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COVID-19: Tales of woe as Abuja hospitals reject patients

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It has been tales of woe for many families seeking to access routine healthcare services in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), since the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as many have lost loved ones, due to rejection of patients by hospitals over fear of COVID-19.

In the past four months, there abound heart-wrenching stories of Nigerians, young and old, who had emergency cases or wanted to access routine healthcare services to no avail.

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Interestingly, most of the indicted health facilities belong to the Federal Government.

The family of late Simon Sule Agagwu will not forget in a hurry the trauma they went through, while trying to save their father’s life.

His son, Solomon Agagwu, explained that their septuagenarian father was hypertensive and diabetic, and had been battling stroke for 15 years.

He was using the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Lokoja, but this time around, the doctors at the hospital were on strike. So, the family had to take him to another hospital in Ayimgba, Kogi State. Due to the nature of the ailment, the family got a referral note and proceeded to Abuja, with the hope that he would receive better treatment there.

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Solomon recalled that a month earlier, when his father took ill, he went for a scan and the result showed he had enlarged heart; the organ was retaining water. So, the doctors administered some medicine to help drain the water and asked him to check back in a month.

He narrated to The Guardian how his late father was rejected at three hospitals in the FCT on June 26, 2020. He was, however, later admitted at FMC Jabi, where he died on the morning of June 28.

Solomon noted that the medical personnel at the health facilities were so unfriendly, as anyone that came to the hospitals was suspected to be a COVID-19 patient.

A similar story was that of Alhaji Usman Dikko, whose case trended on the social media.

Report had it that Dikko died on June 23, 2020, barely three days after his 67th birthday. He died in a car that was taking him to yet another hospital, after being rejected by six different hospitals (public and private) in Abuja.

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Umar Balarabe, who narrated the story said: “Alhaji Dikko’s journey to the beyond began around 11am on that particular day. He complained of chest pain and weakness, and asked to be taken to the hospital. Fortunately, his friend that had come to visit was there and offered to drive him to a nearby government hospital. But on getting there, he was rejected and even when Alhaji Dikko complained that he was feeling weak, they asked him to go do a COVID-19 test. He called the FCT hotlines, which were either switched off or did not respond. His relatives in different parts of the country kept calling the numbers without luck. At the COVID-19 test centre, Alhaji Dikko was told that the staff had gone on strike, due to government’s refusal to pay them. They were directed to a general hospital, where they were equally turned away.

“Alhaji Dikko decided to brave the 60-kilometre journey from Asokoro to another hospital. By then, his breathing had become shallow. Sadly, he was informed at the hospital that there was no bed space. Apparently, lack of bed space is another way of saying, “we will not treat you; we will not save you.”

Now scared about Dikko’s deteriorating state, his friend drove another 50 kilometres to another hospital. There, they checked his temperature and said he needed to be put on oxygen. However, they could not treat him, due to lack of space. Alhaji Dikko was driven to four other hospitals in Abuja, but was refused treatment by all of them.

By 12 am, Dikko was very tired. His eyes had closed and his breathing was even shallower. His wife, whose voice had become hoarse from begging medical personnel to save her husband’s life, started crying. She was unable to fathom the sheer callousness, the way medical professionals shrugged and turned away a patient that needed immediate help.

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Dikko’s family is still bewildered that despite the fact that Nigerians have been regaled with news of how government is spending billions on COVID-19 treatment and healthcare, the reality contradicts what authorities touted.

True, the FCT COVID-19 hotlines rang, but they went unanswered.

A journalist, who spoke under anonymity told The Guardian: “It is happening all over the FCT. Hospitals are rejecting patients. I personally experienced it and also witnessed where it happened to someone else. Just last week, a lady living in Zone 4, Wuse attempted to commit suicide. She drank Sniper alongside some pills. Her neighbour, who is a colleague, found her unconscious in the room and called for help.

“We first went to a private clinic in the neighbourhood, but they rejected her. We went to all government hospitals in town and they all rejected her, saying they didn’t have space. At one of the hospitals, we were told that somebody in the emergency unit had COVID-19, and the place had been fumigated. At last, we went to the Federal Medical Centre, Jabi and they accepted the patient, but asked us to deposit a huge amount before anything could be done.

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“Luckily, my friend had enough money. So, she deposited the money and the hospital started treatment. Thank God that everything went well, the lady regained consciousness and is recovering fast. I was also rejected at one of the General hospitals. I had gone to check my blood pressure and to see if my drugs would be renewed or doctors would tell me to stop taking medication,.

“After waiting for two hours, the doctor I met told me this is not a good time to come to hospital. He said I should go and buy BP apparatus and be checking my BP at home. I told him that the hospital gave me an appointment to come for check up that day, but he said that was not the issue, that I should stop coming. So, it is happening. They are rejecting people. I have heard a lot of stories.”

FG Meets With CMDs Of Government Hospitals In FCT
EARLIER last month, in a bid to address the development, the Federal Government met with Chief Medical Directors of government hospitals in the FCT, where it warned that efforts to control COVID-19 must not be an excuse to neglect other life-threatening diseases, which if allowed to thrive could increase mortality.

At the meeting, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, told the CMDs that he had been inundated with reports of sick persons being rejected and abandoned by hospitals. He observed that many have died, after being denied attention at hospitals, or told there was no bed, often after they would have gone from one hospital to another in search of help.

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Describing the situation as unacceptable, Ehanire noted that government could not afford to continue to lose citizens, who went to hospitals, only to die for avoidable reasons.

He said: “Government has discovered that the fear of Coronavirus is making some health institutions lose sight of other health hazards in our communities. There are places, today, where we suspect that needless mortality from other diseases has overtaken the threat of COVID-19.

“It is sad that many patients are left unattended after admission, or even die, while waiting for the result of their COVID-19 or other tests, which sometimes take as long as three to six days to release. Aside deployment of the GeneXpert COVID-19 diagnostic machines, government has also directed that basic diagnostic side labs be set up at the Emergency centres of major hospitals…”

He said it would be a serious setback for the country, if medical services, especially emergency medical service, began to deteriorate in the wake of fighting COVID-19.

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FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, decried the trend, saying the situation, whereby the entire system is skewed and geared towards fighting only one out of hundreds of ailments is a cause for great concern.

“Sad stories of people being turned away from hospitals with non-COVID related ailments or even denied life-saving first aid treatments for fear of contraction of the virus have come to the fore…” he said.

Chief Medical Director, University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Prof. Bissallah Ekele, urged government and other organisations to also equip other teaching hospitals to help address rejection of patients.

The Chief Medical Director of the National Hospital Abuja, Dr. Jaf Momoh, who spoke on the topic: “Patients rejection and denial of service,” revealed that the hospital has upgraded its five-bed isolation centre to 28, and when the hospital was getting overwhelmed, it established a 17-bed holding area and have 111 patients not yet tested and critically ill on arrival.

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