As I exhale and remain thankful to God for the escape of my family and I from the tumultuous year 2020 that tormented mankind with coronavirus. And as l and other survivors of the horrific 2020 bid the year with the most unprecedented hurly burly good bye, l welcome year 2021 with the hope that since over six types of coronavirus vaccines are already in use in Europe and China, the worse may be over with the COVID-19 pandemic that has in the space of less than one year, extraordinarily exterminated nearly two million lives worldwide, and nearly 1,500 in Nigeria, and still counting.
I particularly recall with great pains in my heart, Dr Ted lkem Gbemudu, who yielded the ghost on new year day, 2021 after being struck by coronavirus.
Dr Gbemudu, who owned a flourishing medical practice in Memphis, Tennessee, USA was visiting Nigeria from the 16th of December to attend an uncle’s funeral ceremony in his hometown Illah, Delta State.
Unbeknownst to him the stealthy coronavirus was lurking in the air and he was to become a victim of the invisible virus ravaging mankind.
After the ceremony in Illah, he arrived Lagos on Sunday, 27 December and a mutual friend of ours, Andy Isichei informed me that Ted was in Lagos and he (Andy) had arranged for him to meet us at a location in Probyn Road, Ikoyi and l agreed to be there at the appointed time. However, since l was engaged in a writing chore at that point in time, and did not want my train of thought to be broken, l sent an apology to Andy that l couldn’t keep the appointment and promised to catch up with them the next day.
As Andy would later inform me, while hosting Ted, he noticed that he was coughing. That prompted him to suggest a COVID-19 test on him and the result turned out to be positive.
With no vacant bed situation in all the major hospitals in Lagos, Dr Gbemudu was admitted into Yaba Isolation Centre, where his condition rapidly deteriorated, such that he needed to be put on a ventilator. But there was only one in the centre and it had already been taken up by a patient.
It was while his family was desperately searching for a hospital with a bed and a ventilator that he tragically passed away.
The irony of it all is that while Dr Gbemudu was a proud owner of a sprawling medical practice in the USA where he has saved thousands of lives, he literarily walked into the lion’s den in Nigeria by getting sick while in a country notorious for having shambolic healthcare system. Had he any inkling that he was getting into a sort of cul-de-sac by visiting Nigeria during COVID, he might have stayed back in the USA-an environment where he could have had a fighting chance against the deadly disease which is now the world’s public enemy No. 1, with sorrow, tears and blood as its regular trade mark-apologies to Fela Kuti.
The jarring truth is that with the dearth of medical facilities and perhaps personnel (most have been lost to brain drain) in our country, we are all in dire straits. That’s simply because whenever we fall sick and need critical healthcare in our country, we probably have less than 20% chance of survival due to the scandalous condition of infrastructure and personnel in our health institutions.
Whereas the rich that comprise of about 5% of society can hop into their private jets or the take next flight to foreign countries for medical remedies, the poor is unfortunately confined to making do with healthcare services in our country which has degenerated into an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and a killing field.
Life is such a mystery and a paradox.
Dr Gbemudu was a lifesaving physician in faraway USA and from the 20th of December 2020 when he decided to visit his homestead, he fell ill and was helpless. A medical doctor who has saved thousands of lives, could not help himself, neither could adequate medical care be provided in his country to save his life. What a cruel twist of fate and irony of life!
About two years ago, when l was in Tennessee, USA for my annual medical checkup, three medical doctor friends of mine in Tennessee area – Dr Emmanuel Obi, Dr Ayo Olusanya and Dr lkem Gbemudu were my hosts. I was cared for medically and feted lavishly by the trio throughout the period of my medical evaluation with them. While Gbemudu lived in a sprawling mansion in Nashville, the others were in Jackson, so we were shuttling between both cities.
I can recall Dr Gbemudu driving us to a posh restaurant in Nashville in his sky blue convertible Bentley sedan car where we all had a sumptuous dinner in celebration of the completion of my medical examination – a period during which l was forbidden from eating food for a few days. Now, his life has been terminated suddenly because he visited the land of his birth where basic life sustaining facilities or amenities are acutely in short supply or nonexistent. With only one ventilator in a strategic COVID-19 centre, and engaged for the care of another patient, the doctors in Yaba Isolation Centre were faced with the Hobbesian choice and the consequence was the untimely and avoidable death of a highly sort after physician in the USA, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When his tragic death and that of the little over 1,400 COVID-19 precipitated deaths are added to the harvest of deaths in the hands of terrorists, bandits and kidnappers that is now a daily routine in Nigeria, our country may soon earn another unenviable epithet of being the worst place to be born and live in the world. That’s in addition to being the poverty headquarters of the world and third in the hierarchy of most terrorised in the global terrorism index.
Probably, if Dr Gbemudu had not visited Nigeria, he would still be alive today, helping save lives in his medical practice in the USA at this critical time that his services as a highly trained and resourceful medical doctor is needed by humanity to combat the menace of COVID-19 pandemic.
Expectedly and painfully, the sad event has forced open the horrific memories of the passage of my daughter Kikaose Ebiye-Onyibe on 12 April, 2017 in Gold Cross Hospital, (now Lagoon hospital) in Ikoyi, Lagos. The hospital is a presumably first class health facility in highbrow Lagos, where a ventilator and oxygen that could have saved her life, were conspicuously absent. Nearly four years on, l can recollect how helpless and hopeless l was seeing Kikaose gasping for air in the ICU of the hospital without a ventilator and oxygen to aid her breathing. The excruciating and agonising sight still makes me break out in a cold sweat with attendant tears in my eyes. Had l been aware of the incredulous and scandalous state of affairs in the hospital which lacked simple equipment despite the high cost of their substandard services, l could have (against the doctor’s advice) taken the option of flying my daughter back to the UK from where she had arrived Nigeria the previous day. Perhaps with adequate equipment and expert medical personnel, Kikaose could have had a fighting chance of having her ruptured appendix removed without her being killed in the process.
But my 18 years old daughter, that was a second year law undergraduate at the University of Birmingham, UK, was forcefully taken away from me by death due to lack of a ventilator in our so-called first class private hospital in a country that appears to be on a downward spiral to the bottom of the list in the global life expectancy index.
It is heart wrenching that four years after, on the first day of 2021, my good friend, Dr Ted Ikem Gbemudu, has also yielded the ghost because there was no ventilator in a major COVID-19 isolation centre in Lagos to save his precious life.
Isn’t that a testimony that nothing has changed for the better in our country?
Did President Donald Trump of the USA not recently gift about 100 ventilators to Nigeria? Chances are that, in our country where lack of accountability has been a social malaise, and even deteriorating to pandemic levels, most of the donated ventilators might have vanished into the thin air.
And being aware of the parlous state of healthcare in Nigeria, our leaders always jet off to foreign countries to seek medical attention. Obviously, it is because they are aware that with a mere N48 billion appropriated for the health sector in 2021 budget for a population in excess of 200 million, they stand zero chance of surviving even simple medical health challenges in our healthcare institutions with acute lack of, or obsolete equipment. Consequently, about $1 billion is said to be lost to medical tourism annually, as the rich travel to the western world and the not so rich journey to India and similar locations to seek medical care and in the process put pressure on our country’s treasury whose main source of inflow or replenishment is the sale of crude oil/gas and whose price in the global market has tanked.
At least, no less a personality than Health Minister, Osagie Ehanire, has acknowledged the financial hemorrhage of the nation’s treasury via medical tourism in a recent public presentation.
Given the dearth of infrastructure and personnel in our country, is anyone still wondering why Melinda Gates had predicted that Africans (Nigerians are 1 out of every 5) would be dropping dead on the streets like houseflies if the COVID-19 hits the continent with the same ferocity that it is afflicting the rest of the world?
In retrospect, l was not exaggerating when l concluded in one of my previously published opinion pieces (Nigeria Now Looks lCU – thecable June 7, 2016) that Nigeria is increasingly becoming an ICU owing to inadequate healthcare infrastructure.
Added to the prevailing alarming situation of insecurity of lives and property in our country that has seen thousands of innocent peasants and the bourgeoisie who were unable to jet off to foreign countries viciously sent to their early graves, my description of Nigeria roughly four years ago as an ICU has become more poignant, fitting and most apt today.
And it simply implies that the dangerous threat to lives and the precarious condition of human existence in Nigeria have degenerated into abysmal levels in the intervening period. And it is an affirmation of the position of some pundits that Nigeria is a failed country or at best a failing one.
Rather than denying the reality as Information Minister Lai Mohammed and presidential spokesmen and women have been doing, in this new year, why don’t the leadership/authorities resolve to reverse the dismaying and dismal trend which is making majority of Nigerians now live in morbid fear of death?
–Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA, and a former commissioner in Delta State government, sent this piece from Lagos.