15th May, 2012
The adage that “health is wealth” is laden with a profundity that stems from the fact that good health plays a crucial role in human success. Any country that wishes to derive maximum benefit from its human capital must necessarily put an infrastructure in place to ensure the good health and wellbeing of the people. Healthcare is a hot topic in many advanced countries of the world simply because any reasonable person can see that the true riches of any forward-looking country resides in the calibre of human capital it possesses. The term “human capital” encompasses a myriad of desirable qualities that includes knowledge, skills, morals, drive, and good health, ensuring that the citizens are healthy through the provision of competent medical care and easy access to such services counts.
By far, Nigerians remain at the top tier of contributory immigrant medical personnel, ranging from nurses’ aides to nurses and doctors. All of these people are part of the vital human capital lost to Nigeria through its negative approach to all things related to health in particular, and the wellbeing of the people at large. Often, you read that sick people in Nigeria need a certain amount of money to enable them travel abroad for medical care since they cannot obtain it in the country. How sad! I remember my experience at a dentist in Nigeria and I contrast it with my experience here in the United States. I developed a toothache and the pain became severe enough that I decided to consult a dentist. After asking several people, I was informed that one of the best dental outfits in town could be found in one of the military outfits located in Victoria Island. I went there and to my shock, there was no light in the place. Eventually, they managed to put on the generator and I dutifully purchased my admission card and paid some fee toward the anticipated treatment. Already, I was feeling rather uneasy because the environment did not leave very much to be desired. To further compound matters, the individual who sold the admission card to me informed me that I would also have to pay some money for bottled water. I asked her what she meant and she told me that the water was not running and so I had the option of paying for bottled water or going outside beyond the gate to purchase several sachets of “pure water” to use for the procedure. Interesting. I opted for the bottled water, and I was handed a small bottled water and directed to another area where a woman and her crying baby were waiting. Apparently, it was the young child who required dental attention, and from his screams, it was obvious he was in a lot of pain.
Eventually, a fellow called the two of them and they went to a room within my line of view, with a host of dilapidated, rusty-looking equipment—none of which the man used. He simply peered into the child’s mouth and delved into the mouth with his gloved hands. He took the mother to another corner of the room, where there was a table, and he informed her to purchase certain drugs that he wrote down for her. When he beckoned to me to come, I had already decided that this particular procedure was definitely not for me. Since I was there (and out of curiosity) I went to hear him out. He also peered into my mouth and poked at the offending tooth with a gloved hand. Since the tap water was not running, I put the bottled water to good use by using it to vigorously wash my mouth after the “procedure” by the “dentist.” His diagnosis? That the tooth was bad and that I had to have it pulled. No, thank you very much, I would rather not go that route. I took my aching tooth and my distasteful memories home and vowed never to repeat the experience again.
Since I never properly addressed the tooth problem, I had to visit a dentist when I got to the United States and the pain started again. This particular dentist had a small office somewhere in town and he took some X-rays and looked that the tooth, once more— this time with the proper equipment and instruments. He told me that I had a “big old cavity” and that it needed to be cleaned out and filled since it would only get worse with time. I thanked him and went home. I did not have dental insurance at the time and I decided that I had other priorities. Of course, this poor decision meant that the cavity only got worse and the pain became worse enough that I finally had to do something about it. This time, I was lucky enough to get another dentist who combined a “spa-like experience” with competent work. This particular dentist’s practice was located in a historic part of town and she had huge picture windows that allowed her patients to look out at beautiful trees, colorful flowers and interesting wind chimes. There was beautiful art on the walls and soothing music from discreet speakers and perfumed candles. She thought the cavity was quite deep, but felt that it might be addressed without having to resort to a painful, invasive and expensive root canal. I finally had my cavity cleaned and filled, in addition to other procedures. Unfortunately, the infection had gone deeper than we hoped and I needed to get a root canal, anyway.
I compare my experience here with what I received in a military-managed institution in Nigeria and I wince with remembered disgust.
All I am saying is if people like me and other people with skills and knowledge, who can contribute meaningfully to the growth of the nation, do not have access to basic healthcare, then this means that the country will never gain the full benefit it potentially could from us. A dental issue like a cavity is relatively minor to more serious ones like life-saving surgeries and transplants. Every life unnecessarily lost to illness or other health conditions is a detraction from the possibilities of just how much the country can benefit from its human capital.
•Ejim wrote this article for TheNEWS magazine