Saving lives beyond COVID-19

The media has been inundated recently with reports of patients being denied treatment because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

There have been reports also of patients with other health conditions dying avoidable deaths because they were denied treatment by health workers.

The reason for this is simple, as Nigeria grapples with and focused on containing the COVID-19 pandemic, other health conditions got neglected and were not getting the attention they deserved.

COVID-19 is undoubtedly straining the health system. Also, health care workers are overstretched and are unable to operate effectively as they battle the viral pandemic.

The work of the health workers has also been made more difficult due to inadequate Personal Protective Equipment. 

It could be recalled that on May 6, 2020, a Nigerian female artiste, Bertha Mary Okey, lamented how hospitals refused to treat her brother, Sylvester Okey before he died.

Okey died after he was refused medical attention at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja; Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba and a private hospital in Lagos.

According to Bertha, the various rejections her brother suffered was mainly because the hospitals suspected he was a COVID-19 case.

“Since this COVID-19 pandemic started, nobody wanted to admit us. It’s not like we can’t afford the bill for the treatment,” she cried.

Also, in the June 14 publication in PUNCH HealthWise, Nenelyn Iwelumo decried how her 63-year-old father, Emmanuel Iwelumo died after being rejected by several hospitals in Lagos on suspicion of being infected with COVID-19.

Nenelyn’s father could not get prompt medical attention from LUTH; the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba; Federal Medical Centre, Ebute Meta; and the Military Hospital, Yaba.

Again, a 61-year-old Lagos resident, Mr. Obiefula Anya, died of pneumonia after he was allegedly refused treatment by some hospitals, including LUTH; and the Federal Medical Centre Ebute-Metta.

The two hospitals allegedly cited a lack of bed space and also demanded COVID-19 test result before treatment.

According to the World Health Organisation, previous outbreaks have demonstrated that when health systems are overwhelmed, mortality from vaccine-preventable and other treatable conditions can also increase dramatically.

“During the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, the increased number of deaths caused by measles, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis attributable to health system failures exceeded deaths from Ebola,” WHO noted.

There have been rising deaths of other diseases in the country and we must learn to live with the reality that the COVID-19 pandemic is not close to being over.

Hence, the need for a balance in meeting the increasing demands in responding to the pandemic and maintaining essential services.

The Federal Government had last Thursday said it was disturbed by the increasing rejection of patients by hospitals, adding that medical directors would be held responsible for the laxity.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, who stated this during a meeting involving the Federal Ministry of Health, the Federal Capital Territory Administration and medical directors in the FCT, also lamented that hospitals were delaying testing of COVID-19 patients, leading to increasing coronavirus deaths.

However, to overcome these challenges, the WHO body advised countries to identify essential services that will be prioritised in their efforts to maintain continuity of service delivery and make strategic shifts to ensure that increasingly limited resources provide maximum benefit for the population.

“They also need to comply with the highest standard in precautions, especially in hygiene practices, and the provision of adequate supplies including personal protective equipment. This requires robust planning and coordinated actions between governments and health facilities and their managers,” WHO noted.

While we fight against the viral pandemic, other non-COVID-19 patients need not die.

The Nigerian government and all stakeholders in the health sector must urgently come up with strategies to ensure the health system continues to provide the needed care for all health conditions.

Now is the time to redouble efforts and build solidarity to achieve that.

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