Just before President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act, 2017, in the last week of last year, an incident in Bayelsa State had further highlighted the need for the law.
It is worth recounting in detail the lamentable experience of a gunshot victim in the state on December 8, 2017. The gun attack raised the question: What is expected of a hospital in an emergency? When a situation poses an immediate threat to life, it certainly requires urgent intervention to prevent a worsening of the case. But this clear picture was not clear to a hospital in the state when it faced a life-threatening emergency case arising from a gun attack.
It was tragic enough that Africa Independent Television (AIT) reporter Miss Owe Patience was robbed and shot in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital. It was a greater tragedy that a hospital rejected her.
Here, the story as reported: “A Good Samaritan, who rushed her to the hospital, narrated how the journalist was shot. The source, who identified himself as Bokoru said: “Last night (Friday night) at about 10:40pm, I had an urgent call from James Baridi a few metres from my house. When I went it was the fresh scene of a rather violent robbery. A girl I would later identify as an AIT staffer was laying half-conscious in a pool of her blood. Witnesses said it was a lone gunman who had trailed her from Shiloh. Just in front of her house he showed her the gun, took her phone, jewellery and cash. But the animal didn’t end there. He took steps backwards and shot her at close range even as she gave him no problems.”
This is the point where the story gets unbelievable: “Her landlady, James and I rushed her to Tobis Hospital at Akenfa. To our surprise … They would not save her life except we provide a police report and a wholesome amount.” Who are those that rejected her? Does it mean they didn’t care whether she lived or died? The story continued: “We took her to another hospital at Igbogene, the people here were humans and they commenced treatment instantly including fresh pints of blood…Patience Owe will make it and we have God to thank.”
In this particular case, the victim was lucky. Sadly, it is on record that many lives have been lost because gunshot victims could not readily pay preliminary hospital charges or could not readily supply police clearance, or could not easily do both. This situation begged for a solution.
It is understandable that gunshot injuries might prompt suspicion, but hospitals need to provide treatment first because even a criminal has to be alive to face justice. It is noteworthy that the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, had emphasised what was expected of doctors in emergencies at an event in Abuja: ”Hospitals are sanctuary for the sick and injured… Doctors must show no restraint in treating emergencies, even with gunshot wounds you must treat them, thereafter raise questions. You must also treat emergencies before asking for money because life is more precious than money.”
The beauty of the new law is that it stipulates that a person with a gunshot wound shall be received for immediate and adequate treatment by any hospital in Nigeria with or without initial monetary deposit and shall not be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment or torture by any person or authority, including the police and other security agencies.
It is expected that the Act will be enforced to ensure that gunshot victims, regardless of the circumstances of the shooting, get prompt and proper medical treatment from hospitals without complicating preconditions. Also, hospitals are expected to bring cases of gunshot patients to the attention of the police. But the government has to find ways of taking care of the bills because the hospitals were not established for charity.
Hopefully, this law will work and resolve an important public health issue in the country.