By Paul Adepoju
In 2001, the National Assembly passed the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria Act of 2001. Two years later, 2003 to be precise, the act was signed into law by President Olusegun Obasanjo and the published Federal Government’s official gazette to that effect is now issued to every newly inducted medical laboratory scientist to guide his or her practice, and to provide them with the legal machineries and backings that delineate their practice from those of other professionals. Part of the new professional package is the introduction of a specific scheme of service. The law also describes who should head the laboratories in addition to a couple of other medico-legal issues.
But just like almost everything that is Nigerian, the interest of the OBJ’s health administration under Prof Eyitayo Lambo wasn’t sustained by subsequent administrations notably those of the late President Umaru Yar’adua and the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. In a twinkle of an eye, ten years had gone bye; and just a miniature fragment of the 2003 Act has been backed with meaningful federal actions. It is therefore quite understandable by everyone when the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN) under the amiable leadership of its national executive led by Okara G. C. (PhD) after an emergency meeting directed its members to embark on a five-day work-to-rule civil action to gain government’s attention backed with meaningful action.
But just few hours into the exercise, it became evident that the government cannot rest on its oars and allow normal activities in the laboratories to become paranormal and disrupted for five days before consulting the professionals. In a highly revered government-owned medical laboratory in Ibadan for instance, an overzealous resident doctor reportedly signed out a positive malaria parasite test result (+++) only for a scientist around to redo the test and gave a negative result. Such misdiagnosis is currently ubiquitous across the country, and thousands of patients are being given very wrong results that are not only putting their lives at risk, but predisposing the nation to a potential public health crisis.
The life sciences form a category of professions that shouldn’t be taken for granted because of the thousands of lives at stake, and the attending associated security risks. Take the tuberculosis laboratory for instance. Since the commencement of the work-to-rule exercise, positive M. Tuberculosis cultures are left unattended to. And if improperly handled, unsuspecting individuals can inhale the deadly strains that are kept in some of the nation’s laboratories. This has the potential of causing a mortality rate that cannot be achieved by MEND and Boko Haram put together.
The need for the speedy federal government’s intervention in the ongoing work-to-rule action is further highlighted by the battle for supremacy that the pathologists’ association is trying to turn the whole civil action into. The Association of Pathologists of Nigeria (ASSOPON) has an online Yahoo ‘cult’ group (Association_of_Pathologists_of_Nigeria@yahoogroups.com) which is exclusively for pathologists. However, someone successfully hacked into the group and was able to make vital secret documents and plans of members available. In the ‘Wikileaked’ transcript of the group’s discussions, some of the highly respected pathologists, including notable professors like Prof. Ima-Obong Ekanem of University of Calabar Teaching Hospital are all planning to use residents to work on benches despite the fact that he acknowledged their limited hands-on experience, apart from the potentially disastrous sheer disregard for the MLSCN Act. Also in less than twenty four hours, another medical professor in Ibadan allegedly said that concerning the civil action, “blood will flow.”
To those without any medical affiliation, the closest way they can describe the so-called professionals’ attitude is that of the proscribed Ibadan chapter of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). At every given opportunity, Nigerian health practitioners are at each others’ jugular and it is quite disheartening that previous and current Nigerian leaders had been ill-advised hence are unable to convincingly and conclusively resolve the inter-professional dilemma. While interviewing some of AMLSN’s members, their sheer frustration with the status quo was palpable and to say the least, they have every right to be frustrated.
Why is the federal government dragging its feet when it comes to agreeing to the scheme of service for the scientists when it has already done so for other professionals? The various confusions in statuses, professional titles, intra- and inter-professional frictions have been in existence for decades yet year-in and year-out, the federal ministry of health has been diabolical, indecisive, confusing and self conflicting on the matter. According to the professionals, they can’t take it any longer.
It is quite unfortunate that medical unrests like this, is now as common as ASUU strikes in Nigeria. Worse still, the medical professionals are forever enemies and instead of solving these and other issues, the ministry of health has become politicized to the extent that political office holders are not well informed or wrongly advised.
In Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTH), University College Hospital Ibadan (UCH), Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH), Federal Medical Center (FMC) FMC Aba, and other state and local government medical laboratories across Nigeria, patients who need laboratory diagnoses are being sent back home and told to return next week. For some, it is no big deal while for others, it may be too late.
Packed cell volume (PCV) estimation, clinical chemistry, hormonal assays, tissue processing, microscopy, culture and sensitivity… are highly essential procedures that the hospital cannot do without. Therefore, throughout this week, many hospitals will be forced to suspend their operations while others will attempt to manufacture funny results like the malaria test example described in previous paragraphs, thus offering dangerous services that are disservices to their patients who might be totally ignorant of what is actually going on.
Like the rich class, Mr. President may not be using the nation’s hospital services hence he might be less perturbed compared to lots of Nigerians. He however is saddled with the inundating task of making the nation’s hospitals perform maximally which is a prerequisite to a number of visions and global initiatives that Nigeria is part of (Vision 2020 and Millennium Development Goals are examples). And despite the childish schemes of ASSOPON online community to sabotage the civil exercise, the government ought to, and must listen to the medical laboratory scientists considering the fact this is the very first time they will be embarking on such a national civil exercise to ask for their rights, unlike their colleagues that are perennial complainants.