By Olanrewaju Akojede, (NAN)
March 18, 2015 should have been a Messianic date to remember as a ray of hope beamed for about 25 million Nigerians (13.9 per cent of the 180 million people) suffering from life debilitating cardiac and renal diseases. It was a day when the former Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babatunde Fashola, inaugurated the N5 billion ultra-modern Cardiac and Renal Centre, located beside the General Hospital, Gbagada.
Fashola opened the multi-billion Naira facility amid fanfare with an intrepid perception that it was a right step in the right direction and hope to millions of Nigerians suffering from the diseases. However, four years down the lane, a centre with a high hope has suddenly become gold rust and now under lock with a smirk look of extinction.
A News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) visit to Gbagada Cardiac and Renal Centre which many have regarded to be one of the best specialist centres in Africa, tells a story of a case of an insidious abandonment.
The locked centre could naturally tell a story of an engendered situation where projects that should have directly alleviated the suffering of the masses could be discontinued. One can also imagine the cost of this project in terms of financial and socio-economic losses which is simply immeasurable to humanity.
The Gbagada ultra-modern Cardiac and Renal Centre was built with glamour and the hope of providing specialist care to many Nigerians and also help to stem the rising medical tourism associated with renal and cardiac treatments. The centre was said to be superbly well equipped to global best practices and standards, which boasts of renal support facility features with 24 fully equipped dialysis machines.
It also has an open heart surgery service which is supported by two anesthetic machines, blood and fluid warmers, a cell saver machine, three intra-aortic balloon pumps in addition to numerous other equipment and facilities.
Within the centre are 19 critical care beds (5 ICU beds, 10 Coronary care beds and 4 Recovery room beds), and more importantly, it also claimed to offer a 24-hour service with teams of cardiology and cardiovascular experts.
The Chief Executive Officer of the centre, Prof. Babatunde Green, at the opening said the hospital would provide a world class healthcare delivery to Nigerians typical of Europe and the U.S.
He said that the centre would provide an echocardiography facility which is a safe and non-invasive diagnostic test that uses frequency sound waves to produce images of the heart and its vessels.
“It also provides an electrocardiography, a diagnostic test to detect abnormalities in the heart rhythm. This will help patients with complex kidney diseases and urologic conditions to find the full range of treatment options at the cardio-renal centre as our operating time is 24 hours,’’ he said.
While many narratives have been put up for the non-functioning of the more than N5 billion health facility, it is sore taste to spill that those narratives are beyond redemption. Some said that the centre was fraught with infrastructural defects and lack of working capital by the concessionaire to properly manage the facility.
Some of the blame was put on the concessionaire, handling the centre, Renescor Health LLP, a consortium of international health experts with varied experience in cardiac and renal management.
A source also said that many of the equipment and infrastructure handed over to the concessionaire by the Lagos State Government were found not to be in perfect condition for use. However, a former worker at the centre, told NAN that excuses for closing up the place was underwhelming compared to the place the centre holds in the history of healthcare in Nigeria.
“Any excuse given for the closure of that place is not tenable anywhere in the world. How can a monument like that turn to a monumental fraud? I don’t understand the position of the government about that place; it is something that can be fixed, remember there is a contractor that supplied those equipment, why not set up a commission of enquiry? It is like playing with tax-payers money and more importantly dashing the hopes of many Nigerians seeking treatments,’’ he said.
According to a report, these large populations are in dire need of cardiac and renal diseases treatment which we easily say it’s a terminal disease. This is coupled with the multiplicity of process and high cost of treatment, the centre is a big relief.
But many Nigerians are now left in doubt about the alleged malfunctioning of the equipment and infrastructural defects. It is so because the centre had been used for the treatments the people go abroad to seek.
It is on record that the centre was used by the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) to treat some kidney patients after it had carried out its first kidney transplant on in its permanent site at Ikeja.
An expert and President of the Nigerian Association of Nephrology (NAN), Dr Ebun Bamgboye, at the commemoration of the 2018 World Kidney Day, lamented the rising cases of kidney diseases in Nigeria.
He said that Nigeria was carrying the largest burden of kidney disease in the world, adding that Nigeria recorded 17,000 new cases of kidney failure, while only 2,000 of such cases had access to life saving dialysis.
“In Nigeria it is estimated that every year the incidence of kidney disease is 100 per 1,000,000 population. The number of new cases of kidney failure we see every year in the population of 170 million is 17,000.
“If you put all the patients on dialysis across the nation together, they are less than 2,000, if 2,000 people are only on dialysis and 17,000 needs it, and when they don’t get it they will die. You can imagine the number of people dying because they don’t have access to dialysis,’’ he said.
Another germane issue on the incidence of renal treatment is the availability of capable facilities to treat the patients coupled with the high cost of treatment which those affected will have to pay through their nose.
For renal dialysis in Nigeria, patients will have to pay between N30, 000 and N50,000 per session.
Bamigboye also said that the number of Nigerians living with kidney disease is far more than the people with kidney failure.
He mentioned that his private hospital, St. Nicholas Hospital, Lagos, records about 120 new patients every year, with an average of 10 new cases every month.
“The record has 74 per cent male, and 26 per cent are female and worldwide, between 10 and 15 per cent of individuals have kidney failure. Out of the 25 million with kidney failure, about 18, 000 will need dialysis every year (that is about 100 per one million of the population).
“Getting this dialysis has become a problem due to the huge cost involved and lack of nephrologists in the country with the cost of dialysis being about N30,000 per session. Each patients needs about three sessions per week which is almost N100, 000 per week and about N400,000 per month. Not many Nigerians can afford this and the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) covers just three sessions of the dialysis,’’ he said.
Bamigboye also posited that there were few nephrologists in Nigeria as the country only has about 160 nephrologists, which is less than one per one million.
“The number of nephrologist in Nigeria is grossly inadequate and unacceptable aside this, dialysis centres are grossly inadequate and found mostly in the urban areas. We have about 149 dialysis centre in Nigeria (both private and public), with about 600 dialysis machines. For a country the size of Nigeria, this is grossly inadequate,’’ he said.
Away from the renal care, heart-related disease is another health burden in Nigeria, and statistics have revealed that about 150,000 Nigerians die annually as a result of it.
This is of course alarming with the number expected to increase to 23 million by 2030 if adequate measures are not taken.
Also, 34 per cent of the adult population in Nigeria live with high blood pressure, especially cardiovascular heart disease before the age of 50.
Reacting to the development, Hakeem Bello, Senior Special Assistant to the Minister of Works, Housing and Power, Mr Babatunde Fashola, noted that the alleged faulty equipment at the Renal and Cardiac Centre was not anything to go by as it was not above the power of the government to fix.
“I believe that if the story making the round that some of the equipment at the Gbagada Renal and Cardiac Centre are faulty is true, it is not beyond what the government in power cannot solve. Those errors if actually true can be corrected because the same Commissioner for Health that supervised the hospital is still in government as commissioner.
“When the place was inaugurated, it was a live transmission that everyone can see and there was coverage of the event, all these are on record. I can say that even if the building is defective it can be corrected if there is the will to do that instead of finding excuses,’’ he said.
Meanwhile efforts to reach the Lagos State Government officials to offer their side of the story failed.
But if the centre has the capacity to alleviate the sufferings of Nigerians health wise, why should it be left by the Lagos State Government to waste? Government in its wisdom should salvage the hospital from further decay and save the country from capital flight in the guise of medical tourism. No doubt, if the money expended on medical tourism remain in the country, it will boost the economy.
More importantly, government at all levels should begin to invest more in healthcare and ensure that the extant facilities in their care are not only adequately maintained but improve upon.