" ITREALMS: Ekweremadus: Telemedicine, avoidable organ scam & medical tourism - ITREALMS

Saturday, April 01, 2023

Ekweremadus: Telemedicine, avoidable organ scam & medical tourism - ITREALMS

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Whilst decrying the Ekweremadus’ saga, ITREALMS’ REMMY NWEKE examines local options as the recent feat of the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Umuahia on its 11th successful kidney transplant comes to mind, moreso with growing technologies and broadband penetration in Nigeria.
11th kidney transplant @FMC Umuahia:
Barely five days after the former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, 60, his wife Beatrice, 56, and Dr Obinna Obeta, 50, were found guilty of organ trafficking in the United Kingdom (UK) and sent to prison, while awaiting sentence on May 5; a team of surgeons from the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Umuahia, have successfully completed its 11th kidney transplant in the south-eastern State of Abia in Nigeria, the God’s own state.
Dr Okwuonu, Prof. Onyebuchi of FMC Umuahia - Ekweremadus: Telemedicine, avoidable organ scam & medical tourism - ITREALMS
For the avoidance of doubt, the distance between Enugu, the capital of Enugu State, where the Ekweremadus hails from is about 102 kilometres (km), whereas the road distance is 123.8 km. Also, it would take some 2 hours’ 31 minutes only drive, which is about 144 (km) from Enugu to the FMC, Umuahia, along Aba Road. Whilst from Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of Nigeria to London in the United Kingdom is a full day journey and could take, at least, 6 hours’ 30 minutes for a non-stop flight using British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France among others. And connecting flights could take up to 8 hours 55 minutes. The gap between Nigeria and UK or any other parts of the world could be condensed with deployment of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) through what is known in health sector as telemedicine.

Organ harvesting in the UK, ITREALMS gathered, is a crime, particularly when the victim is not consented, either tricked, lured, and or forced.

Telemedicine: A bridge in health sector:

Telemedicine is widely defined as the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology and cannot elude Nigeria given the nation’s industry rating in ICT deployment globally. Telemedicine, also known as Telehealth, 
ITREALMS gathered, is the distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies, thereby allowing long-distance patient and clinician contact, care, advice, reminders, education, intervention, monitoring, and remote admissions, according to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

Looking at some five basic hardware requirements for telemedicine, namely needed to fulfill before the launch of telehealth coverage, comprising a secure internet connection, a video platform, proper tech support, video recording capabilities, and telehealth peripherals that will assist any individual or organisation in virtual patient visits. Nigeria telecom sector cannot be said to be lacking in the aforementioned.
Ekweremadus: Telemedicine, avoidable organ scam & medical tourism - ITREALMS
Today, Nigeria can boost of adequate ICTs for telemedicine and in extreme cases that FMC Umuahia, for instance, could not readily have the expertise of any complications, telemedicine could be redeployed, given the penetration rate of the telecommunications broadband deployment estimated to reach 50 per cent by end of 2023, with some active mobile via the Global System for Mobile (GSM) communications reaching 225,880,193 million subscribers as at January 2023. Although as of December 2022, Nigeria has teledensity of 116.60 per cent, while the Internet subscribers reportedly exceeded 154.8 million.

@FMC, we’re succeeding:
But revealing the medical feat, the Kidney Transplant Nephrologist at FMC Umuahia, Dr. Chimezie Okwuonu, said that this was achieved on Monday, March 27, 2023. Also in a viral photo-footnote on social media, Dr. Okwuonu said that his team of surgeons just left theatre, having concluded their 11th kidney transplant surgery right at FMC.

"We just finished having our 11th Kidney transplant surgery right at FMC Umuahia," he declared, stressing that they strive continually "to improve medical practice in our environment, promote excellence and reduce medical tourism, despite the challenges of brain drain, out-of-pocket payment and equipments. And we are succeeding."

Okwuonu expressed optimism on the possibilities abound, only if Nigerians believe in the system, work towards it and have a supportive hospital management and government. He highlighted the fact that their clinic days are “Tuesdays by 9am at the Nephrology Clinic, FMC Umuahia” even as he urged Nigerians to "Please let's share this information to save lives of those who doesn't have millions to travel to India for kidney transplant."
Ekweremadus: Telemedicine, avoidable organ scam & medical tourism - ITREALMS
The FMC Umuahia we know:
Established since November 1991, FMC Umuahia transformed from the queen Elizabeth Hospital as commissioned on March 24, 1956, by Sir Clement Pleas, representing Queen Elizabeth II of England to a joint mission hospital administered by the Methodist, Anglican and Presbyterian churches.

Prior to the facility being taken over by the Federal Government, FMC had first been taken over from the missions by the then Imo State Government under the then Military Governor – Navy Captain Godwin Ndubuisi Kanu [now a retired rear Admiral] and was renamed Ramat Specialist Hospital in honour of the late slain Head of State, General Murtala Ramat Mohammed.

But during the first republic under the first civilian administration of late Chief Sam Mbakwe as Governor of the old Imo state, FMC was reverted to its original name, Queen Elizabeth Hospital; thus, becoming the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Umuahia on its takeover in November 1991.

FMC Umuahia is located on 77 acres of land bounded on the south by the Nigerian prisons, Umuahia; east by Ndume Ibeku; North by Umuahia urban and west by Afara clan, with the mission to “provide specialized and comprehensive health care services to our clients, using modern equipment, training and research by highly skilled manpower, in a friendly environment” and motto to “serving beyond your expectation.”

Ekweremadus: Telemedicine, avoidable organ scam & medical tourism - ITREALMS
Ekweremadu: An organ harvesting scam victim?

The former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu had denied the charges before him over organ harvesting, insisting at the court, he was the victim of a scam as he was found guilty and sentence is being awaited by May 5. 

This is consequent upon their conviction for organ trafficking on Thursday, March 23, 2023, in the first verdict of its kind under the Modern Slavery Act. Ike, his wife Beatrice Nwanneka and Dr Obeta were found guilty after a six-week long trial at the Old Bailey for allegedly facilitating the travel of a young man to Britain with a view to exploiting him through 'kidney donation' to aid Ms Sonia Ekweremadu who is down with kidney disease.

The jury said Ekweremadu, his wife and their doctor criminally conspired to bring the 21-year-old Lagos Street trader, identified as David Nwamini Ukpo to London to exploit him for his kidney. The prosecutor Hugh Davies KC told the court the Ekweremadus and Obeta had treated the man and other potential donours as “disposable assets – spare parts for reward”. He said they entered an “emotionally cold commercial transaction” with the man.

Like Ekweremadu, Dr Obeta had denied the charge, and claimed the man was not offered a reward for his kidney and was acting altruistically. Beatrice equally denied any knowledge of the alleged conspiracy. The patient, Ms Sonia Ekweremadu, did not give evidence. While the judge, Mr Justice Jeremy Johnson, reserved passing any sentence until May 5, 2023.

Any help for Uchenna Odoh?
As the FMC Umuahia feat for the 11th time was making a rave on social media, a story erupted that Mr Uchenna Odoh, 28, recently had his kidney transplanted, and called for assistance as well as investigation into his state of health since then.

Odoh, who spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos on telephone, recently alleged he did a kidney transplant at the St. Nicholas Hospital, Onikan-Lagos, in 2018 and after the clinical procedure, he kept falling ill and was medically unstable, necessitating his visit to the facility and subsequent admission at the hospital monthly.

“In 2021, clinicians at St. Nicholas conducted a biopsy which involved a surgical procedure on my kidney to find out what was wrong. I had mild relief after the biopsy and treatment, but the runny stomach and pain persisted. In April 2022, the doctors advised me to start dialysis since I was still unwell despite treatment. I was told that the dialysis would be once a week. I refused because I wasn’t ready to go through the discomfort again, more so, I could urinate unaided. I was an undergraduate at Imo State University but stopped school due to sickness.

Despite millions spent @Lagos facility:
Regardless, Odoh said that his medical condition did not improve, hence, his sister advised him to do the dialysis, which has since gone to three times per week, yet he still felt unwell in spite of the dialysis. He also disclosed that they were four patients that had kidney transplant on the same day in 2018 at St Nicholas Hospital, and that the others felt unwell after the procedure and have since passed on.

His current concern was that he could not get details about his medical condition from the doctors, though he said that someone mentioned that he was being managed for kidney failure.

Although Odoh said his elder brother donated his kidney to him, and that his brother was still in good medical condition, but since he commenced the dialysis in 2022, his vision has become defective, "and I can barely see." 
ITREALMS gathered that Odoh was referred to an eye clinic in January/February 2023 for eyes examination. Of course, he went there and was told to conduct some tests. "But I am yet to conduct it.”

On average, he disclosed that they paid N10.5 million for the transplant; N500,000 for crossmatch checks in 2018. Whereas they paid between about N1.5 million as hospital bills whenever he was admitted at the hospital. Urging St Nicholas Hospital to share the state of his health with him for a better understanding of his condition.

I feel bad about Ekweremadu saga:
A few days to the 11th kidney feat at FMC Umuahia, the Consultant Physician/ Nephrologist, Dr Chimezie Godswill Okwuonu, who is responsible for pre-transplant evaluation of patients and donors and post-transplant care; penned a solemn piece on his Facebook page, entitled ‘ Let’s talk about the Sen. Ekweremadu saga’ where he proclaimed some procedures and disclosing that to get the current surgery possible, he had evaluated four (4) donors and disqualified three of them for various reasons. He took the qualified one and recommended to the team.

“I feel bad each time I read about the Ekweremadu's saga. This treatment was available behind his house, here in Umuahia, with 80% success rate as obtained outside here. Our programme is nationally and internationally recognized and certified and we have made and continue making effort at publicity,” he declared, insisting that FMC Umuahia does kidney transplant surgeries and he is one of the team leaders.

FMC Umuahia and kidney transplant services:
Dr. Okwuonu outlined some four verifiable facts about current FMC’s kind transplant services, saying that it commenced in December 2017 with surgeries performed in collaboration with University of Toledo Medical Centre Ohio USA. Initiated by the then Medical Director, Dr Chuku Abali.

He also said that 10 surgeries have been performed so far with 80 per cent success rate; Four of the patients live in Abia State, one in North, two in west and one in the west. Emphasising that the 11th transplant was carried out under the leadership of Prof Azubuike Onyebuchi, the current Medical Director. Whereas their clinic days remain “Every Tuesday by 9am at Kidney Clinic FMC Umuahia.”

Brief on Dr Chimezie Godswill Okwuonu:
An interesting part as gathered is that Dr Chimezie Godswill Okwuonu had his first degree in Nigeria from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Anambra State, before he got certified in kidney transplantation at the University of Toledo Medical Centre Ohio, United States of America (USA). He also got Masters in Organ Transplantation from the University of Liverpool in the UK, thus ‘PhD in Kidney Physiology.’

Worthy of note is that Dr. Okwuonu is the current 2nd Vice-President of Olokoro Community Development Union (OCDU) and he is the engine room of the Olokoro Apex Body, given his unrelenting efforts. Olokoro Clan is in Umuahia-South Local Government Area of Abia State.

Speaking on this development at FMC Umuahi, the secretary of Olokoro Uvuoma Economic Team, Mr. Mbadiwe Colonel, said that the Doctors are doing their best to be abreast with what's obtainable in medical practices across the world as well as other professionals in different fields.

“We ingeniously try to deliver services that are top notch, but Nigerians remain deterred by irresponsible leadership,” he said and decried the Ekweremadu saga, which showed that the only people who don't appreciate their individual efforts are the politicians who choose Nigerians remain under-developed while they use their amassed riches which is often the commonwealth to get better treatment in foreign lands.

“I sincerely feel pity for him and his family being that this was done to save a child but just as you want the best overseas, that's how they are also the best in their legal system. It excuses no one,” he said, but expressed optimism on Nigerian professionals, maintaining that “We are changing the system one step, one day at a time. We must get it right” Mbadiwe enthused.

Although medical tourism abroad is risky for patients in all ramifications due to unregulated procedures, equipment limitations, undertrained staff, and sanitation issues, some top 10 countries for Medical Tourism Industry index include Japan, Spain, UK, Dubai, Costa Rica, Israel, Abu Dhabi and India, which assumed the position of the major player in the Asian medical tourism industry, ranking first in the Medical Tourism Industry dimension globally. Nigeria on the hand, spends about N664bn yearly on medical tourism, according to the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN), as at January 2023.

Although some experts said that Nigeria loses over $2 billion annually to medical tourism, which is about ₦920,700,000,000.00 billion as at the time of filing this report, the outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari administration, allocated N9 billion to the health sector in 2022, and N17 trillion in 2023. This, industry observers said, may not be the problem but appropriate release of the budgeted funds and deployment for the right causes, like equipping the 22 FMCs nationwide with latest telemedicine tools.

As noted previously, the distance between Enugu, where the Ekweremadus hails from is about 2 hours, 31 minutes’ drive to FMC Umuahia, unlike a full-day trip to UK, whereas telecommunications tend to bridge any gap if explored appropriately.

Nevertheless, the FMC Umuahia has continued to record sustained success stories since December 2017 with kidney transplanting services. The onus is now on Nigeria's political elites and leaders especially the government to place a ban on medical tourism, mostly for themselves for treatments that are readily available in the country and live literally by example rather than their often-politicized words

After all, FMC Umuahia, may not be the only public and private health institution that may have achieved this feat, even though the cost differential may be something of great concern but not as worrisome as looking for dollars for medical tourism in India and UK or any other foreign countries of the world. And by the National Assembly placing a workable ban on it, will not only save this country the foreign exchange hitches, but will boost our health sector with adequate facilities to be like what attracts our political class supposedly abroad.

One hopes that the likes of Uchenna Odoh could get help at FMC Umuahia and save the undergraduate from his agony, while asking St. Nicholas Hospital to quickly share his medical records with him, which is his right to know. Equally, every effort needed to be extended to Ms. Sonia Ekweremadu for a second chance, which could assist her in recovery despite any anticipated sentencing of her parents, must not be deterred.

In the words of Dr. Okwuonu, this treatment is available in our backyard at Umuahia, Abia State, with 80 per cent success rate as obtained outside there and anywhere in the world. He equally reassured that the FMC programme is nationally and internationally recognized and certified because they have made and continued to make efforts at publicity.

"...Kindly be informed that FMC Umuahia does kidney transplant surgeries...." For those who have ears, and Igbo adage says, 'let them hear' after all not the size of the ear that makes it sound audible in the ear.

While we congratulate FMC team, it’s imperative to note about good news is that as good citizen, if you know something that is positive, encouraging, uplifting, desirable, or the likes of FMC feat on kidney transplant locally, the burden is on you, to pass it on. You could be saving a life after all, so what are you waiting for?

For any good cause worth doing is worth doing well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When faced with lengthy waiting periods in one's native country, considering the possibility of a kidney transplant overseas can be a decision that can save one's life. Patients' health and life depend on finding a transplant as soon as possible; increasing the search to include overseas hospitals increases the likelihood of this happening. It is important to consider the medical standards and reputation of the foreign hospital while making this selection. Successful transplants and improved quality of life for transplant recipients are possible outcomes of thorough due diligence.

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