THE plight of a 12-year-old boy, Adebola Akin-Bright, whose small intestine was reported to have gone missing following a corrective surgery, is heart-rending and draws attention to the rising phenomenon of medical negligence. Adebola’s intestine was discovered to have been removed in yet unclear circumstances after undergoing surgeries at a private hospital and the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital. Everything should be done to ensure that the boy survives.
As he has promised, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu should ensure a quick and thorough investigation to make certain that all the circumstances of the case are unravelled, and any persons or agency found to have been remiss or culpable should be subjected to the full punitive weight of the law.
For now, it is not yet clear if this was a case of professional medical negligence or as some have speculated, of illegal organ harvesting at one of the medical institutions where he had gone for treatment.
Earlier, Adebola’s mother, Deborah Abiodun, had revealed via a viral video that he began his medical treatment at a private hospital, in Ile-Epo, Alimoso Local Government Area of Lagos State, when complications arose from a surgery to address intestinal obstruction.
Deborah recounted the traumatic journey in the video, saying, “Sometime in March this year, my boy started vomiting and stooling, and the hospital we took him to suspected typhoid and he was treated. However, when his condition didn’t improve after about five days, we moved him to another hospital, Obitoks Medical Centre, where it was discovered that he had a ruptured appendix requiring surgery. After about two weeks in the hospital, he emerged looking healthy again and even resumed school, doing well.
“Tragically, in June, Adebola complained of stomach pains, leading us back to the hospital (Obitoks). It was then discovered that he had developed intestinal obstruction, necessitating another surgery.
“There appeared a complication as the boy was still draining bilious fluid more than seven days after the surgery. The CMD at Obitoks recommended another surgery and even secured the services of a professor from a teaching hospital.”
However, the family opted for LASUTH, believing they would receive more comprehensive care there.
After an initial course of conservative treatment and various medications, 25 days later, LASUTH doctors opted for another surgery. However, the consultant surgeon, who performed the surgery, thereafter informed Adebola’s mother that his small intestine was missing and that they could not guarantee his survival beyond five days.
At that stage, said Deborah, the boy could no longer absorb nutrients from food and might need to rely on intravenous feeding for the rest of his life.
She lamented, “I was dumbfounded; it was like my whole life was shattered because it was a story that could be told in Nollywood. Where could a small intestine have gone to?”
Deborah said she later contacted the surgeon at Obitoks Hospital, who had handled the previous surgery, who also expressed surprise that LASUTH claimed they could not locate the boy’s intestine.
Truly a horror tale! It could be another case of professional negligence. The allegation of illegal organ harvesting should also be investigated.
However, according to the United States National Institutes of Health, although small intestine transplant has been on the increase in recent years, “intestinal transplants remain the most challenging and least frequently performed vascularised intra-abdominal organ transplants.” Investigators should nevertheless pursue all leads.
More common in Nigeria and elsewhere however are cases of professional carelessness or negligence. Tagged medical error, medical negligence is defined as inappropriate conduct due to negligence, recklessness or malpractice that causes harm to the patient by medical personnel.
A study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health estimated that 43 million cases of medical negligence – ranging from minor to serious – occurred in medical facilities around the world each year. Another report by the World Health Organisation in 2019 said that unsafe health care resulted in the deaths of 2.6 million persons each year in low- and middle-income countries alone annually. Its director-general, Tedros Ghebreyesus, added that medication errors cost $42 billion yearly.
The Archives of Medicine and Health Sciences in a 2017 report found a worrying increase in medical errors/negligence in Nigeria. Its survey showed a prevalence of negligence of 42.8 per cent per 145 medical practitioners in the country.
Three errors – medication prescription, radio-laboratory investigation ordering, and physician diagnoses – were found to be most common in the order of 95.2 per cent, 83.9 per cent, and 69.4 per cent respectively.
Alarmingly, some experts estimate that up to 250,000 persons die each year in Nigeria because of medical errors.
It is a global problem. The WHO says one every 10 patients is harmed in health care. Furthermore, it says that “patient harm potentially reduces global economic growth by 0.7 per cent,” while the indirect cost amounts to trillions of dollars yearly.
In the US, it is a major concern and cause of litigation. A Johns Hopkins Medical School report revealed that over 250,000 persons die each year in the US from medical errors, a figure believed to be as high as 400,000 persons per year by sources quoted by CNBC.
Medical errors are also concerning to European Union member countries where research cited up to 18 per cent of patients or their family members reported experiencing a serious medical error, according to the EU Commission.
Weak health systems aggravate the probability of medical negligence in Africa said the WHO Regional Office for Africa.
Experts recommend stronger monitoring, training, and funding to reduce the incidence of negligence in Nigeria’s health institutions, public and private, where cases of negligence have been reported over the years.
The LASG should deploy all necessary resources to save Adebola’s life. The separate probes by the Lagos State House of Assembly and the state government should be very thorough. There should be no cover-up and no sacred cows.
Upgrading and radically improving the availability and quality of healthcare delivery in the state should be a priority.