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Whistleblower hounded for exposing corruption in Federal Medical Centre Keffi

-millions diverted to private pockets, unqualified lab scientists employed in haematology unit

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Entrance to the Federal Medical Centre Keffi [Photo credit: Google]

A senior Medical Laboratory Scientist on grade level 10 at the Federal Medical Centre Keffi, Umeh Gabriel Uzoma, has known no peace for blowing the whistle on a cabal of corrupt officials who for years set up different conduits, funnelling government money into private accounts.

Since exposing what turned out to be serial corruption, life has become a living hell for the whistleblower whose salary payment was frozen pronto as he faces a technical dismissal.

Umeh has suffered multiple harassment and indignities to a point a female colleague once spat in disgust, asking him: “what are you still doing here?” That incident was succeeded by “violent assaults from my head of unit, Mrs. Afolake Bello, who held my phone and asked me to leave the laboratory.

Umeh’s actions as a whistleblower was inspired by a circular with Reference FMC/KF/ADM/538 from the office of the Medical Director to all HODs/Units. The circular, dated 23 January 2017 has the heading: ILLEGAL COLLECTION OF CASH FROM PATIENTS.

It reads: “Management has observed that some staff are in the habit of collecting cash illegally from patients for some services rendered. No staff should collect cash under any circumstances from patients but to direct such patients to pay at the bank.”

The circular goes on to say: “It is the responsibility of the Head of Department/Unit to ensure as a matter of duty that all services rendered are properly captured and payment made via the EMR platform. Any officer that violet this will be meted with proper sanctions. This should be considered as the last warning.”

The whistler exposed how cash was collected from patients and remitted to the HOD, Laboratory Services, Mr. Haruna Muhammad Aminat and Head of Unit Mrs. Afolake Bello Saidat including cash for cross matching of blood and from sales of pints of blood.

He also exposed how unqualified ‘cover-up’ staff were accommodated as part of the ring perpetrating illegal activities in the Laboratory Services Department of the hospital under Mrs. Afolake Bello Saidat, head of the Haematology unit and the HOD, Mr. Haruna Muhammad Aminat who the whistleblower alleged would bring into the laboratory, a personal genotype machine and conduct medical test to enrich his pocket.

According to Umeh, “My HOD Laboratory Services, Mr. Haruna Muhammad Aminat and Head of Unit Mrs. Afolake Bello Saidat asked us to be collecting money from patients and their relatives remitting it to our senior colleague by name Abdul Mohammed for hospital services rendered instead of patients or their relatives making payments at the cash point or bank, which I asked patients to pay and bring receipts of payments.”

Documents obtained by SATELLITE TIMES show how the directive from the Chief Medical Director was brazenly violated. Secret log-book leaked to SATELLITE TIMES detailed records of cash collected from patients. Most times patients were extorted as monies they were made to pay were above official charges.

Quacks employed in the Haematology Unit

The whistleblower revealed that some members of staff in the haematology unit are not qualified, adding that they were ostensibly smuggled into the hospital employ just to play the money game.

Documents revealed that they were not licensed by the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN). The implications of unlicensed practitioners made to work in one of the most sensitive units of the hospital where blood samples are analysed know no bound.

The Whistleblower described the unlicensed staff members as “cover-up staffs”. Though not qualified to work in the laboratory, they are “untouchable”.

SATELLITE TIMES obtained a letter dated 31st May 2017 from the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN) to the Keffi Chapter of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria. Some staff members working as Medical Laboratory Scientists at FMC Keffi were considered as “either not qualified or are yet to be registered with MLSCN” as their names were not found in the MLSCN data base.

The letter from MLSCN named Namo Allu Fidelis and Lekshak Grace Sunday, emphasising that “the underlisted names were not found in our database which suggests that they are either not qualified or are yet to be registered with MLSCN”. The letter was signed by G.A Aikpitanyi-Iduitua, Deputy Director, Practitioners’ Regulation and Discipline.

The MLSCN is the National Medical Laboratory Accreditation Agency, a federal statutory body established by Act 11, 2003 which is responsible for the registration and licensing of Medical Scientists in Nigeria.

After Umeh squealed on the corrupt officers, he was first deployed from the haematology unit to the histopathology unit where his services were not needed.

Even after he had vigorously argued that he studied haematology and clinical chemistry and that he lacked the requisite knowledge and skill set to work in the histopathology unit, he was given a deaf ear. Histopathology is the study of changes in tissue caused by disease. Haematology, on the other hand, is the branch of medicine concerned with the study of the cause, prognosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases related to blood. The whistleblower is a trained haematologist.

After the redeployment to the Histopathology Unit where he was forced to work as a quack, to which he refused, Gabriel Umeh’s salary was stopped November 2017. Upon enquiry, the accounts department informed him his name had been removed from the schedule of payment in the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS).

SATELLITE TIMES visited FMC Keffi seeking official response. The Chief Medical Director, Yahaya Baba Adamu, said he was only seven days on the job.

Chief Medical Director, Federal Medical Centre Keffi, Yahaya Baba Adamu [Photo credit: Mr Adamu’s Facebook page]

“I am actually in the process of taking over. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get this privilege information since I arrived here” the new Chief Medical Director said.

Yahaya described Satellite Times investigation as, “something quite commendable” adding it was “an eye opener” as it will help him to widen his searchlight. He pledged for time to look into the allegations and clean up the system. That was on 12 July 2018.

Two months later, in September, SATELLITE TIMES returned to the hospital but met with hostilities from the secretary to the Chief Medical Director. This reporter was however able to speak to some patients who pleading anonymity lamented countless cases of corruption they had experienced in the hands of hospital officials.

Located some 52 kilometres from Abuja, the hospital’s proximity to the neighboring states of Benue, Plateau, Kaduna, Kogi and Niger, contributes to the increase in the number of referral cases to the FMC Keffi.

Yet another attempt was made by this newspaper in November to get an official response, this time from the Public Relation Officer, Mr. Abdullahi Mohammed. Speaking over the phone, he promised to get back but never did.

A staff member of the hospital (name withheld) corroborated the whistleblower’s story, adding that among the senior officials who sat in a group with the new Chief Medical Director inside his office to welcome SATELLITE TIMES in July, were actually those mentioned in the petition written by the whistleblower.

“How can the same people be in the group investigating their own case,” she quipped.

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Wismanduk

I plead for anonymity too,im a staff of the hospital and I can assure you that what is happening at the Medical laboratory services department is only a tip of the iceberg of corruption that has eaten deep into the fibrics of the hospital.The corruption fueling corruption…You May need to dig further to get more facts.

Health

New fears over animal tuberculosis infection in Nigeria

– over 10% of cows and 43% of herds have tuberculosis

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Photo of an abattoir in Nigeria used to illustrate the story [Photo credit: Guardian NG]

Photos of uncooked meat, sold in some markets in Nigeria, capture a rising threat to public health coming from indiscriminate slaughter and consumption of animals infected with tuberculosis. The photos are emerging barely three years after a study by World Data Atlas showed that tuberculosis death rate of Nigeria had increased from 60 cases per 100,000 people in 2002 to 62 cases per 100,000 people in 2016, recording an annual death rate of 0.28 %. A similar study by researchers at the Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Ibadan, conducted between 2013 and 2015 revealed that in Nigeria, over 10 percent of cows and 43 percent of herds have tuberculosis.

TB infected meat

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), despite the significant progress made over the last decades, TB continues to be a top infectious killer disease worldwide, claiming over 4,500 lives a day. Nigeria is one of the countries on the list of 30 high burden TB, TB/HIV and MDR-TB countries as compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Nigeria emerged 7th amongst the high TB burden countries globally and 2nd in Africa. The problem of TB in Nigeria has been made worse by the issues of drug-resistant tuberculosis and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. With animal tuberculosis thrown into the mix, there can only be a rising index.

How TB is transmitted from animal to human

Ms Daphne Peter Habila, a Veterinary Doctor with Paws and Claws Consult, Abuja

Tuberculosis can be transmitted from animal to animal, animal to human and human to animal, according to Ms Daphne Peter Habila, a veterinary doctor with Paws and Claws Veterinary Consult in Abuja who spoke to SATELLITE TIMES.

“Animal tuberculosis is a disease caused by organisms belonging to the family Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex(MTC). It affects animals such as cattle, sheep, goat, dog, birds, horses and even wild animals such as buffalo, bison, elk, lions, etc. The disease is zoonotic – which means it can be transmitted from animals to humans, humans to animals, as well as between humans and between animals. Tuberculosis is a highly communicable disease and humans can become infected when they consume unpasteurized dairy products from infected animals, raw or undercooked infected meat, when there is a break in the skin and the organism finds its way into the body and through inhalation of the organism from an infected animal.”

Difference between human to human TB and animal to human TB

“The major difference between human to human and animal to human TB is the species of Mycobacterium organism involved and their routes of transmission. Tuberculosis is life-threatening but often not treated in animals. Although the primary organism responsible for human tuberculosis is Mycobacterium tuberculosis, humans can equally be infected with other species such as Mycobacterium bovis which causes bovine tuberculosis in cattle and is equally fatal in humans especially when an individual is immune-suppressed.”

Identifying TB infected meat

TB infected meat

“A TB infected organ can be identified by the appearance of whitish nodules on the surface (resembling small stones) which makes a gritty sound (like cutting through sand) when a knife is used to cut through the meat. Nigerians should be educated on the dangers of consuming TB infected products by knowing how to identify TB infected tissues using the characteristic nodules (as shown in the picture above).”

Intervention

 “Since animal tuberculosis is equally as fatal as human tuberculosis, intervention should be aimed at controlling and ultimately eradicating the diseases in both animal and human populations. In animals, the test and slaughter policy, that is meat inspection at abattoirs, should be strictly implemented; humans who are more at risk such as veterinarians, herders, butchers, should be periodically screened, tested, and positive persons treated. Very importantly, infants should be given the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine early in life. Also, there should be regular surveillance of both human and animal population alike. Workers at slaughterhouses should regularly be educated on the dangers of consuming and selling infected animal products.

And the government should consider paying compensation to those whose animals will be condemned as a result of TB infection, the same way compensations were paid to poultry farms affected by bird flu.”

Animal TB and HIV/AIDS interventions

Steve Aborisade [Photo credit: Mr Aborisade’s Facebook page]

According to the WHO, HIV-infected people are 30 times more likely to contract TB than those who have not acquired HIV. In trying to understand what happens when TB comes first before HIV, SATELLITE TIMES spoke to Steve Aborisade, the Advocacy and Marketing Manager at AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF).  Aborisade said that if TB comes first, it can impact on HIV in the sense that a high prevalence of TB can lead to more incidences of new HIV infection.

 “Any condition resulting in weakened immunity automatically makes HIV transmission highly probable. TB is, however, an opportunistic infection in people living with HIV, but they are prone to getting TB because of their low immunity. Getting TB in animals is not impossible but rare of the incidences we have. Naturally, millions of people have latent TB in them but not active TB, and it can be anybody since it is airborne. But it may become active once the immunity is weakened by malnutrition, alcoholism and other diseases.

“We have very effective treatment even though we are now faced with multi-drug resistance TB. I think the angle of TB from consumption of animals should be carefully handled, not to create unnecessary panic for a disease which little is known by majority of the people,” Aborisade cautioned.

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Health

Hunger, malnutrition threaten lives of IDPs in Benue

– Report by Jireh Doo Foundation reveals 88,667 children at risk

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Photo of a malnourished child at an IDP camp in Benue [Photo Credit: Jireh Doo Foundation]

Conditions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) worsen in Benue State. Hunger, acute malnutrition, and sickness are among the most challenging plights faced by IDPs.

While 23,940 children are severely malnourished with possible risks of fatality, a total number of 88,667 are at risk, a recent report on the conditions of IDPs in the State has shown.

The report made available by Jireh Doo Foundation revealed 112,617 as the number of vulnerable children between ages 0-59 months displaced by farmer/herder clashes in the state.

There have been troubling incidences of child abuse

High number of sick persons and increase in mortality rate due to lack of medical care.

High number of sick persons and increase in mortality rate due to lack of medical care.

According to the report, IDP profiling in Makurdi, Guma, and Logo were conducted from April 4, 2018 to May 30, 2018, while Okpokwu, Agatu, Gwer West, and Kwande were profiled from September 19, 2018 to October 13, 2018.

The Local Government Areas (LGAs) covered during the survey include – Agatu, Makurdi, Guma, Logo, Gwer West,and Kwande. The survey which took statistics of households and household sizes, among other demographic considerations, also revealed the number of vulnerable pregnant women, nursing mothers, the aged, injured, and sick.

Photo of malnourished children at Benue IDP camp [Photo Credit: Jireh Doo Foundation]

Results of the survey was made a public document at an event held in Abuja Wednesday, (February 6) with development partners, the media and other stakeholders in attendance.

Fielding questions during the event, a representative of Benue State Emergency Agency (BSEMA), Shior Emmanuel said food meant for the IDPs is not in short supply but distribution is impeded by the National Emergency management Agency (NEMA).

Other crises faced by the 483,692 IDPs include, Gender Based Violence, lack of medical care, poor sanitation, increase in crime rate, trauma and mental breakdown, the report showed.

Most of the IDPs are dwelling in dirty and shabby environments.

Most IDPs are living without access to clean water as they depend on stream water and competition for resources is high.

The report by Jireh Doo Foundation aims to draw the attention of International Partners, the Federal Government, and local humanitarian organizations to respond and intervene in the current humanitarian crisis in the State.

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Nigeria ranks top in mortality rate attributed to air pollution

-air pollution accounts for about 65,000 deaths annually in Nigeria
-country consumes over 500 million kilograms of firewood daily

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The city of Port Harcourt in Nigeria affected by black soot
The city of Port Harcourt in Nigeria covered in thick soot [Photo credit: CNN]

Despite increased efforts to sensitise Nigerians on the importance of clean air and the attendant effects of air pollution, Nigeria still ranks top in mortality rate attributed to air pollution.

Air pollution is not peculiar problem to Nigerian as it is a global health challenge, killing about 6.5 million people worldwide.

According to data by healthdata.org, air pollution in Nigeria between 2015 and 2016 ranks number 4 among risk factors that drive the most deaths and disabilities combined.

Though efforts have been made by the government and international agencies to curb the effects of this environmental hazard, it still remains a major public health problem.

With a vast number of its population depending on coal and firewood, access to alternative sources of cleaner air remains a luxury, rather than a public good.

According to a study by The Lancet Respiratory Medicine in 2014, India and sub-Saharan Africa are most heavily affected by “Indoor air pollution deaths (per million people).”

The survey shows that Nigeria has 400-610 Indoor air pollution deaths per million populations.

Though efforts are being made worldwide to fight the duality of climate change and energy poverty especially in India and sub-Saharan Africa, an alarming number of 3.5 million and 4.3 million persons die each year to indoor air pollution, killing more people each year than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined, a report by VOX revealed.

Lung cancer and heart disease are the major health threats posed by the menace of indoor air pollution but it is not treated with the type of urgency and attention given to HIV/AIDs.

In 2017, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, represented by Senator Audu Ibrahim, said about 65,000 Nigerians die yearly to household pollution.

Bukola Saraki

The revelation was made known at the 2017 Nigeria Clean Cooking Forum which was organized in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Environment in Abuja.

According to Mr. Saraki, more than half of the deaths recorded yearly were children.

He remarked “Nigerians consume between 1.9kg to 4kg/day/capita of firewood depending on household size. When applied to the country’s population currently put at about 170 million people, the country consumes more than 500 million kilograms of firewood daily.”

In a report made available to SATELLITE TIMES, the Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) identified the challenges facing the environment as multifaceted including water pollution, indoor and outdoor air pollution, industrial pollution, biodiversity loss, erosion, coastal and marine erosion and land subsidence, land degradation, drought and desertification, among others.

“Out of all these myriads of environmental problems Nigeria is facing, air pollution is the most common and widespread,” the report cited.

While oxides of nitrogen (NOx), sulphur (SOx) and carbon monoxide (Co) remain the major pollutants affecting the environment, the report identified two (2) major sources of air pollution which are; man-made (burning of fossil fuels- natural gas, coal, burning of waste, bush burning, energy production, etc) and natural sources (forest fires, volcanic eruptions, wind erosion, pollen dispersal among others.)

 

Bush burning in Nigeria [Photo credit: Independent Newspapers Nigeria]

According to the report, air pollution has adverse effects on both the environment and on health. Smog, acid rain, greenhouse effects and global warming are some of the effects of air pollution on the environment.

On the other hand, the health challenges cannot be overlooked as indoor/household air pollution accounts for about 65,000 deaths annually in Nigeria. Top on the list of these challenges are – breathing problems, inflammation of the respiratory track causing coughing, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases, vector-borne diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, encephalitis, lyme disease, among others.

Government action to curb air pollution

When SATELLITE TIMES contacted NESREA on what measures it had put in place to curb the adverse effects of air pollution in Nigeria, the Director, Environmental Quality Control (EQC), Mr Simon B. Joshua said that Nigeria is signatory to and has ratified various international conventions, treaties and protocols.

The creation of NESREA as a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Environment (FME) in 2007 is part of governments move to pay attention to the environment as the agency is “charged with the responsibility of enforcing all environmental laws, guidelines, policies, standards and regulations in Nigeria. It also has the responsibility to enforce compliance with provisions of all international agreements, protocols, conventions and treaties on the environment to which Nigeria is a signatory,” the report made available to this paper read.

Though policies like the National Vehicular Emissions Control Programme (NVECP) and National Generator Emission Control Programme (NGECP) have been put in place, 60% of air pollution in Nigeria is attributed to emissions from transportation and generators.

Medical opinion on the implications of air pollution

SATELLITE TIME contacted a medical doctor, Terry Debo who gave his professional views on the factors that lead to air pollution, symptoms of diseases and the need for health education.

According to him, sources of air pollution (especially for indoor air pollution) vary but the most common in Nigeria are caused by cooking fuel or sources of energy for cooking like firewood, gas, charcoal and stoves that use kerosene, and bush burning.

A coal pot used to illustrate the story [Photo credit: Information Nigeria]

He said that these sources of energy or fuel release carbon monoxide that is harmful to the body.

Corroborating NESREA’s report, Debo said another major source of air pollution that affects people especially in urban areas in Nigeria are generators. He said that the substances that are emitted known as carcinogens are harmful to the body especially to the blood.

“Because carbon monoxide binds more with haemoglobin than oxygen when an individual is exposed to air pollution, oxygen cannot be transported easily this in turn begins to affect tissues in the blood. The body system begins to fail which can lead to brain death and actual death itself,” Debo said.

Symptoms of lung and heart diseases

According to Debo, the most obvious symptom is cough. If you have a cough that lasts more than three weeks, it is something that should give you a reason to go to the hospital. Chest pain is another symptom, he added.

When asked if the early signs are reversible, he said yes.

“For people who live around poorly ventilated environment, active smokers, or exposed to cooking fuel that emits toxic by- products, when they notice these early signs, they shouldn’t hesitate to see a doctor as early as possible.

“Investigations like chest X-rays would be carried out and if picked early, some of them can be abated with medications. Lifestyle changes also play a very crucial role in abating these diseases.

“Some people know the effects of these problems but they do not care. But with proper health education on these factors will help a lot because some people are outrightly ignorant. People need to know that they are affected directly or indirectly,” he concluded.

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