PRIVATE HOSPITALS AND COVID-19

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It will be wise investment to reach out to private hospitals

The recent revelation that unaccredited health professionals secretly treat people with Covid-19 infections has added a worrying dimension to a health challenge that has almost subdued the nation. Health Minister, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, made the disclosure in the wake of the unfortunate death of a medical doctor who was infected while trying to manage a Covid-19 patient. Since that incident, some medical centres have been shut down for decontamination after their workers were exposed to the viral disease.

As things stand, it is dangerous to allow private clinics to treat COVID-19. Because of their limited skills in the treatment and management of people with infectious diseases, health professionals and patients in such clinics run the risk of being exposed and infected. Moreover, only few of them can afford the infrastructure for isolation, including personal protective equipment (PPE) essentially because of their prohibitive costs.

All over the world, skilled doctors and nurses at hospitals with cutting-edge equipment are constantly being infected, some fatally. It is then little wonder that dozens of health professionals have already been infected in our country. But as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is ramping up tests across the country, the numbers of people infected with Covid-19 are becoming increasingly disturbing. According to the figures released by the NCDC on Tuesday, the total number of confirmed cases across the country stood at 1,337 out of which 255 persons were treated and discharged, and 40 deaths.

This is more than 1000 per cent increase from when President Muhammadu Buhari imposed a lockdown on Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory a month ago in March. The isolation centres where the patients are being treated will soon be under intense pressure. It will become even more overwhelming when the NCDC has the wherewithal to buy or acquire the necessary equipment and scale-up the testing exercise.

In order not to wait until the few isolation centres are brimming, many are of the view that the capacity of the country’s health concerns could be enlarged by training some private hospitals and their personnel in the skills, procedures, protocols and safety measures in order to handle infected patients. It will be an easy choice for many patients as about 70 per cent of Nigerians get their medical treatment from private hospitals. “What are they doing for the patients at the isolation centres that is beyond the normal medical practice?” asked Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria’s President Dr. Ugwu Odo. “The few who have what it takes should be accredited and be allowed to treat them.”

Indeed, the authorities in India, for instance, have since incorporated private hospitals in the treatment of the Covid-19 cases. Perhaps Australia presents an ideal example of an effective synergy of public-private collaboration. Tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and midwives from the country’s private hospitals are available for redeployment within the public health system as part of a robust package designed to prop up the sector and tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Besides, the World Health Organisation said one of the critical lessons from the 2014-16 West African Ebola crisis is that both the public and private sectors need to work in tandem to contain large-scale-pandemics like Covid-19. Nigeria’s Ebola index case was contained in a private facility.

Considering the growing numbers, even when testing is still at a primary stage, we cannot afford to wait until the public health system collapses before we get the private hospitals integrated into the fold. Even if the pandemic does not get to the level where private hospitals will play a pivotal role, integrating them into the current management of the pandemic will be to the eternal benefit of the nation’s health system.