The President of Association of Resident Doctors Ebonyi State chapter and a Senior Registrar in the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department of Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital Abakaliki, Dr Osuagwu Chidubem Philip, has advised Ebonyians and Nigerians as a whole to accept the existence of the coronavirus disease for their own good.
Dr Osuagwu stated this during an interview with The Voice Newspaper, on Wednesday at the ARD Secretariat, FUTHA 2, Abakaliki.
He pointed out that if people accept the existence of the virus that it will help them to stay safe, adding:”Whether they believe or not, they should apply these measures that have been outlined to prevent contacting the virus and spreading it”.
Below is his interaction with our correspondent, Angela Nwaeze
May we meet you Sir?
I’m Dr. Osuagwu Chidubem Philip, President Association of Resident Doctors Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital Abakaliki.
Ebonyi people and Nigerians in general still see coronavirus as a scam, what is your advice to them?
In our country people believe several things; in fact, they believe the traditional birth attendant more than they believe a doctor. They believe their grandmother or father in the village more than they believe the healthcare practitioners, so is a challenging situation.
There is no argument about whether there is coronavirus or not, of course, if you watch what is happening abroad and in some states, like Lagos you will also agree that there is coronavirus.
So my advice is whether they believe or not, they should apply these measures that have been outlined to prevent contacting the virus and spreading it.
If you say you don’t believe, you cannot prove that it’s not there because you don’t even have the wherewithal to prove it. And professionals are telling you that it’s there, so the much we can do is believe that is there and then do what we have been asked to do so that we don’t contact it.
They should hear the people they entrusted their health in their hands who are the health care providers, the ministry of Health and they should also trust the government they elected because I don’t think the government will just wake up to start deceiving people.
It’s not a joke, I keep asking those that say in some states that its being manipulated, especially the figures, I now ask them why is it that some states are saying we don’t have it? If it’s truly a scam that probably the governor is now inflating figures because he wants to get money, why is the other governors saying they don’t have it even when others are saying it’s there. So people should balance what they hear and say.
On a general basis we reduced the number of patients visiting the hospital because restrictions were placed on the need to come to hospital. If you don’t have serious issue that needed immediate attention you are not advised to come to the hospital. The only exception was for obstetric and gynaecology patients, i.e the pregnant women.
Even for them, like the regular antenatal visits were now spaced out, they were given more time before coming back to the hospital. All these were put in place to make sure that not much patients come to the hospital on daily basis and that was to curb the spread of the virus.
So it affected attendance to the hospital.
Can you rate percentage of the drop?
Well you can’t just say this is the percentage, however the impact of the pandemic on hospital visit was evident and still evident because even most people were scared of coming to hospital on their own even without being told.
Does the pandemic have any effect on the doctors?
Yes, the effect on doctors is also very significant because as a doctor you also have to take care of your own health and that of your family.
So whatever we do, we also remember that we have families that we need to go back to and we have patients to care for. Some of them we don’t know their health status because like it’s said, the virus doesn’t manifest easily. Most people are asymptomatic carriers but they go on spreading the virus.
So for the doctor, he is constantly at risk because the patients that come you don’t know who has the virus and who doesn’t have it, expect when they start manifesting symptoms, you can now start suspecting and start sending them for test.
So it became a problem for the doctors given again there was inadequate facility to even screen people. So screening was an issue, we couldn’t screen people at random.
If we are just screening everybody, it will be easy to identity who is asymptomatic but has the virus and if that was happening, more doctors and health works will be more confident to keep on doing what they are supposed to do. But you know you keep working and you are scared because you don’t even know whether the person you are seeing is infected or not and there is no way to ascertain that because no readily available kit for you to do that.
It is a problem and then there is also no adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for you to use. Like at some point it became difficult for even doctors to assess the common face mask that we need, so it became difficult because the price went so high.
The impact was so overwhelming on both the care providers, the hospital and even the public.
This is the first time Nigeria is experiencing this kind of situation, as a medical doctor, what is your advice to federal government towards being proactive?
In Nigeria we only start talking about something when it has happened. We only try to solve a problem when it has occurred. We don’t use the preventive approach to things. And you notice that the country as a whole was not prepared for the pandemic.
So I think as a person and as a leader of doctors that what the government should do is to get our hospitals prepared.
We don’t need to have a pandemic for hospitals to be equipped. Equipping the hospitals is also one of the ways of assessing the index of health care in the country. If the hospitals are well equipped the people are taking care of.
It’s not only pandemic we are talking about, but if we get our hospitals equipped with the necessary things, it becomes easier for everybody. Whatever happens, at least, you have where to fall back on.
If you check what happened abroad, assuming it was happening here we will all die.
Of course, in a country where we don’t have ventilators, you could just count few hospitals that have it. Assuming the COVID became worse or as violent as it was or it has been in abroad, that means we will be in a total mess.
The presidency, the Ministry of Health should all work in synergy to equip our hospitals, get ourresearch labs to work that is a very important aspect because if we have properly functioning research institutions, then it will be easier to first make diagnoses of such diseases and then it will help guide the management on the way to curtail the spread.
We should always focus on the preventive aspect of medicine not on the curative or palliative aspect where you try to solve a problem that is now developed. So let’s try to prevent it by providing the necessary equipment, equipping our research labs, get them ready for services in case something happens it will be easier to diagnose.
Most states are not even testing as it is and that’s why you keep hearing mysterious deaths here and there, nobody knows what it is because there is no testing so people get sick and die. Nobody has tested them and you keep hearing things like we don’t have any case in this state or that, because they have not done the testing to now confirm that there is really no case.
It is a problem, the whole system needs a general overhaul where priorities are set, priorities on health. They say health is wealth, so if we don’t take care of our health, if we don’t equip our hospitals, we don’t equip the labs, we are not getting it right.
As fallout from the pandemic, we have learnt a lot, I think our leaders if they are sincere to themselves, we have learnt a lot that we are not prepared, and so we need to start doing things to get prepared.
And again, like the surgical gloves, these are things that can be really produced in the country before, it only took this pandemic to let us know that actually there are things we can do by ourselves and that we will get to a point where we cannot import, we need to depend on ourselves. So it’s also an avenue to let us know that we shouldn’t always depend on what is imported, but we should start thinking about what we can do here for ourselves, we don’t need to depend on others.
So this pandemic is an eye opener to every aspect of the economy, the government, and for all of us to now know that we need to change certain things we do.
As a leader are you satisfied with the level of PPE provided for your colleagues?
Well, I wouldn’t say it’s okay, but again we have met severally with the management and they have shown a high level of commitment in trying to provide us with things to work with.
It may not be very adequate because we understand the situation of the country. Some of the things you may even want to get, you may not find them because of the scarcity caused by the current situation.
However, we are not totally protected, there are things we need that we don’t have, but it’s not to say we don’t have what to work with, what we are saying is that our members should as much as possible ensure that at the point they what to provide any service, they have to request for what they need, and if it’s not provided they shouldn’t go further so that it will help us to know the deficiency in that area.
But you know as doctors the lives of our patients are so important to us that even when we said that we have to wait, sometimes we just manage the alternatives. It’s just that we have to keep seeing our patients and if you say we must get everything we need to work with, then it means there will be problem and government is not even ready to provide everything.
So we make concession on our own as health care providers with our lives on the line to ensure that at least, we provided the needed care at every point in time.
Having observed the fear in people mostly those who need healthcare services this period, what do you think will happen after the pandemic?
The pandemic on its own is a game changer; it has affected every aspect of our lives, even the global economy. So post COVID-19 assuming the pandemic ends today, the truth is that even the hospital visits will not recover immediately.
it will take a long time for people to now adjust to what has happened and probably start coming back to the hospital the way they used to come.
Because of the way it presents, you may not say totally this thing has ended and so people should be free and start hugging each other.
And most of the times, most people don’t have symptoms but they spread it, so that scare will be there. I will be suspecting you and you will be suspecting me.
The only time it may eventually happen that people are no more scared is if there is a cure or people get vaccinated and there is nothing to worry about or there is a drug just as you have in malaria. You know the treatment and go for it, that is the only time we can say the impact would somewhat be resolved, but if it continues the way it is and you say there is no more virus, it will take a long time for people to stop being scared.
In Ebonyi state here, the impact is not much because of the way the state government strived to put measures to limit possible contact and then spread within the state. That’s why we didn’t really feel the impact. Like in FETHA, although the patients load reduced, it’s not as you could expect or see in other places where the situation is really bad.
Good measures are put in place to limit the spread and even importing the disease.
Nassarawa Federal Medical Centre has shutdown the obstetrics and gynecology unity of the hospital to avoid further spread of the diseases, do you envisage a situation where FETHA would toe the same part considering the increase of the disease in the state?
Like you rightly mentioned, people put measures as events unfold. Like I earlier stated that at the start of this pandemic in Nigeria, measures were put in various hospitals to protect their health workers and prevent spread of the virus. Many hospitals stopped out patients clinics and adopted the management of only emergencies.
In Ebonyi state it wasn’t so, in our hospital we couldn’t do that, we tried to give the management a lot of concession because we recognized that FETHA is the only tertiary hospital in the whole of Ebonyi state so we felt if we shut down like every other centre the impact on the populace will be so much, that’s why we had to just limit some aspects.
What we did was to put measures in the in clinics to limit spread assuming it happens.
Now we are getting to a point where we are thinking there is possible community spread and if that is the so it becomes a challenging issue. So if that is going on that means somebody worked into the hospital and is a coronavirus patient and then it can easily start spreading, because the person is coming to see doctors, nurses and other people in the hospital who may not have that suspicion and then many get infected.
If it continues this way, it’s possible we have to also take measures to limit the care we give so that we protect more of our people.
Though, if that measure will come, it will be after a review of what is happening within the state and then the association and body of doctors will come together and look at things and take a decision based on that and it will be for the general good of the people and health care providers and even the management.