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Why Nigerians shun PHCs – Okara

Dr. Okara

Immediate past president, Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, AMLSN, Dr. Godswill Okara, on Friday decried ‘increasing’ neglect of primary health centres, PHCs, by Nigerians for secondary and tertiary levels of care.

Okara said from various findings and observations, many citizens no longer use PHCs, but opt for secondary and tertiary levels of care because the PHCs, among others, lack trained personnel and equipment needed for diagnostic services.

Okara was a guest at the 1st National Summit of Young Medical Laboratory Scientists Forum in Abuja, where he said the trend of building PHCs by government and leaving them for “rodents and reptiles” should stop. He said from indications, there are many abandoned PHCs already across wards in the country, but that government chooses to build more every year to enable it award contracts.

He slammed the Federal Government for failing to implement the Nigerian National Medical Laboratory Services Policy (2007)

The Chairman, Steering Board, West African Postgraduate College of Medical Laboratory Science and Director, Laboratory Services, Dr. Hassan’s Hospital and Diagnostic, Abuja, said the policy intends to provide all Nigerians with an appropriate, cost-effective and high-quality laboratory service as a functional component of a reliable national health care delivery system within the next five years; and develop and implement national technical guidelines for quality assured laboratory service at each level of health care delivery.

He blamed non-implementation of the two policies on inter-professional rivalry in the sector. He said the crisis culminated in the neglect of the PHCs for secondary and tertiary health institutions by the nation’s population.

“Available records show that 83 percent of government or public health facilities in Nigeria are in the rural areas in form of primary health centres, PHCs. … Over the past few decades, Nigeria has invested substantially in building these facilities in the 774 local government areas, but most of the centres lack the compliment of skilled health personnel to offer the desired level of health services in most of the facilities.

“There is hardly any provision for medical laboratory services in most of the facilities. In this 21st century, Nigerians, whether they are rural or urban dwellers are entitled to have medical treatment guided by empirical evidence of rudimentary laboratory data. The days of ‘if you have fever, treat for malaria,’ should be abolished in our healthcare practice. It is a waste of resources of both the patient and the attending practitioners,” he said.

Okara went on: “No wonder therefore that the primary health centres are ignored by most people, whenever they have healthcare need, they prefer to go to secondary and tertiary health facilities despite the far distance and the attendant expenditure involved in travelling. The perception is that without laboratory testing to accurately diagnose their ailments at the PHCs, they would be wasting time and scarce resources patronizing these centres. Lack of laboratory diagnostic facilities at most PHCs in Nigeria constitutes a major barrier to social acceptability of the services.”

He advised government to channel the monies used for building “each PHC per ward” into health insurance packages that would help the masses access and afford quality health care.

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