From ambulance service to ICU bed space, COVID-19 patients face mounting costs

From hospitalisation to securing bed spaces in Intensive Care Unit (ICU), to oxygen shortage and accessing ambulance services, Covid-19 patients in Nigeria face a landmine of costs amid a second wave of the pandemic.

Ambulance services cost has emerged as a critical cost component. BusinessDay’s quick check of the price range for ambulance services within the Lagos metropolis, the epicentre of the pandemic shows that it costs between N150, 000 to N200, 000 to convey a Covid-19 patient to the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH), Yaba. Some companies charge N50, 000 for each hour the ambulance is on standby waiting.

The high cost of accessing ambulance services has been attributed to a shortage of modern ambulances. A negative impact of this is that it increases the number of deaths because of slow access to healthcare due to delays.

“There are fewer bed spaces and there are casualties, the IDH has many patients to admit. So we have a long waiting time in the hospital,” an ambulance services company told BusinessDay.

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Chikwe Ihekweazu, director-general, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), recently said: “We have reached a critical level where our hospital capacity will no longer be able to cope with more serious Covid-19 cases and health workers will be forced to make tough decisions, we need to protect our more vulnerable citizens .”

Unfortunately, no insurance policy covers Covid-19 treatment notwithstanding what kind of insurance policy it is, or benefits accruing to the plan or how much of the deductible has already been paid down. Nigeria has a total of 103,999 recorded cases and 1,383 deaths.

Some private hospitals charge as much as N3.5 million to N8 million to admit and treat critical cases in Nigeria. This does not include high-end antibiotics and investigations, immunotherapy and treatment of comorbidities and complications.

A recent trend from social media alleged that Paelon Memorial Hospital, Lagos, demands a deposit of between N3.5 million to N8 million. This is the average cost for Covid-19 treatment. However, a patient that presents with some complications would pay additional N1.5 million for patients requiring ventilation.

BusinessDay contacted Paelon Memorial Hospital, Lagos on the social media allegation, but a staff who identified herself as Sarah said she cannot comment on that.

The cost for hospitalisation used here is for an average of 10-14 days stay and does not apply to a shorter stay, the cost of investigations and medications will differ according to need and frequency. Oxygen is a critical component required to assist Covid-19 patients to stay alive.

Oxygen costs about N125,000 a bottle. In critical situations, a Covid-19 patient may use up six cylinders per day.

“At IDH, 70 gas cylinders were used overnight and in the Coalition Against Covid-19 (CACOVID) ward most of the patients can hardly breathe in the room without oxygen,” Adedoja Salam-Adeniyi said in an exclusive interview with TVC Continental on how Covid-19 patients are battling with the second wave of the deadly virus at the IDH, Yaba.

Globally, there is an oxygen supply chain crisis. The demand for oxygen outweighs supply. Meanwhile, it is estimated that on an average, Covid-19 patient uses 15 litres per minute, three times a non-Covid-19 patient’s five litres per minute.

While most people infected with Covid-19 will not need to be hospitalised and can recover at home, according to the World Health Organisation, those who do need to go to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) expect large bills, regardless of what insurance they have.

In a country where about 80 percent of its population live on less than $1 a day, and a minimum wage of N30, 000, it means the cost of treating a Covid-19 patient is way out of the reach of common Nigerians.

Experts say Nigeria’s health authorities are yet to publish an official Covid-19 cost estimate per person. They have suggested that government has to look into the cost of treatment and come to an agreement with private hospitals and medical practitioners on how much it will pay to treat severely ill Covid-19 patients if public hospitals run out of space.

“Nigeria has crossed the 100,000 marks in terms of Covid-19 infection rate making us the second most infected country in Africa. National coordinator, Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, Sanni Aliyu said “we are under testing, that is an underestimate, even though we think that we had about 100,000 cases, we know this is far, far more than that, for every one positive we get we are missing between seven to 10 cases.

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