The Nigerian Medical personnel, especially those at the forefront of confronting the COVID-19 pandemic at various isolation centres in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), have expressed doubts over the veracity of numbers bandied by relevant government agencies including the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Presidential Task Force and the Health Ministry. Some of the healthcare providers who spoke to Global Sentinel on the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, where dissatisfied with the way they are being treated, alleging that apart from their salaries and allowances being withheld “corruption is embedded in the management of the fight against the pandemic”, writes Maureen Okpe
Since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in Nigeria in 2015, anti-corruption has been at the heart of his administration. However, a lot of effort is focused on grand corruption at the higher levels of governance and politics. There is less emphasis on the less-talked-about but vulnerable areas such as the health sector.
As media outlet and researchers of concrete news and information study in Nigeria, the interviewer interacted with front-line health workers and managers with the aim of systematically identifying corrupt practises occurring in the Nigerian health sector, especially as regards the fight against COVID 19 and based on how damaging they can be to the health sector and the country in general.
In the war against COVID-19, health system resilience, accountability and integrity are more important than ever. The health systems of some high-income-countries have become overwhelmed by the rising number of infected persons and deaths from the disease. Weaker, corruption-prone and less resilient health systems of many low and middle income countries are even more vulnerable and according to statistics some may even collapse.
A consistently solid and accountable health system has eluded the country. The requisite health resources are also in short supply underscoring a vulnerable health system in Nigeria.
The reality is that citizens, health workers and international development partners worry that Nigeria’s health system is very weak and may be unable to adequately combat COVID 19.
Contributing to the weakness of the system is the federal and state governments’ very low budgetary allocation to the health sector.
Nigeria’s health sector appropriation in the 2020 budget is 4.5% of the total federal budget, about N427.3 billion. This is far below the 15% agreed in the 2001 Abuja Declaration, when African Union member countries pledged to improve spending on their health sector and urged donor countries to scale up support.
Discussions with health workers on COVID-19 spanning the government approved isolation centres in Abuja echo these findings. Health workers have indicated that there are structural and facility-level corruption and accountability issues that they have to work with routinely. These compromise their efforts to do their jobs as healthcare providers, including containing COVID-19 and its impacts.
We also found that there were high levels of distrust in the government, poor welfare conditions for health workers and health service users, and a lack of proper equipment as well as supposedly inaccurate news on remunerations for the health personnel and the constant numbers of infected persons dished out by the Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC).
In a chat with a health personnel at the National Hospital shows NCDC claims are contrary to facts on ground as regards payment of allowances and number of people presently in isolation centres. According to the healthcare personnel, they have not been paid neither salary nor the commission/allowance promised them.
He said “I believe the Coronavirus has gone because for almost eight days now we do not have a single patient in our isolation, that is at the National Hospital and also our colleagues at Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital said Dokpesi, the MD of DAAR communication and family were their last patients.
“All this daily numbers NCDC calls out as number of infected persons in Abuja is doubtful. I wonder where they are getting them from because the two isolation centres in Abuja are Gwagwalada and National hospital.
“I am stationed at one of the isolation centres. I am here now, there are no patients here, as at this morning no patient except they admitted after 11am, as at the time I left,” another medical staff said.
To back up these claims, on Thursday, a Nigerian twitter user with handle @d_retweetHQ, exposed glaring errors in the computation of numbers of infections as announced by the NCDC in their last two updates of Tuesday and Wednesday released on the cases in Nigeria.
When the two figures were compared, it was seen that NCDC actually miscalculated and produced a figure that does not add up, which according to the Twitter user, “has now brought doubt in the heart of other twitter users saying that the NCDC are only forging these numbers”.
As at the time of writing, NCDC is yet to update and correct the figures or said anything about the wrong figures as was displayed in their twitter handle on Wednesday night as the correct figure was meant to be 6689 if the supposed 284 cases are added to the 6401 cases as seen in the picture were to be believed.
The revelations by the twitter users and medical personnel were no doubt, shocking as there was a brief pause to really assimilate what one of the nurses further disclosed by asking, “if there are no patients at the isolation centres then it begs the question, those tested to be positive in the Nations capital where are there being treated?”
To buttress the point, the health worker went further to try to prove that ,that is why she can engage with the interviewer during working hours as there is nothing happening and they are just idle.
“If I have patients I will not even bring out my phone to chat as I will be busy and will keep personal belongings far from me during working hours to avoid getting the virus through contact,” she said.
Further discussion revealed some veiled maltreatment and corruption, as they are yet to receive any allowance by the health Minister who promised to make these payments after volunteering to help combat the pandemic as it seems allocations earmarked for the fight of the virus is meant for the officials.
“They are just collecting money meanwhile they are yet to give us anything, not even one naira working under this life threatening situation,” she stressed.
“I came as a volunteer when I heard the Minister of health saying that nurses will be paid 30k per day, until now we are yet to receive any not even one naira.
“Even the other health workers that did not volunteer, they said they will not be removing their tax from salary until pandemic is over but the taxes were deducted from everyone of them”, she reiterated.
This revelation leaves a lot to be imagine as these could be the height of corrupt practises, embezzlement, neglect of essential workers working in the forefront of the supposed scenario orchestrated by the sector in other to enrich themselves from government coffers.
In the same vein, Mrs Blessing Israel the National Chairman of Nurses and Midwives Lagos chapter lamented the neglect by the Federal Government stating that all remunerations promised are yet to be received and yet they carry out their duties.
” Compared to the risk we take this is not fare as some of my colleagues have been infected in the line of duty and yet they work without much appreciation from the authorities this is not good enough.
While Speaking with one of the officials of the NCDC,he explained that what the Center does primarily is to instruct the operational bodies of the Federal ministry of health and Hospital Management board in carrying out effective practice
“What we are doing is to provide guidance, as a Nigerian public health institute. So basically, we provide evidence base guidelines published also on our website online with global best practices on how best to manage the pandemic.
“We provide to the state and the state passes down to the various public health centres, ministries and clinicians that manage these patients. Basically telling them how to manage these cases and go as far as training them.
“Whenever NCDC states cases that are being manage note that we are not doing it directly.
“The fact that we do not have state offices it tells you that the state are the implementers and they operationalize the response and meet the response at their state level.
“Often times we get feedback and backlash that NCDC didn’t pick up a patient or we didn’t go to check on a particular patient the truth is, it is not our responsibility to do that.
“Personally I will be surprise if we do not have any patients presently in Gwagwalada specialist hospital and National hospital. Again we have other isolation facilities like THISDAY dome was commissioned recently with a bed capacity of 300 and also there is one at Idu.”