Garki Hospital, Abuja has been in the news lately. It is for something good and worth talking about though; something that should come to every Nigerian, particularly the sick as cheering. The hospital, which is owned by the Federal Capital Terriroty Administration (FCTA), but is being run under a public-private partnership initiative, successfully carried out kidney transplant on some Nigerians as well as an open heart surgery recently. These health issues top the list of ailments that take Nigerians abroad, particularly India in search of treatment. The chief medical director, Garki Hospital, Abuja, Dr. Elijah Miner in this interview with Patience Ivie Ihejirika, talks about the feat and more.
You invited a surgeon from abroad to lead a team of surgeons to carry out kidney transplant in your hospital. Is this going to be the pattern for subsequent surgeries?
In the short term, because in transplanting kidney and any kind of surgery, it takes a certain degree of expertise. Like I told you, I have done several transplants in the past years but that does not make me a transplant surgeon. Am also in a learning process, so it will take a little time before we can say we are offering a total Nigerian package for Nigerians. We have been able to do that with those that did the heart surgery; the open heart surgery, am proud to say that all of them are Nigerians, it is just a wonderful team. So, we have been able to achieve that.
I think one thing Nigerians have come to realize now is quality. And wherever you are, if people believe that they will get quality from you, they will come to you. Some people will tell you, look if you are able to give us the assurance that you can be able to do it here we will stay back and have it here. These are the people we have been able to transplant because we have shown them that these thing can be done and they are okay now.
It is a very difficult question to answer. Many variables influence the cost but you are talking about anything between N3.5 to N5 million. Many variables because again even the type of equipment you use contribute, even the personnel you bring in contribute, the drugs again, the follow up and various checks that you do, there are certain levels of the drugs you give them that you have to keep checking on a regular basis and they are very expensive. Again once these things are subsidized, they will be affordable; they will still be expensive but they will be affordable by both the rich and the poor.
Is public-private partnership initiative the way forward for the country’s health system?
One thing with the public-private partnership is that it allows you a certain degree of freedom. In a strictly government venture, you need a lot of approvals down the line and there are many steps to take. Well, it can still be done but for us, within nine months we have been able to fasttrack things that would have otherwise taken a long time if it was purely a government organization. That is why the PPP is really encouraging and I will encourage more hospitals to do this kind of arrangement, particularly if they have plans to do high surgeries and if they plan to raise huge capital plant in the country.
The drugs that kidney transplant patients use after transplant are expensive; they are in thousands of naira. And they need these drugs from the time of the transplant till about six months later. Literally they need drugs that will keep their kidneys from rejection and infection and when you try to calculate the amount of these drugs that they need for at least six months after the transplant, it runs into millions of naira, about N2.5million. Though there are places where they use cheaper drugs just to make it up for the patients, but here we use drugs that they will use in any international centre. It will be issues for us in terms of sustainability because people will always go for the cheap ones. We are hoping that the drugs can come down. If they are able to do the generic form, the price will come down but we are working with a number of companies to see if we can get generic drugs.
You said sometime ago that government should come in, in what area precisely are you suggesting?
Best way for me is if the government can subsidize dialysis because that is what will keep the patient alive. Once they subsidize that, more people can have proper dialysis; that way they will move straight to have their surgery, this is my concern. There are many ways to subsidize, government cannot do everything but even philanthrophists can also support; whatever you are giving, you know somebody is not using it to buy an expensive car and once you are transparent about it, am sure there are people that will come up to show support. But there are some people you cannot stop whether you say you have the best team of surgeons here, you can never stop them from travelling abroad.