Chinese Medical Personnel: Government Goofed

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Despite widespread concerns and criticisms from Nigerian healthcare professionals and other stakeholders within and outside the nation’s health sector, the federal government, on 8 April, welcomed a 15-man team of Chinese medical personnel, ostensibly to bolster the fight against the scourge of COVID-19 in the country.

The Chinese contingent, whose coming had only been announced five days earlier at a media briefing organised by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, also came with an estimated $1.3 million worth of medical equipment and consumables. The team is said to be made up of specialist doctors, nurses and laboratory technicians.

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Chinese medical team

Apparently, for reasons having to do with the ambiguity surrounding the mission of the foreign medics and the unilaterality with which government took the decision, healthcare practitioners in the country had vehemently kicked against the move.

The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), through its President, Dr Francis Faduyile, in a statement, said: “It is a thing of embarrassment to the membership of the association and other health workers who are giving their best in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic under deplorable working conditions, and a fragile health system to be subjected to the ignominy of not being carried along in arriving at such a decision.” Similar sentiments were expressed by other associations within the health sector, with the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) going further to point out the illegality of inviting doctors to work in the country without being licensed by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria.

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Sadly, rather than seizing the opportunity of the insights provided by these longsuffering professionals to rethink its decision or temporarily suspend it until the various concerns raised were properly addressed, the federal government insisted that it would go ahead with its plan, and it eventually did. To justify this obduracy, a flurry of confusing and conflicting statements were released by the government and its Chinese partners, each of which only ended up making the decision even more questionable and unacceptable.

It must be quickly stated that this decision of government to disdained the views of the country’s health professionals before taking such a crucial healthcare-related decision is not new. Indeed, anyone seeking to understand why the nation’s healthcare system has been in shambles for so long and why the citizens are constantly exposed to disease outbreaks and avoidable mortalities from various health conditions, only needs to consider the many instances of government shunning the calls and concerns of key stakeholders in the health sector, until there are dire consequences.

Issues, such as the consistently appalling budgetary allocation to the healthcare sector, the excessive dependence on drug importation, the need to overhaul the nation’s health system and the inadequacy of government’s support to local pharmaceutical manufacturers, have been repeatedly raised at different fora but no one seems to pay attention, until there is a health crisis or a disease outbreak. Indeed, before the very first confirmed COVID-19 patient in Nigeria came in from Italy, stakeholders in the health sector had warned on the health hazards of leaving the borders of the country open. Typically, their views were rebuffed until the situation had begun to escalate.

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It is high time the Nigerian government understood that people in government do not and cannot know it all. No nation can establish a strong healthcare system or provide qualitative healthcare to its citizens, while the government continues to act like it knows better that the professionals in the field or keeps disregarding their opinions on fundamental healthcare issues.

Moreover, the fact that the government could go ahead with its controversial decision shows that policymakers in the nation’s health sector are yet to have a grip of how quality healthcare delivery works. Best patient outcomes are only achieved when different health professionals work together in an atmosphere devoid of rancour and mistrust. How does the government presently hope to achieve this when it is forcing one team of health workers on another – the minority upon the majority for that matter?

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It must also be emphasised that neither the excuse that the visiting Chinese health workers are being sponsored by selected Chinese companies in the country nor that they will mainly provide advisory functions is tenable. In the first place, the question is not whether the foreign personnel are being presented as a gift or not; the question is, must the government accept it, given the present concerns and suspicions of Nigerians in general? And for the so-called advisory role, it is basic common sense that these foreign personnel can never be successful in advising those who do not want them here in the first place.

It is our view that this period in which the Chinese delegation are observing the compulsory 14-day quarantine, offers a good opportunity for the government to drop its toga of bravado and do some damage control to its public relations tactic on this issue. Both the health ministry and the Presidential Task Force must initiate strategic communication channels to allay the fears of Nigerian healthcare professionals and the general citizenry about these foreigners. This will help to prevent the current battle against COVID-19 in the country from being jeopardised.

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