When Ebola came to Nigeria, it was a healthcare worker that saved the day. Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh stood the line and helped to save millions of people, not just in Nigeria, but all over the world. In Liberia, it was a young Nursing Assistant, Salome Karwah, who saved the day and helped thousands of people avoid the Ebola scourge. Every day, in hospitals across Nigeria, doctors, nurses, lab scientists, health extension workers, pharmacists, cleaners, work very long hours, under poor standards, for very little pay, to save Nigerian lives. They are all our heroes. And on this World Health Worker Week, we are grateful to them. Health workers continue to be at the forefront of the fight against many communicable diseases such as AIDS and Tuberculosis and we believe it is our collective responsibility to show we are grateful for their work and their sacrifice.
It’s 8am in the morning and you are at the hospital after staying up with your sick child who has been vomiting intermittently all through the night. The doctor has ordered a few tests to verify the diagnosis. And in the meantime, your child is being given fluids intravenously. Let’s think about all steps involved in your child’s care from the moment you frantically rushed through the hospital doors, to the moment your child is discharged. You were probably first checked in by an administrative staff, then attended to by a nurse who took your child’s vital signs before you were ushered in to see the doctor who asked for a blood test. Your child was then seen by medical laboratory scientist who drew and analyzed the blood sample confirming the diagnosis to be Typhoid Fever.
The doctor admits your child into the hospital and nurses begin to administer the drugs sent up to the ward by the pharmacist. Now imagine if any of these people involved in your child’s care were absent. If there was no administrative person, what will the hospital waiting room look like? Who would your child receive hands-on care from if the nurses were on strike? Would your child’s diagnosis be confirmed had the medical lab scientist been without the tools and reagents necessary to perform her job? How would life saving medicine in the right dosage be dispensed if the pharmacist was kidnapped on his way to work? Health workers, most of them often overlooked and underappreciated, make the healthcare we receive a possibility.
In Nigeria, there is only 1 doctor to 6,000 patients. The World Health Organization recommends 1 doctor to 600 patients. The few health workers we have also must stay in Nigeria while they watch their colleagues leave the country for other more lucrative places. Health workers vaccinate children, preventing the spread of deadly diseases by maintaining our herd immunity; they teach family planning and sex education, helping stem population explosion and ensuing downstream economic instability; they provide prenatal care and deliver babies, and they prescribe medication for common ailments like diarrhea in neighborhood chemists, amongst other things.
Unfortunately, health workers in the developing world face dangers outside of the assumed health risks associated with caring for the sick. Over the years, there have been several instances of health workers falling victim to violent crimes such as kidnapping and murder. In 2013, nine health workers vaccinating children in Kano were gunned down by militants suspected to be part of terrorist organization, Boko Haram. At a press conference hosted in February 2018, representatives from the Nigeria Medical Association, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, the Medical and Health Workers Union reported that 13 health workers had been abducted while carrying out their duties.
Not only do Nigerian health workers have to deal with the possibility of violence, they are often overworked, underpaid and neglected. In 2001, African Heads of State committed to dedicating 15% of their country’s annual budget to healthcare. Since that initial declaration, the highest amount Nigeria has allocated to healthcare is 6% with a measly 4.1% in 2017. These abysmal healthcare financing numbers affect the training and resources available to healthcare workers, and it in turn, affect the health outcomes of the general populace. Nigeria is simultaneously experiencing a population boom and a health worker brain drain, issues exacerbating the already dire shortage of health workers. If left unaddressed, health worker scarcity could have devastating effects should an epidemic breakout in our country.
Investment in and care for health workers is in all our best interests. Shortage of health workers is linked to the prevalence of preventable diseases such as typhoid, diarrhea, and increased maternal mortality. In addition to delivering primary health care to communities, health workers contribute to global medical advancement by collaborating with innovators and becoming innovators themselves. Several modern medical inventions such as the crash cart and sanitary pads were conceived by nurses. What other revolutionary medical wonders are we missing out on by our negligence of people in closest contact with the world’s health needs?
Started by Frontline Health Workers Coalition five years ago, World Health Worker Week aims to mobilize all stakeholders in support of health workers. More information about World Health Worker Week click here
Temie Giwa-Tubosun is the founder of LifeBank Nigeria at lifebank.ng