Throughout the year, the University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan is beehive of activities as patients and their relatives throng the various wards and clinics in Nigeria’s premier teaching hospital situated in the heart of the city.
But for more than one month since members of the Joint Health Staff Union (JOHESU) embarked on strike to press home their demands, the entropy level at UCH has significantly dropped and the best word to use in describing the expansive facility is a ghost town.
When I visited the hospital few days ago, I entered through the accident and emergency section. On a good day you would see people everywhere. But when I visited, the place was empty – no one sat on the bench and only a group of women and an elderly man were at the section. Judging by the packer, brooms and their attires I concluded they were working for the private cleaning firm engaged by the hospital management.
From the emergency department I got to the main building – most of the offices were shut, none of the wards had patients and the busy corridors were largely empty. I saw a number of medical students so I decided to continue to explore other parts of the hospital.
The popular West West G was also empty; I saw the table on top of which patients receiving treatment at the psychiatry ward relaxed. It was dusty. When I also got to the Afe Babalola Nuclear Medicine Building, I saw some medical students outside the building. I looked closer and saw the building was locked even though it was around 2pm that I visited.
I also visited the branch of First Bank of Nigeria in the hospital. Normally, you would see lots of people at the ATM machines but on this particular day, I saw no one. Yet the machines were functioning. I became more curious so I entered the banking hall.
“Welcome to First Bank,” the security guy told me at the entrance. I murmured “Thank you” in return.
The hall was empty, the customer care section was scanty and it was evident that business activities in the bank were affected by the strike. I did some transactions and left for the last place – Diamond Restaurant which is among the 10 best bukas and restaurants in Ibadan. There weren’t as many people in the canteen as it would have been if the hospital had been fully operating.
While leaving, I looked at the parking lot of IDEA Konsults and saw very few cars – another unusual sight in the hospital.
As I made my way to the hospital’s main entrance, I pass through the College of Medicine building. At the intersection linking the medical library to the college auditorium, I saw a young girl with her sick mum. They had a clinic day but were not attended to by anybody since the hospital was on strike. The face of the young girl was filled with anger while her mum was livid with frustration at the Nigerian healthcare system that has become synonymous with incessant strikes often resulting in the death of helpless and poor patients that cannot access qualitative healthcare in the private sector.
At the time when meeting that was held by the various stakeholders that would play critical roles in ending the strike was ending in deadlock, forcing the health workers to continue their strike action, I saw members of a family crying at the back of a SUV car parked in front of the hospital’s radiotherapy department — the pink-painted building where cancer patients were being treated.
The daughter of the departed patient was hitting her head on the booth of the car while shouting “My mother cannot die like this”. Her brother attempted to console her but lost the battle to fight back his own tears. Everyone wept uncontrollably, just like in ghost town.