National Hospital Abuja: Unrealised Expectations


From the outside, our National Hospital does look impressive. Lush green, well-manicured lawns, with sprinklers, clean surroundings, cleanish corridors, and a sprinkling of computers. I always thought that this would be an attractive place to work in Nigeria.

During a recent personal experience on the paediatric ward…visiting a friend whose 4-month old child was being treated, I stood on the sidelines and watched the slow paced, almost lackadaisical pace of work. My friend cursed at his wife for coming here rather than the private hospital they normally attend. To prepare the oral rehydration fluid for the child…we were sent to the mamimarket near the gate of the hospital to buy “Eva water”…I finally bulked and introduced myself to the colleague managing his child; he asked…”why I had kept quiet all this time?” Now things started to move…I was happy for my friend …and sad for my country.

The National Hospital was initially established by our “beloved” ex-president General Sani Abacha and his wife, Maryam as FEAP Hospital for Women and Children. Concerned that Arab Contractors, the original contractor might not be able finish the project as scheduled, Hajia Mariam Abacha promptly revoked the contract and gave it to Julius Berger. After the Obasanjo administration was sworn in, the hospital was renamed National Hospital. Since then the Presidency has been directly running through the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

This means that Federal Ministry of Health does not supervise Nigeria’s Apex Hospital. The Hospital is also NOT a University Teaching Hospital.

In 2003 The International Hospital Group was brought in from the UK to manage the hospital for 10 years. It has similar contracts with 25 countries around the world. It was sacked a year later for incompetence following a report that concluded that “The National Hospital was a bottomless pit, with little to show for it by way of palpable improvement in the quantum and quality of care“.

After the sacking of IHG, an Interim Board for the Hospital was appointed in April 2003 headed by a lawyer and his Special Assistant, Hon Musa Elayo to turn around the Hospital within three months. Obasanjo charged Elayo to

fix the hospital to a standard where I, the Vice President, the secretary to the Government of the Federation, the ministers and top government officials will receive treatment instead of going abroad.”

A new management was appointed led by the President Obasanjo’s personal physician Dr. Olusegun Ajuwon OON. He remains the medical director, read a recent interview…aptly titled “I Owe My Success to God”.

Where is the due process in all these. What type of recruiment process is it where Chief Executives and Board Chairman are appointed from among personal aides? Why is the management of the National Hospital so politicised? What has improved since IHG was sent packing?

And the saga continues…It was widely reported here and here in 2006 that the National Hospital had been listed for privatisation by the BPE, although it is not listed on their website.

There have been a few “good news” stories. The one in most newspapers at the moment is about our belowve ex-governor James Ibori charged by EFCC for fraudulently enriching himself with millions of dollars is ill, he was transported by helicopter from prison to our National Hospital…I wonder what how his co-inmates in the Kaduna prison felt.

The Punch writes that the National Hospital, Abuja on Thursday, said it had “produced” (sic) six test tube babies in 2007 through its newly consolidated In Vitro Fertilisation Centre.

Intel is also publicising a telemedicine project that utilizes two-way video conferencing which allows the doctor examining the patient in a hospital in Bida to share data with doctors located at the National Hospital. Intel is also providing training to medical staff, technicians, registered nurses, and IT.

Several people have complained about the failure of the National Hospital in Abuja to meet their aspirations as here and here and here. Allegations of fraud in the hospital management have also been reported.

Nigerians would really like to know why is there no single world-class tertiary hospital in the entire country to negate the continued need to fly patients to South Africa, India or the United Kingdom? What exactly is the role of the National Hospital in Abuja? Why is it not meeting its objectives? Why is it necessary for a sitting vice president and a leading aspirant in presidential elections to be flown abroad for a knee strain and to treat “catarrh“? So much so that when the ex President went for a routine check-up at the hospital, it made the news. What needs to be done with the National Hospital in Abuja to make it meet these challenges? Is it the absence of learning incentives through the lack of a comprehensive postgraduate training scheme for doctors in training? Is it the absence of a financial incentive due to the lack of specific health outcome targets tied to the huge financial resources being invested?

If our most pre-eminent have no confidence in our premier health care facility, what can the ordinary Nigerian expect? Nigerians deserve a genuine centre of excellence. Our politicians should prioritise this, if not for the sake of the ordinary man but
out of self-interest – it could save their lifes!

Many will argue that this is not a priority but the creation of such a centre will raise standards in the provision of health services and therefore boost the general quality of services. In addition it can act as a magnet to draw highly qualified Nigerians from all over the globe as well as provide education and training to healthcare professionals within the country.

The good thing is that Nigerians are not waiting…new initaitives to build a centre of excellence by private individuals are being announced every day…such as The American Nigerian Institutes of Health

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

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