The coronavirus pandemic came with a lot of uncertainties and panic gripped everyone. A lot of people were being infected and countless number of people were dying.
Everyone soon realised that nobody was safe. The situation was so bad that even front line health workers became suspicious of every patient that turned up at the hospital seeking care for fever or other associated ailments. In essence, the infectious nature of COVID-19 and the high mortality associated with it, created an atmosphere of fear, globally.
In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT ) the situation is not different, as many residents have shared horrible experiences they have had trying to access healthcare in some of the public hospitals.
One of such residents, Steve Ogochukwu, a middle-aged man and resident of Kobi community, narrated how he tried without success to get medical attention from one of the District Hospitals in Abuja.
He said many people passed through agonising experiences trying to access medical care in this period of the pandemic. Ogochukwu said he had obtained a hospital card and paid consultation fees as required but ended up not receiving any medical attention, after two days of waiting around the hospital premises.
He said the hospital always had a limited number of patients that were granted access each day to see any doctor for any case. Sometimes, he said, the few fortunate people who get tally numbers to have a place on the queue, may end up spending the whole day waiting.
According to him, on the second day after he had paid another consultation fee and waited for close to six hours, he was told that the available doctor on duty can only see those who were critically ill.
“I got so frustrated after two attempts without being attended to by any doctor.
My choice of going to a public hospital at the first instance was because I needed the services of a specialist. Since I could not get attention there, I was forced to patronize a private hospital,” he said.
This may be an isolated case but it underpins the experiences of other non-COVID 19 patients who were rejected and left stranded in some of the public hospitals.
While some non-COVID 19 patients said they were rejected outright by the hospital, others complained that they were abandoned or neglected by medical personnel, who are trying to play safe and grappling with uncertainties that surround the ravaging pandemic.
Inside Abuja gathered that the apprehension created by the pandemic among FCT public health officers and other medical staff is becoming more rife, considering the number of frontline workers that have contracted the virus in the course of their duties. In the last couple of months, over 20,000 tests have been conducted in the FCT and about 2,000 persons confirmed positive cases.
This is a factor said to have made frontline workers more apprehensive.
The situation has become worse with the growing suspicion that the virus has graduated to the community transmission stage. Government’s intervention Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Muhammad Bello, recently expressed worries that residents were faced with untold hardship accessing healthcare due to COVID-19.
He, therefore, held an interface with stakeholders in the health sector to chart a way forward to end the difficulties preventing non-COVID19 patients from accessing healthcare.
The interaction, which was held in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health, was meant to open up more vista of healthcare services in the nation’s capital, so that as the pandemic is being tackled, those who suffer other illnesses would not be abandoned to die.
During the interaction, Bello noted that the increasing cases of inaccessibility of routine services in healthcare facilities by members of the public due to uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was anti- people, and must be tackled.
Bello said that a situation whereby, the entire health system was skewed towards fighting only one ailment, out of hundreds of ailments, was 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.
“The increasing number of cases due to community transmission has thrown up the necessity of all our hospitals to become directly involved in this fight, especially with the collection of sample,” he said. Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, who spoke during the stakeholders meeting convened by FCT Minister on the issue, urged the management of public hospitals not to give room for other life threatening illnesses to thrive and increase mortality.
Ehanire warned Chief Medical Directors of Public Hospitals that they would be held accountable personally for the outcome from their facilities, stressing that rejecting non-COVID 19 patients in hospitals, would bring about a serious setback in the healthcare delivery system.
He stressed that neglect of any sick person was unethical and not acceptable and urged the CMDs to ensure that adequate steps were being taken to admit and treat patients rather than turning them away from the hospitals to die needlessly.
“No emergency case should be denied attention, even if it means admitting someone on a stretcher or an examination couch, to give them life-saving oxygen, instead of rejecting them and saying you have no bed. You have to do something. The least is to give oxygen.
“I have agreed on the protocol to link all major public hospitals in the FCT catchment area, whether they are managed by Federal or FCT Administration, to the COVID-19 sample collection site to facilitate fast sample collection, reduce turnaround time for test results and to bring more efficiency to the response strategy,”/Ehanire said.