Opinion

Opinion: Death Of Nigerians In Foreign Hospitals

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By Idang Alibi
The death of some prominent Nigerians, notably Professor Dora Akunyili, in foreign hospitals in recent times, once again, draws attention to our inexplicable inability to take care of our sick here at home. When such deaths occur, I join compatriots in mourning the departed, yet the patriotic pain in me usually comes forth. Why they had to die abroad, I usually ask in patriotic indignation.
After the nation endured the embarrassment of having the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua quarantined in one ward of a hospital in Saudi Arabia and made inaccessible even to a delegation of our own National Assembly, I thought that that would serve as an impetus for us to try to establish health care facilities here at home that can cater for all our citizens, people and princes from the lowliest to the loftiest. Such a hospital should be conceived and executed on a grand scale to serve as the SOLUTION CENTRE or the FINAL BUS STOP for all ailing compatriots. If you cannot be healed in this hospital then your time is due and so it will serve as the final bus stop for you.
I would want to think that national pride does not only lie in safe guarding a nation’s territorial integrity and other lofty but really meaningless ideals which we love to mouth about. It should also include, more importantly to me, our ability or rather the will, to treat our sick ourselves instead of having to rely on foreign facilities and expertise to do so. To me, it is very humiliating each time I hear news of prominent compatriots who have to die abroad just because we do not have what it takes to get them healed here at home.
Nigeria has said that it does not have soldiers and equipment and intelligence expertise to guarantee its national sovereignty against insurgents so it recently outsourced that aspect of nationhood to the Americans, the Chinese, the French, the British and some others. We have also said that we cannot feed ourselves so each year, we give out trillions of Naira of our oil money to all countries of the world to send us rice, baked beans, sardines, tomatoes, chocolates, corn beef and other innumerable foodstuffs and we also buy toothpicks from them with which to pick our teeth when some of those foods get stuck in our teeth.
Interestingly, it is some of these foreign foods and the Western lifestyle we have embraced without moderation that are responsible for some of the strange diseases that now come upon us for which we have to go abroad and usually die there! Some Nigerians leave here even when they are too weak to fly, indicating that their condition had reached irreversible state. Some compatriots who are frequent travelers often tell sad tales of entering some flights that can be described as cargo loads of sick Nigerians destined for Cairo, India or South Africa. For how long will we continue to show the world our foolishness?
We are a country with some genuine claim/pretension to greatness. How wise is it for us to create a situation whereby even our president, the symbol of our power and nationhood will have to receive medical care from the hands of foreigners some of whose countries may have one disagreement or another with us?
Can anyone please tell me what is so difficult about establishing world class health facilities, equipping them with world class instruments and getting them manned with world class professionals? Is it that we lack the money? Is it that there is no land sufficient to build such places or have we signed a covenant with a demonic entity that we will sacrifice the lives of some of our people for certain unknown purpose? The former CBN governor and now Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, once revealed that Nigerians spend over 200 billion Naira annually on medicare abroad. The issue therefore is not lack of money. The various governments of this country at various levels can enter in partnership with equipment manufacturers, drug producers, health professionals, businessmen and even ordinary Nigerians to establish hospitals and clinics of whatever level of sophistication if they want. They can also provide enabling environment for businessmen to build and operate medical facilities of whatever sophistication if they also do not want to be directly involved.
I often wonder to myself what is so difficult if the Nigerian government decides today that it will see to the establishment of six world class hospitals, one each located in the six geo-political zones. I am aware of efforts in that direction namely centres of excellence in Zaria, Ibadan, Enugu, Maiduguri, Benin and Port Harcourt. But the efforts have not produced the kind of quality outfits in terms of equipment and personnel that the rich and powerful in our land feel confident to patronize. That is why there is still need for something to be done to stem the massive exodus of Nigerians abroad for medicare.
Cuba is a Third World country just as ours yet her prowess in medicare facilities attracts hundreds of thousands of people across the world to her shores each year. What is wrong with us that we cannot carve a niche for ourselves in one good aspect of human endeavor such as a good healthcare system? We are so many and so many of our people die each year just because we cannot take care of their ailments. Is there something fundamentally wrong with us?
I am mourning today particularly because of the sad irony of Akunyili’s death. This was someone who metaphorically gave a substantial part of her life in order for Nigerians to have genuine drugs with which to treat their illnesses and diseases. This Amazon had to die in a foreign land because her nation cannot provide good enough facilities for her to treat her own condition.
Soon, some compatriots will be asking for a national monument to be named in her honour. I think the best honour that can be done Akunyili is to begin a serious process of establishing excellent but affordable diagnostic and medicare facilities across the country where Nigerians of all hues can walk in and get quality attention that will save or prolong their lives. So many Nigerians are dying easily preventable deaths. What is even more unacceptable, they go to die in foreign lands, a silent but painful rebuke of the stupidity and uncaring nature of their motherland.
Nigeria is so blessed beyond measure that her seeming inability to cater for her sick is an unpardonable reproach. As it is, Nigeria cannot defend herself against domestic or foreign aggression; she cannot feed her hungry and now it is telling the world that she cannot care for her sick as well. What sort of country is that? A country of ignoramuses and uncaring brutes?

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