Appearing to provide alternative health services for individuals with medical needs across the country, mobile clinics and health practitioners who charge a paltry but operate mostly without regulation may be causing more harm than good writes Eric Dumo
Salisu Adejobi, 52, struggles to move his left arm these days. Once a vibrant and energetic man, the father of three is gradually fading into a pale shadow of what he used to look like. With doubts hanging over his health amidst series of family related problems, the Ogun State native is indeed passing through a very rough period – one that has left him asking questions in torrents.
Feeling restless and with slight pains around his back and chest, Adejobi had visited the General Hospital in Ikorodu, a Lagos suburb, in November 2014 to have a doctor check him and to identify the cause of his pains. But after trying without success on two separate occasions, the electrician, following a sibling’s advice, decided to look for help elsewhere – this time at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja. The health facility is one of the best in the country, boasting seasoned doctors and nurses to address any situation. But initial hopes of having a quick appointment with a doctor at the hospital soon faded into thin air on Adejobi’s very first visit.
“I realised to my surprise during my first visit to the outpatient section of the hospital that doctors only attend to 25 people in a day and one of the security men told me that if I was serious about seeing a doctor that would check me, I had to come very early on any of the week days,” the 52-year-old told our correspondent earlier in the week.
Armed with that knowledge, the electrician went home after the disappointment of the first day to prepare ahead for the next day. By 8:00am, Adejobi had arrived the facility, brimming with hope of accomplishing his mission and finding a lasting solution to the pains he now feels in parts of his body. But few minutes later, on approaching the entrance of the outpatient section of the hospital, he realised that fulfilling that mission might take even longer than he had ever expected. More than 50 adults were already in the waiting hall – 25 more than the number to be attended to for the day. Two more trials at the hospital without seeing a doctor to check his failing health forced the 52-year-old into embracing an option that has now proved very costly.
“After failing repeatedly to see a doctor at the Ikorodu General Hospital and LASUTH as a result of the crowd that usually besiege both places, a friend told me about some women who conduct medical checkups for people at the Ikorodu roundabout for less than N1000. I decided to visit the place after enduring the pain for a few more days.
Health testing in Ikeja
“Without asking me many questions, the woman who attended to me after connecting a small device to my body, told me that the cause of my back and chest pains was the work of the excess sugar in my system and that a drug which she would sell to me would flush out the excess sugar and bring everything back to normal. The cost of the entire drug she quoted was N4, 800. I rushed to the nearest ATM point with excitement to pick some cash to purchase the drugs,” he said.
But rather than provide the relief that he had expected and had been assured of by the woman who checked him at the busy Lagos bus stop, Adejobi got more troubles instead. After using the drugs as prescribed for two weeks, the pains became more intense while some parts of his body, especially his back, had started swelling. It took the quick intervention of a doctor at a private clinic at the Agric area of Ikorodu to save his life.
“I suddenly collapsed in the house one afternoon when the pains became unbearable,” he told our correspondent. “Rather than ease my sufferings and restore my health back to normal as the lady who checked and sold the drugs to me had promised, the pills almost killed me. If I had not been rushed to the hospital that day, I would have died by now because what I was feeling at that point was beyond ordinary.
“It took the doctors about three days to fully stabilise me. I am very grateful to God for sparing my life even though for now, I cannot use my left arm the way I used to in the past. The doctors told me that the drug had affected some tissues in my body especially my left arm and had led to partial stroke,” he said.
Like Adejobi, Lanre Sopade is also counting the cost of patronising a mobile health practitioner similar to the one the former encountered at the Ikorodu area of Lagos. Based in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State, 63-year-old Sopade now lives with badly damaged eyesight after consuming various pills sold to him by two women who had conducted routine medical checkup on him for a paltry N300 in January 2015. During a telephone conversation with our correspondent earlier in the week, the father of five wished he had never met the women.
“I was in front of my house one afternoon when two women passing by with bags in their hands approached me and convinced me to have a routine medical checkup with them,” Sopade started, clearing his throat a few more times before continuing.
“They told me that with my huge frame I could be standing the risk of some diseases like diabetes, hypertension and stroke. After the test which was conducted in less than 10 minutes, one of them told me that I should count myself lucky for having the checkup because my situation was already critical and that my blood pressure was very high and capable of causing serious damage to my body.
They told me that I needed not to worry much that the drugs they would give to me would cleanse my entire system and eliminate any trace of hypertension and other internal diseases resident in my body.
“The total cost of the drugs they prescribed for me was about N5, 700 but I didn’t have up to that amount on me that day, so I gave them only N3, 000 aside from the N300 that I paid for the checkup and asked them to come for the balance two days later which they agreed.
“After about three weeks of taking the pills without any noticeable difference in my health as they had told me, I suddenly realised I wasn’t seeing clearly with my eyes anymore. My vision became blurred.
Luckily, I found the pamphlet they gave me on the day they checked me and called one of the numbers on it to complain to them what the drug had done to me but sadly, none was connecting. I have spent more than N80, 000 since the beginning of this year looking for solution to the eye problem but it is still the same. As it is, I am only looking up to God for a miracle because I don’t have money to go for a corrective surgery at the hospital at the moment,” the heartbroken man told our correspondent.
A health diagnostic machine
Sadly, Adejobi and Sopade are only a few whose health has taken a serious dip after consuming products sold to them by the ‘mobile doctors’ who roam many Nigerian streets today, conducting all sorts of tests for as low as N100, thereby selling drugs to clients without the prescription of a certified medical practitioner. In recent times, there has been a surge in the number of casualties arising from such patronages especially with many of the ‘mobile doctors’ operating with little or no form of certification and approval from relevant health agencies.
Earlier in the week, our correspondent in the course of this report, came across one of the women engaged in the growing practice at the Computer Village, a popular computer and mobile gadgets hub in Lagos’ capital, Ikeja.
Immediately our correspondent approached her for a quick checkup, the woman after naming a fee of N150 for diabetes, cholesterol and blood sugar level test, brought out a small digital device with a cable connected to it. She wrapped the cable around our correspondent’s arm before pressing a button on the device which tightened the grip of the cable and forced the meter of the device to display different readings. After five minutes, she loosened the grip of the cable and switched off the device. Without explaining to our correspondent what the readings of the device meant and what problem it had detected, she made a bizarre request.
“My brother, thank God say you do this checkup. If not, you for suffer a terrible headache in the next 24 hours. Fat dey too much for your body and e don block the vein wey dey carry blood go your brain.
Anytime this kind thing happen, e dey cause serious damage to the brain sef. But no worry, the medicine I go give you go flush your entire system before daybreak. The complete package na im I wan give you and e go cost only N5, 300. With this medicine, you no go even need to worry about diabetes or even excess sugar, e go flush everything comot for your body,” the woman who identified herself only as Caroline said in distorted Pidgin English.
When asked by our correspondent to give him her mobile number and office address so he could come for the purchase the next day when he could arrange for the money, the woman’s mood changed, acting reluctantly to the request before throwing in more surprise.
“Okay how much dey your hand now? Let me know so I fit know how to assist you. I fit sell half for you or maybe quarter so that you fit use am quickly suppress the headache and then maybe tomorrow you fit meet me here in the afternoon to buy the remaining one to complete the dosage,” she said further.
But after cleverly turning down her own suggestion and asking that she drop the information requested by our correspondent, Caroline grudgingly brought out a squeezed and worn-out leaflet whose text was largely unreadable. The two numbers she also supplied had remained unreachable since Monday when the encounter took place. Caroline could barely pronounce simple words like ‘cholesterol’ and ‘blood sugar level’, exposing her quackery and empty knowledge of medical checkups and drug prescriptions even though she had dealt with dozens of customers in the period she had operated in this bustling part of Lagos without any form of harassment.
A medical research expert, Femi Duyile, told Saturday PUNCH that the shortage of doctors and well trained health practitioners across the country plus the poor regulation of the industry in the country by relevant government agencies was among factors responsible for the emergence of the likes of Caroline who now inflict more pain on the sick by selling all sorts of drugs to them without proper prescription from a certified doctor.
According to a former president of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Osahon Enabulele, there are about 27,000 doctors in Nigeria serving about 170 million people. He said this has contributed to the unnecessary waste of hours patients spend waiting to see a doctor for simple checks that last only a few minutes.
“Ideally, one would like to have one doctor to one citizen but since that is not likely, we say a minimum of one doctor to 600 people. That is the real world expectation. But in Nigeria, it’s one to over 6000 people. We revolve around 27,000 doctors practising in Nigeria. Doctors operating in this country work in extremely tough circumstances because the challenge is enormous.
“Ideally, the maximum a doctor should see in a day is 30 patients, but in Nigeria, we have doctors seeing close to 100 patients a day. It doesn’t make sense. We have very chronic shortage of medical manpower in Nigeria. That is why we have long waiting times in hospitals. There are endless queues and when doctors are over-stressed, their attitude becomes a problem. In one state, for instance with over three million people, there are only 115 doctors to attend to such huge population. It is a big problem that needs to be immediately addressed,” he said.
To fill in the void left behind by the lack of adequate certified doctors to attend to the growing medical needs of the population, men and women pretending to be real doctors have also crept into the picture. In June 2015, Martins Ugwu, a father of five, was arrested by the police for parading himself as a doctor for nine years after stealing the credentials of a friend, George Daniel, who is a real doctor. Ugwu, until his arrest, was a senior official of the Federal Ministry of Health on Grade Level 13. He was due to be promoted to an Assistant Director in the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control before the long arms of the law caught up with him.
On September 2, 2015, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria apprehended another fake doctor – this time a woman, Nwosu Angela Njide. The woman had worked with the British American Tobacco clinic, Ibadan, Oyo State, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital and Rauz Hospital, Apo, Abuja, before she was arrested.
But despite the negative perception now surrounding their activities as a result of exploits of men and women selling all sorts of pharmaceutical products imported from places like China and Switzerland to unsuspecting members of the public, a handful others our correspondent came across swore that their services were genuine and that they have the full backing of the law to operate.
On Tuesday, our correspondent traced one of such companies offering medical checkups and general health treatment to its office on Allen Avenue, a popular part of Ikeja to verify the genuineness of its products. One of the marketers with the Chinese company named FOHOW, Amaka Agwu, told Saturday PUNCH that after running checks on clients, they recommend them to an in-house doctor who thereafter prescribes some of their drugs as solution to their health issues.
“We don’t just treat people who come to us; they must come with a test result showing their medical history. If the ailment is very severe, we have in-house doctors that we refer customers to for further attention.
“There are different types of tests and there are various types of machines for such purposes. There are even machines that detect cancer. We have comprehensive and individual tests. If it’s comprehensive test, we charge between N1000 and N2000 while for a single test like blood sugar level, we charge N500. When a test is conducted, the machine used would display the result for the client to see.
“But one of the problems we have is that a lot of fake products have flooded the market and now spoiling business for the genuine ones. There are too many quacks roaming the streets today in an attempt to sell drugs to people without conducting proper checks on them,” she said.
Attempts to speak with senior executives at the company to know the authorisations backing their activities did not yield much returns as administrators of the organisation were said to be out of town when our correspondent visited.
The Director of Information, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Mrs. Deola Salako, while calling on members of the public not to patronise any unregistered pharmacy store or individuals marketing cheap drugs to them, revealed that such practices were highly detrimental to safety of lives. She told Saturday PUNCH that there is a task force in place to arrest anyone offering medical services to members of the public in Lagos without government’s approval.
“The Lagos State government through the Ministry of Health has been embarking on sensitisation campaign for some time now to warn people about the dangers of patronising roadside doctors whose sole intention is to sell all sorts of drugs to them.
“Already, a task force to enforce compliance and rid the state of every such person risking the health of members of the public in Lagos is in place. But the most important thing is for people to be more careful and protect their health and lives by patronising only approved pharmacy stores and qualified and certified medical practitioners,” she said.