(VATICAN RADIO) Clinical fees are leaving Nigerian mothers and newborns trapped in hospitals – relying on food that family and friends bring to them and oftentimes sleeping on the floor.
"Some babies have stayed here until they started crawling," one nurse said, adding that some mothers had managed to escape the hospital with their babies while no one was watching.
Few Nigerians have health insurance, so many patients, not just those giving birth, are forced to remain in hospitals, usually under poor conditions, clinging to the hope that their bills will be waived by hospital directors or covered by generous visitors.
Katie Ascough spoke with Fr. Evaristus Bassey, National Director of Caritas Nigeria, to find out more about these “Awaiting Bill Settlement” patients.
Fr. Bassey explained: “There was a law that came into effect last year called the ‘National Health Act’ which…[said] that no one under emergency care should be turned away. But not many facilities are…obeying the law yet because the enforcement is not very efficient.”
The problem for hospitals is that some people who are not under emergency situations are coming to them for care. Fr. Evaristus explained how the hospitals must “break even” and that “if people know that they can go to a place and take treatment and go away without paying” the hospitals would shoot themselves in the foot and run out of funds.
At the same time, though, there are also people who desperately need care that are being trapped in hospitals because of astronomical debts, relying on charity or prison break to be set free.
More executive power and tighter regulation is needed, so that health care is not distributed willy-nilly to anyone who stubs their toe, but rather is dished out according to those who need it most. This way, those in true emergency situations can be looked after without being forced into hospital confinement.
Far from five-star treatment, hospital confinement was described by Fr. Bassey as often not having a sleeping space and just having to find a way to look after yourself. Hopefully patients may be fortunate enough to have family or friends who can bring food; but for some, this means being cooped up all alone begging neighbours to share their meagre resources.
Who’s to blame? It probably doesn’t help that the National Health Insurance Act only covers those who are in public service. According to Fr. Bassey, “The percentage of those who are actually employed in public service is not that high.”
“And then of course,” Fr. Bassey elaborated, “we have the majority of people who are not under any employment: trading, and farming, and so on…and there is no special safety net as such, which those who are not employed can key into.”
When asked if there is hope, Fr. Bassey said: “I always have hope, and this government, I think, they are sincere…[Unfortunately] their means of implementation is quite slow, and their capacity in terms of income is low…So it is the economic challenge that might dampen that hope.”
But, he said, if we join our voices and advocate well, we can make health care, through the National Care Act, a right for every person.