While commissioning the Nigerian-Turkish Nizamiye Hospital last year, President Goodluck Jonathan declared that the ‘state-of-the-art equipment in the hospital would stop people from travelling abroad for treatment.’ One year on, the Medical Director of the hospital, Dr Mostafa Ahsen, told a group journalists that they handle all medical cases. Doyin Ojisafe reports.
For decades, your group has been associated with the education sector in Nigeria. Why did you veer into the health sector?
Education is at the centre of all human developments. So we started with education and then later veered into health, using your words. We went into health sector because health rivals education. True, there is no health without education. But there can’t be any meaningful education without good health as well. That’s why we went into education. And we started in Turkey with seven hospitals. In time, we decided to share our experience here, and thus started this hospital last year.
What services do you offer in your hospital?
First of all, we are unique with all the departments we started here. Particularly, we are foremost hospital in kneecap and hip joints replacement, open heart surgery and laparoscopy; where we operate on a patient without cutting him or opening his body. We are unique with that. We will continue to invest in higher technology.
Talking of investment, how much have you invested so far in the hospital?
We’ve invested over $20 million. That’s over N3 billion. But for a world-class hospital, that shouldn’t be a ceiling; it has to progressively continue. So in the next five months, we will be investing another $2 million. Our plan is not to invest too massively and become passive afterwards. We want to continue to invest. As we speak, additional advance medical equipment are arriving Nigeria for us. The equipment will help prevent heart attack and other serious ailments. With that equipment, which is first of its kind, we can actually forestall a heart attack.
The maintenance of facilities is quite a challenge, although we’re doing very well in this respect. The thing is, we send our facilities to Turkey for regular maintenance. They fix them and send them back to us. This has seriously increased the cost of service delivery. Yet, we insulate our patients from this, as our cost is standard, irrespective of the huge cost we incur. We really spend a lot on maintenance. But we don’t transfer the burden to our clients. Our price policy is standard.
But the support and appreciation we get seem to compensate for this. We’re happy with the people, we’re happy with the system. We have never gotten a single negative response from our publics. Rather, they call to thank and praise us. The feedback is really encouraging. So the cost has not actually discouraged us. Instead, we want to invest more and more. Our goal is to be the best hospital in Africa, so that people will stop going abroad for health reasons.
One of the reasons health seekers travel overseas is for kidney transplant. Why is that a challenge with hospitals here?
To start with, you must run detailed and sensitive tests before the surgery, because sometimes the patient’s body would reject the donated kidney. So there are advance tests that are carried out to check for compatibility. The challenge is to readily find the facilities for these tests in Nigeria. I am not aware of any hospital, apart from our hospital, which has got that capacity. I really don’t know.
Secondly, kidney transplantation requires a lot of care in post-surgery management. This is because the body sees the transplanted kidney as a foreign object and it’s inclined to reject it. Thus the immune system sets out to attack it. After the surgery, you really have to give a robust medication. The first challenge in this regard is to ensure you put the patient in a well-sterilized environment for quite some time. The reason is that the immune system would have been lowered after the transplantation, which leaves the patient very open to very dangerous infections. Otherwise, the immune system will work against the kidney. In a very tropical area like this country replete with diseases, deliberately weakening the immune system requires more than what is being done in the West and other places. It is much more difficult to achieve this here than in other places. This is a major hurdle for any Nigerian hospital.
Not to be taken lightly is also the difficulty in getting donors. How many people are ready to give their kidney up, even at death? Again, what factor determines who gets the kidney, because there is usually a queue? Will it be based on financial capability? Or will it be on first-come-first-service basis? This is important. Even getting the organ transferred from where it was donated to where it is needed is not an easy task. You need to apply advance solutions to achieve that.
And lastly, there must be effective regulation, both in framework and implementation. Nigeria is trying in many areas, but this area needs more attention. For us at Nigeria-Turkish Hospital, this is our only challenge. More than any other hospital in this country, we are staff-prepared and facility-ready to undertake kidney transplant. But first, the regulatory framework got to be in place. His Excellency, President Goodluck Jonathan, who gracefully commissioned our hospital last year, himself attested to our sophistication in equipment and facility. He said with us, Nigerians no longer needed to travel abroad for treatment. So the challenge, at least for us, is regulation. Kidney transplantation is easy for us. We’ve got the equipment and personnel. Even some hospitals here could successfully perform the surgery – urinary tract to urinary tract – it’s easy. But the obstacle for them is post-surgery management.
We noticed that almost all your doctors are Europeans. Why are you not depending on local doctors?
Nigerian doctors are quite good and skilful. Honestly. But they don’t want to be fully committed to one hospital. I mean the better part of them. They love to syndicate their skills. Most of them work in many hospitals, even though they have just one place of legal and official engagement. This is against our policy. Certainly not all of them are like that. But getting those in this minority is not easy. That is why we prefer to get doctors from Europe to work here. I mean that is where we come from. We can easily get doctors there to meet with our requirements, because we know there too well. Don’t forget that we have six hospitals there that we started long before this one in Nigeria. As a new hospital with a lot of reputation elsewhere, we cannot afford to engage in recruitment gamble. All the same, we still have some Nigerian doctors here, all of them with a lot of reputation and commitment.
But if you pay Nigerian doctors well, why won’t they commit to you exclusively?
Because they already have a very strong clientele network that is almost impossible to break. Only very few would summon the courage and put all their eggs in one basket. It’s as simple as that. I cannot judge them. But this is the reality. Nevertheless, that doesn’t have a place in our HR policy.
What makes your services unique?
The human factor is central to us. Our primary concern is our patients. Our motto is Compassion and Trust Not Good Medical Facility or Good Medical Care; even though no hospital can match our accomplishments in this regard. That is why we engage in a lot of charity work, like dispensing drugs and doing surgery free for selected underprivileged.