THE Accident and Emergency ward of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, (UBTH) was filled with in-patients who had varying ailments and degrees of injuries. The contortion of their features helped to express pain which made them comrades fighting a battle for survival in the jungle of life. Some had their legs hanging mid-air covered in Plaster of Paris cast; others had intravenous drips fixed on their arms. Those with severe presentations had blood bags hanging over them. One had to weave a way round makeshift bed spaces on passage which created room for more patients, crowded by worried looking relations who periodically beckoned on the attention of nurses.
Pushing into a sparse office with three chairs for visitors to rest their weary legs as they make enquiries sat Dr. Eddy Ehikhamenor the chief executive officer of the Save Accident Victims Association of Nigeria (SAVAN). Speaking on the issue of accidents, he did not mince words in stating unequivocally that accidents were on the increase in Edo State. The rate of head and spinal cord injury was becoming alarming especially when placed with the cost implication which he stated was mind boggling.
Bringing out files to authenticate his claim he showed documented sworn agreements between drivers and their road crash victims detailing method of treatment and payment pattern for hospital bills. He is fast to state that this measure became necessary owing to the state of abandonment of crash victims in hospital wards. He states that based on personal evaluation eighty five percent of road accidents are caused by reckless driving or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This situation is further compounded especially by people who had the belief that accidents cannot happen to them. Some had the conviction that accidents were the result of satanic manipulation for which they are already saved due to their level of faith.
Based on his assessment he avows that the worst accident culprits are the Hiace buses owned by transport companies in Edo State which run intercity services followed by the commercial bike riders popularly called okada drivers since it is an all comers affair. This is not trivializing the incidence of trailer drivers crashing into people, maiming or killing them on the spot. Dr. Eddy paints a scenario of a Delta State University student and an unemployed engineer presently on hospital admission who’s quest of earning income as okada riders land them in the hospital ward as inmates of the emergency and accident ward, because of the lack of formal training at bike riding.
Drivers knocking down passengers while driving on the one lane drive or driving against traffic abound. Showing a picture of an unknown accident victim brought in by the man who hit him but who later died whose identity remains unknown, Dr. Eddy called on the government to establish a national data bank which must contain documented proper medical and dental records of all Nigerians which allowed hospitals to easily access such records for easy identification of accident victims. Such records should also document the DNA and all necessary information which should be encrypted to easily track and inform families of accident victims. Cases of brought in dead (BID) are on the increase he states.
He noted that the intensive care unit (ICU) of UBTH had bed occupancy of five to six patients only. This made others helpless. Issues got compounded when newer accident victims had a head or spinal cord injury. He stated that a CT scan alone cost fifty thousand naira, on an average an accident victim spent nothing less than one-hundred and twenty thousand naira in three days. In the eventuality of such dying there was no certainty of getting a space in the mortuary where families have to deposit fifteen thousand naira. Dying is more expensive than survival where people live with disability he stated. He wondered why people placed themselves in avoidable accident situations. He urged drivers to drive safe to remain alive. He mentioned a list of transport companies in Benin City whose drivers had garnered notoriety in driving rough leading to the death of their passengers yet their interest lies in spraying their buses and towing such out of accident sites to cover up crimes.
The variables regarding road accidents are alarming that’s why there is a need to have sister agencies work effectively on how accidents can be minimized instead of dishing out statistics which are not verifiable year on year. He opined that a tripod of incidents led to the spiral of road accidents—the vehicle, the agency that carried the individual, the individual himself and the environment in which the vehicle operates. But the guiltiest are the individuals. Social behavior abound he highlights where drivers sip alcohol at parties even when they are bound to drive.
Frowning at the rescue and prosecution process where drivers are released on bail while their victims languish in hospitals, he called for stricter measures. Cases of abandonment and minimized bed occupancy is on the increase he is fast to state, incoming patients have to wait for a long time in vehicles since there are no available bed spaces despite the expansion work carried out in the hospital.
Speaking more on this development he puts forward that many patients have been moved to the University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan, others to Lagos in order to save or resuscitate life due to overstretched facilities but the same problem stares them in the face even in such places where they have been referred for treatment. He harped on the fact that individual drivers and transport companies are getting away with the crime of manslaughter with impunity against the backdrop that many victims knocked down by trailers are abandoned at wards.
The lack of diligent prosecution of reckless drivers has led to the hospital coming up with its own policy whereby the assumed culprit is made to open the case note, run all the necessary laboratory, X-ray and other sundry tests of the victim, pick the required drugs from the pharmacy aside also paying the hospital bills till such a patient is certified fit. It is a deterrent measure. A baptism of fire makes such drivers to think twice and act more responsibly while driving Dr. Eddy avows.
As the CEO of SAVAN he is fast to say how he daily comes in contact with transport companies in Benin City which have a tendency of wanting to pay for the medical bills of their drivers yet fail in their civic or corporate social responsibility by abandoning their passengers to fate. This trend to a large extent he states with finality has been nipped by the hospital policy which makes transport companies responsible for the medical bills of passengers since all are victims in an accident. The impounding of such vehicles and enforcement of the law has helped in making such transport companies and drivers more responsive and accountable for their actions.
The driver and family of accident victims under supervision sign documented agreements on how such transport companies are going to foot medical bills. This is to fulfill the patients’ rights to advocacy. SAVAN working closely with the hospital management has been able to do this effectively. He cited the incidence of a Lebanese owned company operating on Sapele road axis of Benin City whose trailer driver veered off the road into a football pitch thereby crushing both legs of an eleven year old boy. Save for intervention put in place the company had wanted to dump the boy in the hospital even when they remotely knew the boy would never walk again. He called for government policy which validated the replication of this intervention in at least fifty percent of all hospitals in Nigeria which he postulated would lead to a drop in cases of road accidents.
Narrating the case of a serving police officer knocked down by a commercial bus driver known as tuke-tuke bus driver as he made his way home from work, he recalled that the officer in question whose right leg was broken asked the hospital to implement its policy to ensure there was a level of transparency. This is not to state that the pedestrian or accident victim are always right, Dr. Eddy avows as he succinctly put forward the case of a young man who had suicidal tendencies and actually drove to the road in the quest of being killed. Before a line of action is carried out there has to be verifiable claim to indict the alleged wrongdoer. Tests to measure blood alcohol or hard drugs are sometimes carried out to verify the claim of drunken driving or driving under influence of drugs.
Stating that the issue of road accidents is a public responsibility the CEO of SAVAN said it must never be left in the hands of only NGOs, government through sister security agencies alone. Public spirited individuals and companies should team up to ease the menace for accident is no respecter of persons. He touched on the spate of accidents happening in recent time for which the high and mighty and even serving governors have been victims.
Despite the seeming success of this hospital policy the doctor is fast to state that there is this Challenge in continuity as people for instance are not willing to work as volunteers for SAVAN. Young ones do not also want to put their life at risk in implementing hospital policy especially when there is a fear of threat to life. The Lack of policy formulation by government and follow up he opined was responsible for the increase in road accidents aside the lack of legislation and diligent prosecution. Looking at the activities of the Federal Road Safety Corps he hinted that there was a need for scientific validity which was not based on assumption in the body of evidence as drivers are mostly not screened to determine the level of alcohol in them in some accident cases. Asking a rhetorical question he asked “What is their benchmark for blood alcohol presentation?” He also wondered about the issue of impairment or skin impairment. He called on agencies to work this out.
Blood is vital in the fight to resuscitate life especially when such belong to the “O-negative” blood group. To this end he revealed that the National Blood bank at Abuja just made contact with him on how to finalize plans to establish a blood bank to cater for emergency patients.