Public health has to be the responsibility of public administrators. A government that forces its citizens to fester in neglected agony is a government that has fallen short.
Before the weekend, most of us had never heard of Okeoghene John Igwhiwotho or Fabrice Ndala Muamba. On Saturday, in front of millions, one suffered a sudden cardiac incident that left him ‘dead’ for 78mins. The other has been dying a slow, agonizing death for years, and largely been ignored. Until now.
In the last few days, I’ve marvelled at the divergent fortunes of these young African men. One suffered his life-threatening episode on a football pitch in the UK. In a packed stadium, with immediate attention from top-notch medics and instant access to free*, world-class healthcare.
The other, Oke, has faced a completely different struggle. Where the world and Muamba’s wife have been falling over themselves to lend support to the stricken footballer (the clamors of goodwill have been deafening), for Oke, a former student who was forced to drop out of university due to his illness, the struggle has been lonely and silent. Okesuffers from Types 1 and 2 diabetes and has been bedridden for the past six years. He’s also lost the toes on both feet, due to injuries sustained many years ago.
I don’t know Oke personally, and what I do know of him, I gleaned off the intertubes. I won’t pretend to be an expert on diabetes either other than knowing that it’s chronic, it messes with your heart and when you don’t treat it, the consequences are incredible. But this is 2012. And this is Nigeria. We have doctors (when we can hold on to them), medical expertise and hospitals that are the envy of many of our continental counterparts. Are people really still losing life and limb due to something as fundamental as economic expense?
It seems they are. Is that ok? It seems it is. At least a little. This man has spent six years confined to a bed, in indescribable pain because he doesn’t have enough money. That is obscene. In a country where there is no shortage of ostentatious displays of lavish excess. In a time when dying of diabetes in Nigeria should be as outdated a concept as being crippled by polio in the US. Why? Because the majority of researchers and clinicians will tell you that diabetes is a self-care management disease. That prompt diagnosis and access to the right treatment can convert a death sentence to a chronic concern.
But this is not Oke’s reality. For the price of about 64 of those sparkly new-fangled iPads (5 million Naira) his life could be spared. Maybe to many, the idea of equating a human life to a bunch of sleekly packaged processors and chipsets seems crude; but that’s the point.
Even if the cyber-community rallies for Oke, like it so often does with such heartwarming results, what then? What about the “poor” diabetes sufferers who don’t get featured in blogs? What about the silent victims of other diseases, the ones without the budget to buy their way to health? On whose shoulders does the duty of their care fall? No-one? That’s what’s truly offensive.
Public health has to be the responsibility of public administrators. A government that forces its citizens to fester in neglected agony is a government that has fallen short. Sure, Nigerian doctors get poached to sexier climes and the healthcare system here is a little fragmented, but living in a society when only the superrich (64 iPads, remember?) survive manageable diseases cannot be the only answer.
Oke doesn’t have a lot of time. And he doesn’t have 5 million Naira. Right now, perhaps that’s all we should focus on: helping the one that we can, how we can. But after that, I’d love to hear someone, someone clever and in charge, explain what the rest of us should do when our bank balances prove too modest to rescue us from the scary end of the health spectrum.
Over to you.
*The London Chest Hospital is part of the NHS. Access to the National Health Service is free at the point of service.
*If you want to help, check out this blog for details of how you can. The site also has pictures of Oke. Please note that the images on the site (you have to scroll down to see all of them) are very graphic in their content.