A Sickle Cell Patient, Miss Onyinye Ezemaduka, has died while being detained at a hospital in Southeast Nigeria for her inability to pay her medical bills. The sad incident occurred at St Charles Borromeo Hospital Onitsha, Enugu State, where Ezemaduka was prevented from going home unless she fully paid for debts incurred when she was critically ill.
Miss Ezemaduka was taken to the hospital by the goodwill of a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Augustine Nweke, of St Martin Hospital, Ugwuagba Obosi. She was said to have suffered neglect, deprivation, and intimidation while under ‘detention’ at St. Charles Borromeo, managed by another Catholic priest, Rev Fr. Izunna Okonkwo.
St. Charles Borromeo is a mission hospital under the Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha. An orphan, Miss Ezemaduka had incurred a bill totaling N1198960 (about $3400) out of which she had defrayed some N380300. This left about N818630 ($2300) unpaid, necessitating her being held captive in the hospital.
The Association of People Living With Sickle Cell Disorder (APLSCD), under the leadership of Mrs. Aisha Maureen Edwards, had sought to intervene and made representations to the hospital management to release the patient without success.
‘This is the height of insensitivity,’ Mrs. Edwards said.
Detaining indigent patients in hospital has long been a practice in Nigeria. Private, public and university teaching hospitals engage in the odious practice, detaining patients who find themselves unable to meet up with their financial obligations. Six years ago, the authorities at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) refused to release the corpse of an indigent SCD patient to her family for unpaid medical and mortuary bills.
However, speaking under conditions of anonymity, a former Medical Director/CEO of General Hospital, Ikot-Abasi squarely lay the blame for the rot in the health system on the government. He was even more sympathetic towards the privately-run medical institutions.
‘How does a hospital survive – pay staff, execute recurrent and capital projects – if it does not receive due payments for its services?
‘Government should find means to make medical insurance comprehensive – and compulsory.’