Monday, August 03, 2009

Five-star hospitals: Pie in the sky?

Minister of Health, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, says all forms of medical treatment hitherto sought abroad will be a thing of the past from 2010, as the Federal Government has concluded arrangements to convert four tertiary health institutions to five-star hospitals.

According to the minister, the hospitals, which would possess facilities obtainable in overseas countries, include University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Zaria, and the National Hospital, Abuja.

The five-star hospitals, distributed in four zones of the country representing the South-West, South East, Far North and North Central, are expected to take-off with the passage of the 2010 national budget.

How we wish this dream is based on solid reality, and is not mere pie in the sky. How glorious and edifying it would have been, if we can truly achieve such grand vision by 2010, as articulated by Prof. Osotimehin. But we have serious doubts, grave reservations, about the attainability of the quest.

Can a nation in this epoch ever run functional clinics, not to talk of five-star hospitals, without adequate electricity? That would be the eighth wonder of the world. Already, government is engaged in doublespeak over its promise to deliver at least 6,000 megawatts of electricity by December this year, and 10,000mw by December 2010, saying the Niger Delta problem may derail the vision. Even if the 10,000mw target is achieved, it will still be far below the national requirement for uninterrupted power supply. How then do we run the five-star hospitals without power? We hope Prof. Osotimehin was not making mere political statements, which will not do his status as an academic any good. Without stable power, the idea is doomed to be stillborn.

Again, our hopes are not buoyed when we remember the many targets that had been set by this country, and which were accompanied by slogans that turned out to be mere mantra. We had Health for All by the Year 2000. Housing for All by the Year 2000, Vision 2010, which has since transmuted to Vision 2020. And many others. What reason do we have to believe that the five-star hospitals vision would not be dimmed like the ones before it?

Moreso, government has not put anything concrete on ground to attain the vision, other then the desire expressed by the minister. Such lofty goals are never accomplished by mere wishing. And we have no cause to believe that the minister is not only operating in the realm of wishes.
Equally, the current state of the four targeted hospitals, show that the plan may have failed ab initio. For instance, from a Centre of Excellence as designated by the World Health Organization in the 1980s, the UCH has fallen into an abysmal state of decay and disrepair.

Basic facilities are no longer available, the manpower is dispirited and disgruntled. Of course, the place is almost always in pitch darkness, with no public power supply, and the generators working in fits and starts. The three other designated hospitals do not fare better. What magic or miracle would then happen between now and 2010 to turn them into five-star hospitals? We don’t see it, at least not by a sudden flight, as Osotimehin suggests.

Ending foreign medical treatment is a move in the right direction, and the policy must first be enforced with regards to public office holders. By errors of omission or commission, they leave our hospitals comatose, and hop into aeroplanes at the slightest symptoms of catarrh or headache, leaving ordinary people with life-threatening ailments to vegetate in poorly equipped public health institutions. We support the desire to outlaw foreign treatments, if only it would compel better attention for our state of medicare. It, however, calls for scrupulous planning and diligent execution.

We will be delighted to have five-star hospitals dotting all the geo-political zones in the country, but then, the vision must be targetted at a realistic date. What made minister Osotimehin to pick 2010, when there is absolutely nothing done yet? Is there anything wrong if such laudable vision is projected for another five years or more? Next year is definitely not a realistic date, not scientific, not pragmatic, and the visioner(s) must accept this.

To attain five-star status for the listed hospitals by next year, funds must be allocated in billions to acquire equipment. The VAMED controversy is yet unresolved, with the hospitals claiming that multi-million dollar equipment are either not installed, or not functioning. We must get to the bottom of this first, before more funds are committed to what may indeed be a bottomless pit.
Five-star hospitals, yes, but by 2010, no. We cannot achieve the target. Self-delusion is the greatest kind of deceit, and we should stop indulging in such.