The Hidden Cost of Healthcare in Rural Nigeria

In many rural communities in Nigeria, accessing healthcare services is a luxury most cannot afford. This often leads to dire consequences, as people end up paying an exorbitant price—sometimes with their lives—for the lack of proper medical care.

The journey often begins with self-diagnosis, influenced by superstitions and hearsay from religious places, leading to the use of local herbs. The next step is usually self-treatment, not in hospitals but at local chemists, where unqualified individuals prescribe medications. These makeshift authorities further exacerbate the problem, deepening the crisis caused by the absence of pharmacies or hospitals in these areas.

Medication misuse has become alarmingly common. Many people are prescribed antibiotics, pain relievers, and Flagyl for nearly all their ailments. When it’s not these drugs, it’s the misuse of medicinal leaves. While it’s essential to acknowledge the cultural beliefs in “powers that be,” it’s equally erroneous to attribute every health issue to black magic or to believe that a single leaf can cure all problems.

I recall a project beneficiary telling me about a recurring boil on her breast, which she believed was caused by “ata”—a supernatural curse. Despite the persistent boil, she refused to visit a medical facility due to this belief. Another case involved a colleague who experienced severe dizziness, fainting, and difficulty breathing. She thought it was a spiritual problem until we took her to the hospital, where it was discovered she was dehydrated and malnourished, with abnormal blood pressure requiring medical attention.

These are daily realities in these communities. As a result, it’s easy to sell various medications and health ideologies to them, many of which come with a steep life cost. One particularly troubling experience involved a young marketer selling a small massaging machine, claiming it could solve almost all health problems by “releasing clogged blood.” Despite the interest from local women, the marketer could not explain how the machine worked, merely repeating what he had been told by the company.

These scenarios highlight the desperate need for proper healthcare systems and facilities in rural areas. I call on the government, health-focused NGOs, individuals with expertise in traditional and Ayurvedic medicines, pharmaceutical companies, and health volunteers to take action. By providing the right knowledge and services, we can reduce the high cost of healthcare in these communities and help people take better care of themselves.

Written by Tony Joy
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