Humanism in Healthcare: The Nigerian Experience


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Patrick Iwelunmor

The healthcare landscape has continued to witness great innovations aimed at improving the relationship between the caregiver and the patient. Humanism in healthcare targets a culture of respect for the patient’s culture, religion, gender, race and psychological perspective. In other words, it aims to ensure that the patient’s satisfaction and wellbeing become the primary focus of the clinician or physician.

Humanism in healthcare leads to better outcomes in the management of health conditions, as it assures the patient that his interests are well-understood and prioritised by the clinician. This concept has become the major thrust of contemporary healthcare management systems, owing to its significance in the patient’s healing process.

Many healthcare establishments all over the world have taken it very seriously because it has been identified as one of the reasons many patients applaud or condemn their medical experiences. In developed nations of the world, humanism in healthcare is emphasized and encouraged, as it plays a very significant role in shaping a patient’s response to treatment. This concept actually begins with the work environment, including ergonomics and the attitudes of all healthcare professionals involved in the management of patients.

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It is more likely that a patient managed by a very humane physician recovers faster than the one who is managed by an inhumane physician. This is usually the difference between the developed nations of the world and the Third World countries where bad leadership, overpopulation, poverty and illiteracy are still rearing their ugly heads.

In Nigeria, only very few health facilities imbibe this concept of humanism in healthcare. Almost all the public hospitals are in very disheartening conditions and cannot offer any form of humanism. With challenges such as inadequate medical personnel, shortage of medicines to incessant industrial actions by the different health-related unions and associations, humanism in Nigeria’s healthcare industry is almost non-existent.

In Nigerian public hospitals, the number of patients is usually too much for the few medical personnel on ground to handle and for this reason, harsh and inhospitable attitudes are usually the order of the day. It is for this same reason some of the healthcare personnel engage in all forms of malpractices in order to ensure that only those who are ready to part with some money are attended to.

This is a sad reality that we are living with and there is no sign that it will stop soon, especially with the level of poverty ravaging the country. This writer recently visited the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) in an attempt to book an appointment with an urologist at the Urology Outpatient Department. The developments that ensued further buttresses the fact that there is a lot of corruption going on in our teaching hospitals in Nigeria. Meeting a crowd of people numbering over 100, I was asked to pay the sum of N10,000 so that my appointment could be processed quickly ahead of those who might not afford to bribe their way through.

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Thinking about the old men and women, as well as those aided by their relatives to the facility in their very sick states, I vowed never to be a part of the rot. The implication is that anyone who has no money to bribe his way through is left to his or her fate.

In a related development, an acquaintance who is a medical doctor with one of the popular big hospitals in Lagos, narrated the experience of a breast cancer patient who ran to him for help after she was asked to pay the sum of N10, 000 so that her appointment with an oncologist could be fast-tracked. When she refused to offer the bribe, her appointment was maliciously scheduled to happen in six months’ time.

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The big question is: how can healthcare personnel who are not motivated demonstrate any form of humanism towards their patients? When government has continually reneged on the agreements it has reached with doctors and health workers, we should not expect them to be humane to the patients.

Nigerian health workers in public hospitals are among the unhappiest professionals in the world. No wonder they are very rude and harsh! Most of them who seek greener pastures abroad often do so to escape the traumatic working conditions in the country. This is the reason you always encounter situations where health workers and patients engage in verbal assaults that usually lead to the ruthless beating of doctors and other health workers.

Just recently, psychiatric patients in Nigeria protested poor treatment by doctors and nurses. In fact, a doctor and some nurses were bitten by the patients.


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