A Tale Of Underutilisation Amid Dire Need

A view of the hospital PHOTOS: ITUNU AJAYI

A view of the hospital PHOTOS: ITUNU AJAYI

HUSH was it at the Behavioural Medicine Unit of the Karu General Hospital located in the Yanyan axis of the Federal Capital Territory. None of the staff was ready to say anything. To worsen matters, there was no way the reporter could disguise as a patient or as someone who had come to visit the unwell.

The hospital caters for patients with psychological and behavioural challenges. The staff are informed that any visitor to any patient has to disclose the name of the patient at first encounter, and they get suspicious and edgy when anyone tries to pry into what they do.

Walking lazily along one of the corridors, searching for any clue at all, the reporter noticed two padlocked gates barring access to some wards. A female patient was seen on the floor, flanked by two relatives who were trying their best to pacify her and make her get up and walk. Intermittent shouts were heard from within the wards: patients either in disagreement with their caregivers or with themselves. There was no electricity from the service provider and the unit did not have any alternative by way of a power generator.

The Abuja heat, meanwhile, was intense. For a behavioural facility meant to cater for the mentally ill, people who often have to be sedated, one would have expected a friendlier environment. Administering sedatives to patients who are unable to sleep in the stuffy atmosphere makes one to wonder if the purpose for the drug would be achieved.

It took a lot of effort for a worker in the unit to say the much that suggested all was not well with the unit. The taciturnity was only typical of civil servants; hence the little the staff told The Guardian was with agreement that no name must be mentioned. And while the talk lasted, the worker’s composure reminded one of a child trying to steal a piece of meat from a pot.

“This place is an afterthought of whoever is or was in charge of the hospital. It is not meant to be a psychiatrist hospital at all; about seven patients have escaped from this facility because of the low fence and the people working here have to be alert at all times, so that they are not attacked by the patients.”

The behavioural unit, with a 30-bed capacity, began clinical services in October 2, 2014. And by November of the same year, the Secretary, Health and Human Services Secretariat (HHSS), Dr. Demola Onakomaiya, paid a visit to the place and told the entire world that it is second to none in the Middle Belt. He said the unit was equipped with state-of-the-art facilities in addition to a good pharmacy stocked with specialised drugs, and had four consultants, one senior registrar, senior medical officers and support staff. With that, he assured residents of the FCT that the FCT Administration would do everything possible to ensure other departments of the hospital commence clinical services soon.

To the claim of state-of-the-art facilities, the worker told The Guardian that the equipment were locked up in stores in the premises. And as for the ‘specialised drugs’, patients get their medicines with their money; a situation the worker said ought not to be.

“We have stores in this facility where those equipment and more have been locked up for the past eight years. No one is using them and I am sure, by now, they must be depreciating. You know, even as a human being, if you don’t exert yourself and be useful, a person begins to fall sick and wear out. So, that is what I can say on the state of the equipment. They are there but they are locked up, for whom, I don’t know. I am sure that rats and other rodents would have done a lot of damage to them.

“On drugs, we used to have a system called ‘drug revolving’. But now, they do direct purchasing. But the bottom line is that patients buy whatever drug they need at the pharmacy, and this should not be so. Psychiatric patients are not supposed to pay for their drugs. Those are things any government of the day should be able to do for them free of charge, and it should be seen as a social service. They are vulnerable, and let’s assume they were picked on the streets and they don’t have any relative to cater for them. After all, some countries pick such people off the streets and treat them. For them to be in the state they are in is enough trauma for the relatives. Putting them under the burden of purchasing drugs is additional stress and the society should lift as much stress as possible from these people and their relatives.”

The concept of a general hospital in one of the most populated satellite towns in the FCT was conceived by Nasir el-Rufai when he was FCT Minister. The town, with an estimated population of two million people, could not boast of such facility. The people had to travel to the city centre and other satellite towns whenever medical need was required. Those who could not make it, either for lack of resources or strength, survived by chance or died. With this, he built a 250-bed facility, which came to be known as General Hospital Karu, in order to meet the immediate medical need of the people.

The Guardian gathered that the hospital was never commissioned. People of the area woke up one day and discovered that a chunk of the complex had been leased to some Indians who now operate what is called Primus International Super Specialist Hospital (popularly known as Indian Hospital in Abuja). What cannot be ascertained, however, is whether the lease was done during the tenure of el-Rufai or of his successors. Since he left office July 27, 2003, three men: Aliyu Modibbo Umar, Mohammadu Adamu Ailero, and Bala Mohammed have held the position.

It was also learnt that the lease of the complex was for 15 years, after which Nigerians and indeed Karu residents would have access to it. For now, just a wall separates the Indian hospital and the behavioural unit – what should have been part of the general hospital.

Onakomaiya said during his visit that the era of referring patients with such special challenges to Kaduna Psychiatric Hospital was over, as the Karu Specialist Hospital had both human and material resources to diagnose and treat different forms of psychological and behavioural challenges. He added that behavioural services in FCT Administration’s hospitals had been centralized, as units formerly rendering such services in Asokoro, Kubwa and Wuse Hospitals had been closed down, except that Wuse still provided outpatient clinics two days in a week.

With the 30-bed hospital in Karu under intense heat and with equipment locked up for more than eight years, it is yet to be seen how this facility will meet the need of those it is supposed to cater for, as claimed by Onakomaiya.

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