Healthcare in Nigeria has suffered severe drawbacks and the invisible enemy, COVID-19, has compounded problems, forcefully drawing down the curtains that partially shielded the deplorable healthcare system, which is rather not a surprise. The virus has brought to the fore a system that is plagued with obsolete medical equipment, unmotivated professionals, lack of adequate tracking systems to monitor disease outbreak, and unequal access to healthcare especially for the most vulnerable. Nigeria’s healthcare system is, in fact, ranked very poorly according to the World Health Organization.
Speaking specifically about unequal access to healthcare in Nigeria, there has been a glaring and continuous plummet regarding the standard of healthcare as the vulnerable populations are incapable of accessing primary health care even at the local government level. This is also coupled with the uncertainties that greet the natural direction for healthcare access as a result of the pandemic holding sway over 200 countries across the globe. Thankfully according to reports in Nigeria, there has been a recent decline in the number of reported cases. Medical stakeholders believe that the virus has done its worst- reached its peak-, hence an unceasing decline is predicted.
‘Using Lagos as an example, the epicentre for the virus in Nigeria, the amount of cases reported in Lagos on a daily has reduced significantly. We actually anticipated about 100,000 infections in Lagos so it actually didn’t come as a surprise’ Dr Akinkunmi, a medical practitioner with the Lagos state government affirms in a chat with Communal Health Care Scheme (CHSS). Sequel to the pandemic, the government advised that individuals should stay at home and treat mini-illnesses unless they experienced severe COVID-19 symptoms. Dr Akinkunmi explained that only severe cases of COVID-19 were admitted at the isolation centres, since there is a bit of understanding of the disease and its progression, “we’re moving to a phase where only severe cases would be managed at the isolation centres.”
This development has proven worrisome since there are no available resources to track infected patients in their homes nor are vulnerable locales able to access optimum healthcare facilities, resulting in little signs that the virus exists in these communities. In underserved populations where healthcare facilities or professionals can be likened to ‘scarce commodities’, this disparity has expanded with the pandemic. Even worse is that the majority of Nigerians who have the virus are asymptomatic. Besides, “not everybody wants to go to the isolation centres, most people would rather stay at home and treat themselves either because of fear or stigma and in truth we don’t have the capacity in all reported cases.”
For certain communities, it is only predictable that there would be minimal access to COVID-19 testing making them further left out of healthcare. Most of the underserved communities don’t really have access to testing or don’t want to get tested because of fear or stigma. In most cases, members of communities who are neither without primary care nor with COVID-19 testing access are in doubt of the virus. Nonetheless, the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) has revealed that Nigeria is currently at the community transmission phase, therefore the community spread is more dangerous because everyone is at risk of being infected, especially because of the distrust in the virus’ existence and most importantly the lack of access to testing.
Communal Health Support Scheme sort partnership with the local government and some private sectors such as Merchlist, Fundall and the Black Kinsungi Foundation in order to take responsibility to locate vulnerable communities to sensitize community members on the realness of the virus. About 1000 families benefited from recent outreaches in four communities in Lagos – Alagbado, Sagbokoji, Oregun and Agidingbi – and in Jos – Angwa-Rukuba spanning four months. In addition to the education the organization provided, there was also an ample supply of preventive medical supplies such as Immune boosting vitamins as well as hygiene products such as soaps, face masks and hand sanitizers that helped members of the community stay clean and safe.
Finally, this piece is not an attempt to contradict the efforts of the government, in fact, we sincerely commend them. But we reaffirm that it is imperative that the secluded communities have access to quality and sustainable health care services.
Have you ever imagined if every Nigerian had equal access to health care? We have imagined it, taken a step and we believe we can achieve it!
By Abigail Olajire and Adewunmi Salami