MEDICAL MALPRACTICE: A Silent Contributor To High Mortality Rates in Many African Societies.

Policy adoption and reforms in any society or nation is driven by public attention focused on a Public problem or issue. Sometimes the problem may not be easily identifiable but where there are statistics available, a problem can be easily identified. Nations or corporations with a culture of constant research and development, with statistics made available are always steps ahead in the quest for development.

Medical malpractice is the negligent act or omission by a medical professional that results in either personal injury (minor to permanent invalidity), or death of a patient. It is not limited to medical doctors but also applies to nurses, dentists, osteopaths, healthcare facilities and healthcare services such as nursing homes. Medical malpractice plays a significant role in the high mortality rates on the African continent but is usually overlooked and misses the spotlight since no statistics are taken down and there is a lack of expertise in the investigation and determination of the cause of death.

Leading causes for medical malpractice range from the failure by the state or healthcare facility to set certain standards that must be met by professionals, or when professional’s actions (including ethics) do not meet accepted standards of practice; to poorly trained medical professionals and lack of infrastructure. Sometimes, especially in the case of Cameroon, medical malpractice goes as far as the insatiable quest for money and lack of conscience.

Having worked in several organs in the healthcare industry including the National Ambulance service (SAMU) in Cameroon, it is very regular and almost already accepted as a norm to have a patient denied healthcare and even first aid by a healthcare facility if he lacks an insurance policy or enough cash at the moment he is brought to the facility. Sometimes having a policy but not carrying an insurance card does not guarantee access to healthcare. Patients die in hallways or at healthcare facility entrances because they are refused medical care.

It has been well established and a constant practice that many doctors in surgical specialties create reasons for surgery, convincing the patient where there is no indication. Everyone knows that surgery is among the highest grossing procedures in medical practice.

 

Medical malpractice comes in many different forms and quite unfortunately, those doctors we may look up to, to set standards and policies that will redress the situation and restore the dignity the profession deserves are usually themselves implicated in the mess. Who then do we turn to? This leaves the country in a state of chaos and until now, people have only God to rely on.

A recent situation pushed me to write on this topic as a major Public Health Problem which has to be looked into:

A lady, pregnant with twins is at term and the doctor determines that a caesarian section is needed. During the procedure the large intestine is perforated and in the absence of someone with surgical competence in that area, she develops peritonitis and dies within two days that followed. Despite the error stemming from the healthcare facility, they still table a bill short of $8000 (in Cameroon) and sternly insist it be paid with immediate effect.

There are many more stories that no one really talks about or are never taken into consideration when tabling statistics on mortality rates and their various reasons. The situation alarming and a review into the matter by competent authorities in the society is mandatory. This will not only protect patients but healthcare workers themselves. Many have paid for such errors with their own lives taken away by family members of the deceased.

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