Prof. Sylvanus Okogbenin, Chief Medical Director (CMD), Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital (ISTH), says the hospital offered free Lassa fever treatment to poor families as part of their “call to duty”.
Okogbenin, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Irrua, Edo, that the free treatment of patients was made possible with the support of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Federal Ministry of Health.
He explained that Ribavrin, the major drug used in the treatment of Lassa fever patients was usually supplied to them by the NCDC free of charge.
According to the CMD, the hospital has no option than to administer free treatment on those who cannot afford to pay for it having got the drugs free.
“We are happy to do the work we are doing and we enjoy the support we get to discharge our duty.
“Most of the people that come here ill may be very poor and when NCDC gives us Ribavrin and other items at no cost, we also give it back to the patients at no cost.
“Otherwise, Ribavrin is very expensive and if we are going to give a patient the cost for 10 days, ordinarily it will cost over N400,000, but it’s given to us free and we give to the patients free.
“We have a new technology for Lassa fever test which cost about N250,000 just to see whether a suspect is positive or negative, but when we get supplies from NCDC and Federal Ministry of Health, we are also able to do the test free of charge,” Okogbenin said.
The CMD also said that the hospital had never and would not think of making profits with Lassa fever outbreak considering the danger it posed to the nation.
Okogbenin noted that Lassa pack sold for N19,500 were sometimes given out free to those who cannot afford them just to ensure that they did not go back to their communities with the disease.
“There are other things we may charge, for instance, when you come into the Lassa fever ward, you need to get a Lassa pack.
“Lassa pack consists of a number of gloves you will need, the infusions, syringes, among others; they cost about N19,500, but rightly some patients can’t even pay that amount.
“Some may not even be able to pay for their daily meals. Bed space is N1,000 a day and I think that is not much for an isolation ward,” he told NAN.
“Ordinarily, an isolation ward will not cost a patient less than N40,000 a day but we put it at N1,000 to help patients, and because of how highly subsidised we get supplies from NCDC.
“When you go to the Lassa fever ward, 50 per cent of them cannot pay but we still treat them and those who can pay their N1,000 a day bed space will pay and those who cannot pay are still treated.
“We cannot send patients home because they don’t have money. If we do so, we will be endangering the lives of other people, so we treat them free of charge.”
Also, Dr Patrick Okundia, Medical Director, Stella Obasanjo Hospital Benin, also commended NCDC for giving support to the Edo State Department of Disease Control.
Okundia said the support ensured that their staff were trained in the handling of emergencies that demanded urgent deployment.
He said: “We have our trained staff ready for any emergency and that is why an isolation centre was created in this hospital to decongest ISTH.
“We have all it takes to handle disease outbreaks, but we cannot stop asking for more to meet up with global best practices.”