The picture of a nurse working in a dark room with a flashlight strapped to her head is currently trending on the social media. She stands by a medical trolley with another rechargeable lamp lying on it. She is gloved and seems to be going on her medication round but the beds around her are empty. The picture is purported to have been taken on one of the wards in LUTH and is captioned: “Where is the Health Minister?” It portrays a gloomy image of a person trying to perform hospital duties in darkness. But the saddest part of the picture is its falsity: it was not taken on any ward of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital Idi-Araba! Proof? Download the picture and brighten the deliberately darkened exposure by 10-15% and you can see the ward layout, scalloped ceiling and ceiling light fittings, none of which is used on any LUTH ward. I know this because three senior persons also went round all our wards and confirmed the picture was not taken in LUTH. One wonders therefore what was the motive behind such a puerile mischief. Was this to elaborate charade simply to disparage a national institution where many toil daily to give succor to the helpless? Or to embarrass some specific personalities? Whatever the motive, the widely circulated picture is another reminder of the need to take with a pinch of salt many items bandied around on our social media as lots of Nigerians who have learnt to use these apps are yet to learn of the downsides.
It is also a commentary on the present parlous state of electricity supply in Nigeria. As we daily witness spates of oil and gas pipeline destructions in the restive Niger Delta, the total power generation has plummeted to an all-time low and the national grid reportedly collapsed eight times in the last month. This development has greatly impacted service delivery in all sectors of the economy. Everywhere and in every home, stand-by generators have been on full-time duties for those who can still afford the skyrocketing cost of diesel and petrol. Public hospitals are especially hardest hit because they run 24/7/365 while they provide subsidized services with only a few markups in cost.
At the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, we have had to rely on a set of over 20 diesel generators supplying electricity to all critical areas to keep services running. It costs over one million Naira to fuel and run our generators for a day, and that is without the cost of maintenance. That also ignores replacement cost of any of these equipment that were never designed to run without cease. There are many inverters procured to supplement critically sensitive areas.
LUTH Independent Power Project (IPP)
To solve these problems, LUTH therefore embarked on the construction of a 3.48 megawatts gas-fired power generation plant under a Public Private Partnership arrangement with Messrs CET Power last year and all installations of the plant were completed by August 2015. Laying the 1 km gas pipeline from Ojuelegba to LUTH has however has not taken off because of challenges we have encountered in obtaining a bank guarantee from commercial banks for this laudable project in this TSA era since we no longer keep accounts with such banks. We have been working closely with officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation to overcome this problem so our gas powered generating plant can come on stream.
Nigeria presently generates less than 2% of the 140,000 megawatts of electricity required to make us self sufficient in electricity. In the month of April 2016, LUTH received a total power supply of 11.2 days, representing 36.6% of our monthly requirement. In May, we got only 6 days of electricity from the national grid, representing 20% of our monthly round-the-clock need for our priority status. Most of this paltry supply come at odd hours that challenge any meaningful planning of scheduled procedures and manpower deployment, making us rely unduly on over-flogged, aged generators. Diesel suppliers would rather sell on a cash-and-carry basis because it is a sellers’ market. All these therefore have compelled LUTH (and most public hospitals) to restrict uninterrupted power supply to only critical areas such as Operation Suites, the Intensive Care Units, Labour Wards, Neonatal Units, the Mortuary, Blood Bank, the IVF Centre, the Private Wings, water supply and some critical laboratories. Other less critical areas have had to bear with the reality of load shedding ad intermittent power rationing to prevent overused generators form packing up altogether, especially in the face of depleted internally generated revenues.
In spite of the difficulties we face, LUTH saves over 120 unbooked pregnant women with difficult labour from dying every month. Many of them cannot pay and sometimes we have to waive their expensive cost of care. Our surgeons perform more than 650 life-saving procedures monthly and our average bed occupancy rate is over 75% in this 700 bed hospital. We still routine perform laparoscopic and endoscopic services. Our IVF Centre is recording pregnancies and other services are running. Only last week, we performed the first ever Laser Surgery in Nigeria on a patient with varicose veins who went home the same day. We are determined to be the epicenter of training and service in Laser Surgery in West Africa.
Anyone who grew up in this country will know that Nigeria is not about to collapse. We are merely going through yet another one of those cyclic tough times. We should stay the course and only pray for both the rulers and followers to learn the inherent lessons of this lean season. Then we would not have suffered in vain. Ours is a land blessed with abundant resources: fertile plains, verdant woodlands, plush coastal lands and pristine beaches, abundant rainfall, year-round sunshine, rich mineral deposits, a population of over 150 million, educated workforce etc. We need no mirror to see how richly endowed we are. We should only believe in ourselves, roll up our sleeves and begin the necessary but arduous work of nation building instead of stealing from the future of our own grandchildren.
The truth therefore is that the Lagos University Teaching Hospital too experiences power outages. Everyone and every home in Nigeria does. However, this has not deterred us from performing our duties to the best of our abilities in these tough times. We are determined to do better as soon as our power plant is commissioned. We are confident that this rough phase wont last. If you happen to see that picture of a nurse with a touch-light strapped to her forehead purporting to work in LUTH, please delete it. The picture was taken elsewhere. Not in LUTH.
Completed Power Plant under a PPP arrangement with Messrs CET Power
An enhanced copy of the widely circulated fake picture