On a Monday morning in August, when this reporter arrived at the E.N.T (ear, nose, teeth) and Eye clinic at the University College Hospital, (UCH), Ibadan, he was greeted by a crowd. The place was rowdy with people who came for one eye-related ailment or the other surrounding the only entry point to the hospital unit.
Akindele Ibrahim, a middle-aged man who has been battling eye-related health issues for over seven years, was one of those struggling to gain entry that morning.
He said he had tried several hospitals in Lagos and Ogun states in his quest to treat the defect in his eyes before he was referred to UCH
“I went to Orile-Agege in Lagos, from there I moved to Ikeja hospital at Lagos before they referred me to Ago-Ijaye at Ijebu-Igbo.
“So it is from there they just give me two options, maybe I should move to UCH at Ibadan or I should go to LUTH at Lagos also,” he told this reporter.
Mr Akindele, expressed disappointment at the stress glaucoma patients go through before receiving treatment.
If the glaucoma centre at UCH, nominated in the Zonal Intervention Projects by Abiodun Awoleye in 2017, 2018 and 2019 had been completed, perhaps, Mr Akindele and other glaucoma patients would not have to struggle to get treated at the hospital as it would provide a dedicated space for treatment of glaucoma patients.
Abandoned Glaucoma Centre
Also called the ‘the sneak thief of sight’, glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness globally. A December 2015 research stated that between 1.1 to 1.4 million adults in Nigeria have the challenge. It also indicated that one in every 20 Nigerians aged 40 years and above has glaucoma, with one in five of them being blind.
However, Habibat Daromosu, an ophthalmologist with the National Hospital, Abuja, while speaking with PREMIUM TIMES in 2018, stated that 90 per cent of those with glaucoma in Nigeria do not know they have the disease.
In 2017, 2018 and 2019, the then-lawmaker representing Ibadan North federal constituency at the House of Representatives, Abiodun Awoleye, nominated the construction of a glaucoma centre at the UCH.
A total of N14 million naira was approved for its construction in 2017, N5 million naira in 2018, and N35 million for its completion in 2019.
But when PREMIUM TIMES visited the location of the project in July and August this year, it was yet to be completed and there was no worker on site.
The abandoned site of the glaucoma centre is located beside the Tony Anehih Geriatric Center at the hospital.
The construction was stopped halfway with the ground floor partially completed. The inner part of the building was filled with dust and dirt. The outer part of the building had been taken over by weeds and a pit of about three feet deep suspected to be for the ‘soakaway’ was located just beside the main entrance.
The building is filled with empty bags of cement and buckets. Some parts of the walls had been plastered and white tiles were already pasted on others. A staircase that leads to the yet to be constructed first floor of the building was located on the left side of the main floor. There was no sign of construction work on this floor.
Mr Awoleye told PREMIUM TIMES that he nominated the construction of the glaucoma centre at the hospital because it was one of the vital facilities required by the hospital to carry out its mandate.
“UCH is part of the constituency (that I represented) and the fact is that many federal government tertiary health institutions like UCH, the subvention, the funding they are getting from the federal government is never enough to carry out all their mandates for which they were established.
“And the fact that I represented Ibadan North twice, I have never gotten any project inside UCH and it is a large community inside my constituency. I think about three or four polling units are there.
“So the CMD that time, Professor Alonge, approached me that they would be glad if we could facilitate such a project particularly that glaucoma centre for the institution,” the lawmaker told this reporter.
The fact that the head of the hospital at the time approached the lawmaker for assistance in building the glaucoma centre shows how important it was considered by the hospital’s management. Over a year after funds for completion were approved and released, however, the project appears abandoned.
The E.N.T and Eye Clinic
Because the centre remains abandoned, glaucoma patients at UCH receive treatment at the E.N.T. and Eye clinic.
The eye clinic is home to the ophthalmology unit of the hospital, which was established as a full-fledged department in 1962 to provide “high-quality eye care to a large population extending beyond South-Western Nigeria.”
According to information on the official website of the institution, the department has a general eye clinic as well as subspecialties of the anterior segment, retina, orbit and oculoplastic, paediatric ophthalmology, low vision care and glaucoma.
The department also has a 28-bed ward and three dedicated eye theatres through which surgeries are carried out by the various subspecialties.
Patients suffer, express worry
Even though the institution’s website stated that the hospital “is widely regarded as a Mecca for the treatment of glaucoma in Africans”, glaucoma patients who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES lamented and expressed worry over the level of stress they go through to receive treatment.
Mr Akindele, who was initially reluctant to talk with this reporter, explained that even though he eventually sees a doctor on the day of his appointment, the trouble he has to go through makes it “not easy at all, at all”.
“To see the doctor is not easy like that because you have to pass through a lot of stress. As you can see, even today also we have been here for more than three hours.
“I left home around 3:30 to 4 (in the morning) and till now I haven’t seen the doctor,” he told this reporter at 11:02 a.m.
He also lamented that despite the level of stress he goes through every time he has an appointment; he has not seen any “major improvement” adding that it is affecting his job as an interior decorator because “I can’t do my job very well”.
When asked whether the stress he goes through has ever made him consider going elsewhere for treatment, he replied with a distorted face, “you know it is money and going to another hospital will just be like you want to go and start afresh so that is why I have just decided to bear with them and see what they can do”.
Another patient, who refused to state his name, also complained about the trouble patients are put through at the clinic.
“I used to be a glaucoma patient but after I was operated in 2018, it was discovered that I also have cataract and I have been operated for it too. But I still take glaucoma drugs.
“I was operated for glaucoma about six months after getting to UCH. The process was stressful but since I am here for treatment, it’s not too much.
“You can’t see the doctor immediately. Once you arrive, you will submit your file.
“We are a little bit plenty today for the first time in a while because people initially stopped coming because of COVID-19. On a normal day before COVID-19, we can be more than fifty on the queue.
“We arrive around six, seven or eight o’clock in the morning and leave around four o’clock in the evening. Some people would have been here since after six or before seven,” he said.
Sulaiman Adeleke, another glaucoma patient, said he was not sure if he still has glaucoma and blamed it on the inconsistent results of the various tests he had taken since he was referred to UCH in November 2019.
“I have been a glaucoma patient since November 9, 2019. I went to Adeoyo to do some things with my sister, so she now directed me to this place. The thing is that I feel like my eye was shaking and I thought it was due to my work because I used to do night work.”
“But when I came here, I was told that aside from that they are seeing something related to glaucoma on November 9.”
He said he had undergone three different CVF eye tests after which two doctors had confirmed to him on two different occasions in the clinic that he had glaucoma.
However, during his last appointment, a senior doctor who attended to him said he does not have glaucoma.
‘Funds released’, lawmaker says, expresses disappointment
Mr Awoleye, the lawmaker who nominated the project, explained that he decided to nominate the project in three successive years because the government does not release 100 per cent of the amount budgeted in a year, and as a result of this the project would be rolled over to the budget of the following year.
“But for the fact that this budget performance is not usually 100 per cent, the money I nominated the first time couldn’t really carry it to the standard and requirement that UCH wanted.
“So because the money was not enough, I had to again budget another money for it in 2018 and the 2019 budgets. I made sure that the money I quoted there even if just 70 per cent of that money is released, it will sort out that problem so that I won’t have uncompleted projects and I am happy that that actually happened.
“I think they said they released 60 or 70 percent now, for which I expected that project to have been completed but the rest you will have to find out from UCH what is happening because I domiciled the project under UCH, even the project is inside them and as a federal government institution, which has also been awarding contracts, following details and all of that, I domiciled it inside them for proper and closer supervision,” the former lawmaker said.
He, however, expressed disappointment that the project was yet to be completed noting that he is sure funds had been released.
“So what I can say now is that to the best of my knowledge all the money must have been with UCH by now but why they have not completed it by now is what I cannot say. You know I am not the member representing that constituency anymore,” he said.
‘There are better stories in the health sector,’ UCH PRO
All attempts by this reporter to get details about the exact amount released for the execution of the project and why it has not been completed proved futile as the supervising agency, which incidentally is also the hospital, refused to reply an official request sent to the office of the chief medical director.
Though UCH refused to mention the name of the company the project was contracted to, a fallen signpost at the site of the abandoned building indicated that the project was awarded to Trapetti Engineering and Construction Company Limited. This reporter, however, was unable to reach the company as its contact information could not be obtained.
Before sending an official request to the hospital chief, the public relations officer (PRO) of the hospital, Toye Akinrinola, on the telephone, said the hospital will not release details of the funds released for the project.
“What you are looking for is not anything you can get. Forget about freedom of information because that’s what you rely on. You are asking for how much has been released, it’s not me that releases money, it is Abuja that releases money. We can’t have that figure with us because we don’t release funds. Then, it’s a constituency project under one member of the House of Representatives or so,” he said.
He also questioned why Mr Awoleye, the lawmaker who nominated the project, would say funds had been released for the project when he is not in the office again.
However, he asked for an official request to the office of the chief medical director of the hospital, who can instruct him to release the information.
Five days after the official request was sent, when contacted by this reporter to ask for the response, the PRO advised that “maybe” the reporter should call back the next day.
When contacted the next day, he told this reporter that he does not know when the response would be available because he was in Lagos.
Speaking further, the spokesperson falsely claimed the project does not exist in the hospital’s budget.
“It is a politician’s constituency project. We are not the one who collects the money. The politician comes only after receiving funds. We are only supervising it because it is located on our land. It is when he (the lawmaker) has finished or feels that it has finished that he would hand over. Awoleye is no longer in the house of Reps.”
Contrary to Mr Akinrionla’s claim, however, the project was domiciled in the budget of the hospital and the funds could only have been released to the hospital which also has the responsibility to award the contract.
He, however, advised this reporter to pursue other stories in the health sector other than a glaucoma centre of less than N50 million.
“I still insist that there are better stories in the health sector than this one that you are pursuing. There are so many stories in the health sector that you can pursue. This is just somebody’s project; it is less than 50 million… that’s at the very best. It cannot buy equipment in the health sector that will promote health so there are better stories. A lot more than one glaucoma centre,” he said
‘Threat to Glaucoma Patients…’ NMA Chair
The chairperson of the Nigerian Medical Association, Oyo State chapter, Akin Sodipe, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES stated that if patients are considering a stop to going to the hospital for treatment due to the stress they face, then there is a problem.
He, however, told this reporter that this problem is not exclusive to glaucoma patients alone, as it is applicable in all medical fields
“If they are already considering going elsewhere to get themselves treated, there is definitely a threat. But I can assure you glaucoma is not the only condition that is going through this stress of the rigour of a teaching hospital, less manpower and less equipment; it’s all facilities in medicine. But for them to be thinking of leaving, I think that will constitute a threat to their health.”
This investigation was done as part of the UDEME project.