GUEST Columnist by Tayo Ogunbiyi
Recently, a colleague lost a dear brother in an obviously avoidable situation. The deceased, Adebayo Akinwumi, a promising engineer with a top global telecommunication brand, was shot at close range by dastardly armed robbers who invaded his home at Orimerunmu, a Lagos suburb in the dead of the night. According to reports, as bad as his case was, the hapless young man could have survived the gun shot if only he had had prompt access to medical attention.
He was allegedly rejected by some private hospitals around their neighbourhood on the account of police report. In a desperate bid to save his life, family members rushed him to a private medical facility at Ikeja, which incidentally happens to be the family hospital. Sadly, he was also astonishingly rejected at the said hospital on the same account of police report. Having lost so much blood, the young man eventually gave up the ghost. Unexpectedly, his family members, friends and colleagues are yet to get over the shocking aspect of his untimely exit.
Unfortunately, the sad demise of this young man is just one of such distasteful cases of compatriots who had died in similar circumstances because they were denied treatment at hospitals on the ground of police report. It will be recalled that on September 20, 2009, Mr. Ogunbayo Ohu, the then Assistant News Editor of The Guardian newspaper was shot severally on a Sunday morning in his house in Egbeda, Lagos, by supposed hired killers. Reports had it that Ohu would have survived the gunshots if the neighbouring hospital he was taken to had promptly attended to him.
Now, it is difficult to really understand why medical workers that are basically trained to save lives would consider the presentation of police report far above the human life that is at stake at such crucial moments. In most cases, family members and other sympathizers of gunshot victims are often too shock and confused to really have the stability of mind to think rationally. Just imagine what the frame of mind of a woman who virtually watched as her husband was being brutally murdered would be at that particular moment. This is exactly why it is crucial for health workers to always consider the sanctity of the human life in such decisive circumstances.
The concept of the sanctity of life is anchored on the sacred nature of life, and the fact that everything that is humanly possible must be done to preserve life. Every other thing that man losses can, one way or the other, be restored, but when a life is lost, it is gone forever. Considering, especially, the Hippocratic Oath that is binding on medical doctors, all over the world, the desire to save life should be central in all their concerns. Health workers have the fundamental task of first and foremost caring for the injured and the sick on the basis of the ethics of their profession.
Aside the humanitarian and professional perspectives, it is equally legally wrong for medical workers to insist on the production of police before attending to victims of gunshots. It will be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had signed the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act, 2017 and this should ordinarily put to rest the contentious issue once and for all. With President Buhari’s assent to the law, victims of gunshot and car accidents should receive immediate treatment in the hospital.
The law makes provisions for obligatory treatment and care for victims of gunshot as it stipulates that a person with a gunshot wound shall be received for immediate and adequate treatment by any hospital in Nigeria with or without initial monetary deposit. The Act also stipulates that a person with a gunshot wound shall not be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment or torture by any person or authority, including the police and other security agencies.
By the passage of the Bill by the Senate and eventual assent to it by the President, a legal framework to guarantee that all hospitals in Nigeria accept to treat victims of gunshot wounds without demanding for any clearance from the police has been established. The law is primarily concerned about access to medical care, irrespective of circumstances leading to the gunshot. Therefore, suitable treatment from medical workers and essential assistance from security agencies should follow treatment of gunshot victims irrespective of the cause of the shooting. This becomes rather very essential in view of the fact that it is not every gunshot wound victim that is a criminal.
It is, thus, quite pleasant to note that that the Lagos State Police Commissioner Imohimi Edgal, recently vowed to prosecute any hospital in the State who rejects gunshot victims on the premise of police report. The State Commissioner of Police was particularly reacting to the depressing event of Akinwumi’s death. According to him, non treatment of gunshot victims at hospitals is cruel and an indication that most of them may be ignorant of the Gunshot Act, 2017. Edgal subsequently educates that the Act demands that every hospital in Nigeria (whether public or private) shall accept or receive for immediate and adequate treatment with or without police clearance any person with a gunshot wounds. He, however, added that the Act requires the hospital treating such a patient to report the fact to the nearest police station within two hours of commencement of treatment. The CP further informed that the Act recommends a five-year-jail term for any person, hospital or authority that stands by or omits to do his bit which results in the unnecessary death of any person with bullet wounds.
It must be stressed that though the Act is a major breakthrough, health sector stakeholders still need to step efforts towards increasing awareness on the subject. Also, appropriate law enforcement agencies need to ensure that proprietors of recalcitrant hospitals are duly prosecuted and punished accordingly to serve as deterrent to others.
The idea of waiting for police reports before treating gunshot victims is archaic and inhuman and must be condemned in its entirety. Of late, we have had to contend with cases of needless loss of lives across the country. We are someway getting used to gory tales of people dying that we don’t seem to really care anymore. However, in as much as it could somehow be taken in if some irrational chaps, who have lost their minds, chose the murderous path in the name of insurgency. But then, it becomes ridiculous and disturbing when medical workers that are trained to save life opt to become less concerned about human lives. This is not right, and it must be stopped.
Ogunbiyi is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information & Strategy Alausa, Ikeja