We suffer to access healthcare services in hospitals –Persons living with disabilities

The problem of lack of access to quality health services is a major challenge in the country, although the country’s National Health Law supports access to health care for all Nigerians through the basic minimum package of health services. However, the issue of accessing health services is more of a challenge for people with disabilities, as many of them face abuse, neglect, stigma and discrimination when they visit health care facilities to access health care. OLUWATOBILOBA JAIYEOLA, spoke to some people with disabilities in this report about the barriers they face in accessing healthcare services, particularly in government hospitals.

When Ayomide Amuda, in her 40s, rushed to Ikorodu General Hospital, her son gasping for air. His asthma had struck, beyond the control of his inhalers. But her urgency to save him was met by healthcare workers who were distant and seemingly less concerned with her seeking immediate attention and treatment.

If they didn’t ignore her, the nurses pushed her around. Her son, who is also her guide because of her visual impairment, lies helpless in a corner. Since losing her eyesight, Amuda had relied on other people’s sight in hospitals, at home, in the market, and everywhere.

As soon as her son came of age, he slipped into the role of his mother’s tour guide. But now the Fuhrer was ill, and no one was willing to help his mother.

She said: “Usually it’s my son who helps me when I have to go to hospital for some reason, but at the time he was sick and he was the one who needed help and it was tough for us. It was very hard.

“We had to go from one place to another doing different things, making payments, doing tests, etc., and without a guide, meaning it should be left in the hands of the hospital staff to do it for me. Instead, they kept complaining that they didn’t have my time.”

A mother’s heart can only take so much when her child is in danger, so Amuda called for help and asked to be taken to the hospital’s welfare department. The social workers on duty did not understand their duty and turned their backs on her.

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Describing her experience, Amuda said: “I asked the nurses for directions to the social center at the hospital, someone took me to the department and when I got there they said there were only two of them on duty and none of them could do their contribution , to help me.

“They accused me of not coming to the hospital with someone who could help me and refused to leave their post to help me. I said I thought social services should take care of people with disabilities and maybe the elderly, they replied that it is not their duty to follow people like me and that we should always come to the hospital with someone, or not at all come when we have no one to help us.”

When her son soon passed out, the hospital workers went back to their jobs, she said, noting that medical staff swarmed the boy, trying to save his life at the last minute.

They succeeded and they took their son in, but she still needed the help of an outsider.

“That day my son fainted, so they saw fit and saw that it was an emergency. So eventually they came and pounced on him, but they left me and I stopped following them. If I had brought my guide I would have followed them every step of the way to make sure my son was okay.

“I ended up having to call one of my friends, he’s blind too, but he’s a visually impaired person, so he was the one who came and helped me everywhere, and they took my son to admission, but he had to leave eventually,” she added added.

After her friend left, Amuda had to ask for her six-year-old daughter to be brought to her. Neglected by the health workers around her, she said she had to rely on one child’s guidance to help herself and her other child.

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According to Amuda, her son could have died because she was blind and the nurses on duty didn’t care. “I felt very bad to be treated like that because if my son had died at the time because of the way I was treated I don’t know what I would have done to myself.

“I started blaming myself and feeling bad that if I hadn’t been in this state I would have been able to be there and be there for my son in his time of need. I could have helped him with anything. Even my six-year-old daughter later became ill after her brother was released.

“All of this made me feel very guilty because it was like I exposed her to something she shouldn’t have been exposed to and I was very unhappy,” she said.

Madam Amuda is not alone in this kind of challenge. In 2021, Health Minister Osagie Ehanire said about 0.78 percent (1.56 million) Nigerians suffered from blindness on World Sight Day.

Many of these visually impaired people often face great challenges when they need medical assistance, despite the fact that doing so is against the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018.

Part of the law states that “the government guarantees that persons with disabilities have unrestricted access to adequate health care without discrimination on the basis of disability”.

But Kayode Afolabi, another person with visual impairment, disagrees that there is a law guaranteeing him access to healthcare services in hospitals.

Speaking of his experience, he said: “Going to the hospital with my condition is often hard. If I go with nobody, nobody would help me. When I went alone I found it very difficult to get help from staff and even patients.

“When the nurses notice my condition, some of them act well, others tell me harshly to go and sit down, ‘here we come, we come.’ However, some have feelings for others and try to help.

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“I was at LASUTH once, however, in the early stages of my disability. When I got there, some nurses were not helpful and neither were the patients, but they also have their own problems to deal with. After that, I stopped going to general hospitals.”

He added: “We face a lot of discrimination in the hospital and even everywhere, but we still have few good Nigerians who really understand our plight.”

Not only visually impaired people are discriminated against by hospitals; It’s a common sad story among people with disabilities.

People with hearing impairments often complain about their inability to communicate with medical staff, while people in wheelchairs have difficulty accessing medical facilities due to a lack of ramps and other physical facilities.

Ever since she was mistakenly given injections as a child, Oluwatobi Olagunju, an indigenous woman from Ekiti State, has relied on contusions and a caliper for mobility.

Getting around is a struggle for her, and visiting hospitals only makes it worse, though she said she occasionally meets angels in human form. She said it wasn’t just the hospital staff who reminded her of her condition.

“Once, the woman who was selling snacks at Ikorodu General Hospital also looked down on me. The lady was very rude.

“I was the first person to call her and when I did she ignored me, but when other people called she answered. When she finally answered she threw away the snacks and said leave me alone and I was confused. I was wondering what I did to her. She started eyeing me up and down as if asking who she is and what she’s saying.

“I felt really bad and started crying, what is this all about? The matron got up for me and started talking to her. The matron asked her: “What has this lady done to you that you abuse her?”. The woman corrected her. She told her that what she was doing was very wrong because she saw how I felt and saw that I was crying,” she said.

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