Almost three years after the Ministry of Health promised to deliver Brilliance CT 16 Scanners and other equipment to five Federal Medical Centres, only the Federal Medical Centre, Gombe, has taken delivery of the equipment, OLUKAYODE THOMAS and JOKE KUJENYA report
WHEN the Federal Ministry of Health announced on July 10, 2009 that Royal Philips Electronics and its local partner, PPC Philips, had been selected after a public tender to instal six state-of-the-art Brilliance CT 16 Scanners, Computed Tomography (CT) scanners, eight Digital Mammography systems and 17 Ultrasound systems at the Federal Medical Centres in Abakaliki, Gombe, Owo, Yenegoa, and Maiduguri, there was jubilation in these hospitals, the host community and the other neighbouring towns that the hospitals serve.
A statement from the ministry added that it would ensure that all Teaching Hospitals in the country introduce the Philips Brilliance CT 16-slice, “as the basic minimum standard of technology to meet the growing demands in the delivery of radiological care. Advanced imaging technology like CT scanners, Digital Mammography systems and state-of-the-art Ultrasound technology will improve the hospital workflow by shortening examination time’’ said the statement from the Federal Ministry of Health.”
But almost three years after, only the Federal Medical Gombe has taken delivery of the Brilliance 16 CT Scanner and other equipment.
When they took the delivery, excited officials of the Federal Medical Centre told the media: “We are very excited to have the new Philips Brilliance CT 16-slice scanner at our facility, as the new technology will be used to detect and treat diseases with the greatest precision. With this new healthcare equipment, the quality of facilities we can offer in the hospital has improved greatly. The installation of the Brilliance CT 16-slice scanner will enable the delivery of crisp image clarity that our clinicians need to help make informed decisions possible for a wider range of clinical procedures” said Prof. Aliyu El Nafaty, a former Chief Medical Director at the Gombe Federal Medical Centre.
The Federal Medical Centre, Gombe brought the equipment by air, while other Federal Medical Centres opted to ship theirs.
Health officials at some of the hospitals that are yet to get their equipment told The Nation: “We were overjoyed because our hospitals lack these equipment, there had been cases of wrong diagnosis leading to death of many patients whose lives could have been saved with scanners that will do the right and correct diagnosis.
“In some cases patients have to travel long distances to hospitals where scanners are available and before they get to their destinations, lives are either lost or their conditions take a turn for the worse.”
The head of a Federal Medical Centre, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Nation: “For some, the cost of diagnosis in private hospitals or private establishment is beyond their reach.”
Investigation by The Nation showed that the equipment were actually shipped to Nigeria, but on arrival at the port, the management of Phillips and a consultant to the project did not want to pay Customs duty.
After months of delay, they applied for import waiver which sources said was granted.
As soon as the waiver was granted, attempts were made to clear the equipment, but the Customs and other agencies at the port were said to have insisted that demurrage and other port charges must be paid before the equipment could be released.The equipment, according to sources, have been moved from the port to one of the Customs’ private terminal in Lagos.
Both Phillips and the consultant were said to have passed the bill to the Federal Ministry of Health. The equipment are said to still be in the premises of the private terminal.
When the Gombe equipment was delivered, the Federal Ministry of Health launched it with fanfare, its director of Hospital Services Cyril Okeke, told the media then that Nigerian women stand to benefit greatly from the new Philips digital mammography system, “as it offers improved ways to diagnose and screen breast cancer and greatly enhance the possibility of catching the disease at an early stage. He hoped the combination of the CT and mammography systems with the 17 ultrasound systems would considerably upgrade the imaging departments in Nigerian hospitals in which the equipment is installed.”
Yet this same Ministry has abandoned its equipment at the ports.
Efforts to get comments from the Federal Ministry of Health were not successful. The Nation was at the Health Minister’s office twice last week.
The reporters waited for hours without seeing the Minister’s Special Assistant. When they met her the next day, she told The Nation that she is not aware of the abandoned equipment. She asked reporters to send a text message stating all the questions they needed answers to.
At the Ministry’s Procurement Department, sources said: “We have not seen him (the consultant) in many months, he is just a consultant, you can try his number, and he is in better position to comment on the equipment abandoned at the ports.’’
All calls to the consultant’s number were not connected.
At the Tin Can Port, the Public Relations Officer said the equipment were not shipped in through the port. Investigation showed that it came in through Apapa Port, but unlike the Tin Can Public Relations Officer, calls to the Public Relations Officer of Apapa were not picked; his phone just kept ringing without response.
Also, The Nation could not get Mr. Biodun Disu, Chairman of Philips Electronics Nigeria to comment.
The General Manager, Philips Healthcare Africa Roelof Assies told the media when the equipment were being handed over to the Gombe Federal Medical that “the Nigerian government has been very proactive in recognising that health care expenditure is going to be a big burden on the economy and has placed a huge emphasis on health care development. This is a very encouraging sign. Philips wants to support Nigeria in upgrading the country’s health care system. Advanced imaging technologies like CT scanners, digital mammography systems and state-of-the-art ultrasound technology could improve the hospital workflow by shortening examination time and leading to increased diagnostic confidence and a simpler patient and clinician experience overall.”
Doctors and other health officials at the four affected hospitals are not only alleging sabotage, they are not ruling out the possibility of the equipment being sold.
“The whole thing is strange, if billions or hundreds of millions of naira was used to import equipment, what is the cost of clearing it or paying port charges that it has taken two years and we are still waiting for the equipment. You know, my brother, this is Nigeria. The equipment may have been sold. I don’t have any evidence that it has been sold, but what I am saying is, what is the logic in buying a car for N10 million and you are saying you don’t have N1 million or even less to clear the car or pay port charges. Remember duty waiver was granted when Phillips said it will not pay duty, so what is port charges that cannot be paid. I am suspecting foul play and if they feel that there is none, let them come out and take the media to where the equipment are kept and tell the world why it has taken two years to clear the equipment. Until they do that, I will strongly believe that the equipment have developed wings.’’
A medical engineer, who has undergone training in the use and maintenance of the equipment, said it is an irony that people in the healthcare industry that are fully aware of the benefits of the equipment are playing politics with human lives.
He said: “Without a good scanning machine, what doctors do is guess work. With the machine, the problem is detected within minutes. All the parties involved know the importance of the equipment, so we don’t need to emphasise it to them. I don’t think the equipment have been sold; it is probably more likely that they want to use them to make more money or it is just another case of our I-don’t-care attitude when it comes to government property. I hope this story will spur them into action because many lives are being lost because of the lack of modern equipment in our hospital. Now, we refer people to Port Harcourt or abroad for a problem we can solve here. It is a shame.”