetamol tablets, now that is so wrong on so many levels. If that is true in other camps, I think the government needs to restrategise.”
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