Nigeria might be one of the deadliest places to live, as every day, you’re reminded that you can lose your life for avoidable reasons. Around 3 p.m. on August 1, 2023, an aircraft crash happened in Ikeja that left the four people aboard injured, and barely 6 hours after this incident, another heart-wrenching news hit the country. A Nigerian doctor—a house officer—Dr Vwaere Diaso, had died in an elevator accident at the Odan General Hospital, Lagos Island.
According to her colleagues, Vwaere was on her way to pick up her food from the dispatch rider on the ground floor, but tragedy struck as she entered the elevator. The elevator suddenly crashed from the 9th floor down to the ground floor with a loud thud that resonated throughout the hospital.
Although she survived the crash, albeit with severe injuries and fractures, it took the hospital management about one hour to rescue her from the accident scene. Also, she wasn’t given timely medical attention due to a delayed response from the hospital’s anaesthesia team and a shortage of blood and oxygen.
However, this sad accident could have been avoided entirely. There have been numerous reports and complaints dating back to 2020 regarding the faulty state of the elevator.
Many doctors also recounted their experiences of being stuck in the elevator more than once, but despite these complaints, there was no action by the hospital’s management.
And this act of negligence has now taken the life of a young doctor who was two weeks away from completing her horsemanship.
Has the hospital’s management responded?
On August 2, 2023, many of Dr Vwaere’s colleagues and other medical practitioners kicked off a protest to demand that justice be served. Still, until now, we’ve seen the management and the government respond in a way that’s far from acceptable.
In one of the videos from the protests, the hospital’s Chief Medical Director (CMD), Dr Abiola Aduke Mafe, was reportedly seen advising the aggrieved doctors to “mourn meaningfully”. Another video showed Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, the First Lady of Lagos state, attributing the elevator accident to “a spiritual arrow”, which not only makes a mockery of the situation but also absolves the hospital from taking responsibility for their negligence.
Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Lagos state governor, shared his condolences on his Twitter page and disclosed that an investigation will be conducted into the cause of the elevator’s mechanical failure.
As expected, many medical practitioners, especially house officers, are particularly disturbed by this accident, as it’s a stark reminder of the unsafe conditions they face while practising in Nigeria. Zikoko Citizen contacted some doctors, who shared their thoughts on the situation.
What the doctors said:
Williams* is a house officer and a colleague of Dr. Vwaere at Odan General Hospital. During our conversation with him, it was clear that he was heartbroken by the recent news, especially since he knew the late doctor and had considered taking the elevator just hours before the accident happened.
He says, “If I’m to describe this in one word, it’d be inhumane. This government sees us as trash; every time we bring forward complaints, they sweep it under the rug and threaten to take away our licence, and now our fellow doctor is dead”.
Williams* reveals that the elevator was installed in 2017, and its issues started about a week after its installation, but despite this, no one certified the elevator unsafe. “We won’t blame anyone for using the elevator because engineers frequently came to service it and claimed it was okay for use”. He adds that several official complaints were made to the management, but nothing was done. He says, “We need to know the company in charge of servicing the elevator and who they report to at the Odan General Hospital because that person should be held responsible for this accident”.
Another jarring revelation from our conversation with Williams* is how the lack of immediate medical intervention contributed to Dr. Vwaere’s death. Williams* shared, “There was no blood in our hospital, and when we went to the Lagos Island Maternity Hospital (LIMH) just across from us, they also had no blood”. For those who don’t know, Odan General Hospital is one of the oldest hospitals in Nigeria. A shortage of blood and oxygen there reflects the crippling state of Nigeria’s health sector. “She couldn’t get pain medications or analgesics, and eventually, she passed away. The system we’re working to save lives for doesn’t care about us”.
As mentioned earlier, there have been protests to demand justice for Vwaere. The protests were held at the Lagos Island Maternity Hospital and the Health Service Commission (HSC). The HSC is in charge of employing doctors in general hospitals around Nigeria.
Williams* also participated in the protest and told us, “We locked the general hospital’s main gates, some offices, the gates to the HSC, and the LIMH admin building. We can’t allow this to be swept under the rug; we can’t afford to let that happen.”
However, according to him, there’s a general lack of accountability from the management, as they’ve refused to disclose the names of the elevator maintenance company and their superiors. He also notes the disturbing attitude of the hospital’s administrative workers towards the ongoing situation, as one allegedly said, “Is she the first to die?”.
Notwithstanding, Williams* and other house officers insist that justice must be served, and those responsible should be arrested. He firmly states, “As far as I’m concerned, this is manslaughter because they were informed.”
Williams* demands that their complaints regarding the hospital’s infrastructure be addressed because, most times, they return to hostels without electricity after a hard day’s work. This is in addition to the troubling fact that many house officers, himself included, have been working for about three months now without pay. “We need to ensure that something like this never happens again. It’s not until someone dies.” He also touches on the critical issue of blood availability in the country, stating, “It’s a known fact that there’s a blood issue in Nigeria. There should be blood banks and emergency blood transfusion services.”
Also speaking on this incident is Dr. Olemgbe, who reiterates the points laid out by Williams*. He says, “Our work environments remain unsafe, and the lack of accountability is alarming. This incident, alongside a historical backdrop, reaffirms that doctors stand as endangered species in Nigeria, facing political, social, and workplace challenges”. According to Dr. Olemgbe, reforms must be put in place to ensure the safety of doctors while also creating a system that provides support and accountability.
These instances demonstrate that sometimes the increase in migration for doctors isn’t just for financial reasons but also to ensure a better and safer quality of life. And Nigeria will continue to experience a massive brain drain, especially in the healthcare sector. Dr. Olemgbe drives home this point by stating, “Doctors won’t migrate if our voices are heard and our lives are truly valued. Let this tragedy propel us towards a safer, more just future for healthcare in Nigeria.”