The rise of “hospiphobia”


A couple of years back, I visited an uncle of mine, a senior police officer at Sabo Police Station, Yaba, Lagos. I was in the visitors’ area waiting for him to finish what he was doing when I spotted a sticker on one of the doors. It said: “If you don’t like the police, next time you are in trouble, call a thug.”

I was still ruminating over the sticker when my uncle came out of his office and took me to a nearby restaurant. On entering, the aroma that invaded my nostrils connived with the hunger already ravaging my belly to momentarily force the sticker out of my mind. My uncle placed an order for his food and asked me to do same. I devoured my sumptuous meal, discussed briefly with him and left for Ikeja.

My thoughts only returned to the sticker when I had comfortably settled down on a bus heading for Ikeja.  Despite having relations who are in the police force, I have, as a journalist, heard and read quite a lot about the unpleasant experiences of people with the police. Of course, having had a few ugly encounters with them myself, I can easily understand why many tend to criticise and mistrust the ‘men in black.’

However, to consider seeking the help of a thug, instead of the police, when in trouble seems to be an extreme alternative to me. I would rather pray to God to protect me from trouble completely.  And, yes, if there is trouble (God forbid, as most Nigerians would say) I will still call the police and not a thug.

Sadly, this widespread distrust of the police is gradually becoming the case with most of our healthcare practitioners.

Last month, a colleague and I visited one of my correspondents at her home in Okota. She was recently discharged from one of the popular teaching hospitals in Lagos, after spending over two months on admission. She had gone to the hospital for an operation, which ended up in serious complications. She had to be admitted in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the hospital, where she spent several weeks. Accounts of her ordeal throughout the period, as well as those of many others, as they try to access healthcare in the country, made me shudder.

Her story is quite sad and disturbing. Indeed, Nigerians are going through a lot of trauma in our hospitals. No wonder people now dread going to the hospital, giving rise to “hospiphobia”, or to use the exact technical word, nosocomephobia (fear of hospital).

Many Nigerians now pray against visiting the hospital for whatever reason because they fear having to be at the mercy of health care practitioners. The fear is not just born out of the fact that most of our hospitals are sometimes lacking in basic equipment to provide quality healthcare, but also due to the attitude of many healthcare personnel.

There are tales of health workers being hostile to patients and not diligently doing their jobs. This wrong attitude seems to be more common in government hospitals and usually cuts across all the cadres of caregivers and workers. The reason, perhaps, is because remuneration of the workers is not in any way dependent on the satisfaction (or even patronage) of the patients.

From the officer in charge of registration, to the nurses and clinicians, it is a tale of subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle aggression. Many relate with patients and their loved ones as if they constitute a nuisance to them. They act as if they are doing the patients a favour in attending to them. Prompt response to patients’ needs is sometimes disregarded, even in emergency situations.

I know that the conditions of service and remuneration of most health workers are not favourable enough. I know also that the dearth of qualified personnel sometimes makes our health workers work for long hours; so also am I aware that having to work with almost bare hands, due to inadequacy of required tools and equipment can be frustrating. However, transferring frustrations, as a result of challenges being confronted at work (or even at home), on patients and their loved ones is antithetical to what healthcare and health institutions represent.

The hospital should be an oasis of care and compassion for the sick and only the caregivers can make this possible. For patients in precarious health conditions and their loved ones, being attended to by caregivers in a kindly, gentle and prompt manner will go a long way in, not only providing the needed remedy for their conditions, but also giving them the strength to pull through.

The fact is that nobody deliberately chooses to be ill.  Anybody, including health care practitioners, can suffer ill-health and the least a sick person deserves is proper and adequate care. Our health workers must therefore work diligently and conscientiously, both for the sake of their patients and the sanctity of their noble profession.

The fact is that, while a person in trouble has the option of choosing between the police and a thug, according to the sticker, a patient in dire medical condition has no other alternative to the health centre. Nigerians should therefore not be scared away from the hospital.

Every patient, regardless of medical condition or peculiar circumstances, deserves proper attention and care, and it is my belief that our caregivers are qualified and competent enough to provide these.