INVESTIGATION: Inadequate Incubators, Travails Of Parents Of Premature Infants In Lagos


Eight years after marriage, Mrs. Patricia Olubade was unable to get pregnant. In the ninth year, 2016, fortune smiled on her, as she got pregnant. She and her husband, Olusola, made elaborate preparations as they awaited the birth of the baby. The expectant mother, the husband told Newsbreak, had registered for ante-natal care at Ifako-Ijaiye General Hospital in Lagos. But one day in seventh month of the pregnancy, he said, his wife started complaining of severe pains, prompting him to take her to a nearby private hospital. Patricia went into labour and was delivered of a baby boy at about 8pm on that day. Because the delivery was pre-term (popularly referred to as premature), the baby did not have enough body fat to hold the body temperature and therefore, needed to be placed in an incubator to keep him warm.

But the private hospital had no incubator, a development that would lead immense panic and tragically, eventual death of the baby. According to Olubode, the doctor at the private hospital referred the baby to Ifako-Ijaiye General Hospital, where the wife was already an ante-natal patient. However, he claimed that the baby was rejected on the excuse he was not born at the hospital. All attempts to make the hospital staff see how desperate the situation was, he added, persuade them fell on deaf ears.

The hospital staff eventually referred the baby to the Ikeja General Hospital, where the story was not any different. He was forced to take the wife and baby in search of an incubator at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) in Idi-Araba, where they arrived at about 10.30pm.

The story still did not change. LUTH staff suggested that they go to the General Hospital in Surulere, where they were told that there was no doctor on the duty to attend to them and no incubator, too.

 “They asked us to go to a general hospital in Surulere. We got there in the early hours of the following day. There was no doctor on ground and the nurse we met said they do not have incubator to save the baby. She told us to go to Mercy Children Hospital on Lagos Island,” he said.

Olubode heeded the advice, arriving Mercy Children Hospital at about 2:30am, only to be told that all the incubators were occupied. Their luck was slightly better, as the hospital staff offered them a bed space where the child could get some warmth. The child, at that point, he said, required some injections, which were not available at the hospital.

“They did not have injections and what it takes to stabilize the baby. We had to look for where to buy injections to keep the baby alive. At that stage, I resigned to fate. Twenty-four hours later, the child gave up. Up till now, my wife has not been able to conceive again,” a distraught Olubade told Newsbreak.

The experience of Mrs. Margaret Samuel, an Ikorodu-based staff of a microfinance bank, was not dissimilar. In 2018, she lost her pre-term son after trying to conceive for four years after marriage. She told Newsbreak that she was delivered of baby boy at Holyfill Hospital, a private facility in the in the Agric area of Ikorodu. After delivery, she was referred to the Ikorodu General Hospital, where she was told that all the incubators were occupied.

“I was with my husband and my in-law, who works at the General hospital. So, she called someone at the hospital because she was not on duty that day. The person told her that they had referred people to other places because there was no vacant incubator.

“The person advised her that we should go to Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) in Ikeja. My baby weighed 1.5 kilogrammes at birth,” she narrated.

They considered the distance between Ikorodu and Ikeja, the reason for which his in-law suggested that he should call the Medical Director of Bola Kumi Memorial Hospital, also in Agric, to ask if they had incubator space.

The call brought no joy, as the medical director was said to have replied that the hospital does not take babies that were not delivered there, as they do not know the history of either the baby or the mother and would not want to be blamed for any eventuality.

“My baby was already losing strength. So, we left for Ikeja and I was just praying and crying. When we got to LASUTH, they told us all the incubators had been occupied. It even took them a long time before they attended to us.

“They suggested that we should take the baby to Lagos Island Maternity, but we told them that the baby could give up on the way. That was even why they attended to us. The nurses offered to put two babies in one incubator, but we argued that one incubator is meant for one baby. They said they were only trying to help so we wouldn’t lose the baby. They took the baby from us and went into the ward. We waited in the reception area for about 45 minutes before one of the nurses came back to say that they could not find a vacant incubator and, most unfortunately, that the baby had died,” said Mrs. Samuel, who added that she has been unable to conceive since then.

“It’s been four months now and I’ve not been able to get pregnant. It is traumatic and it causes me a lot of pain each time I remember that I lost my baby because we couldn’t get an incubator to put him,” she said.

Newbreak investigations reveal that there is a shortage of incubators at many government hospitals in Lagos State. The General Hospital in Ikorodu, a town of over 500,000 residents according to the 2006 population census, has just functional incubators.

“This General Hospital is the only public hospital in Ikorodu. If you look at the population of women, then you don’t need to think about it that the number of incubators is inadequate. A lot of women go through stress and psychological issues, trying to make ends meet. These are some of the issues that could result in rising cases of pre-term delivery. The seven incubators are always occupied. As one baby is being removed, another one is waiting to take over. We refer patients to other hospitals, but when incubators are occupied, there is nothing you can do because what we have here can’t cater for eight premature babies,” a doctor at the hospital said.

At LASUTH, Newsbreak was told, there are 12 incubators in good working condition. A staff of the hospital, who pleaded anonymity, said the number is adequate, adding that the frequency of pre-term deliveries is low and that no fee is charged for the use of incubators.  Randle General Hospital (Maternal and Child Care), Surulere, is said to have 20 functional incubators.

Most of the incubators, according to an official of the hospital who did not want his name stated, can accommodate one baby at a time, adding that a good one would work well for between five and seven years. The use of the facility is also said to be free.

The General Hospital in Igando, located in Alimosho Local Government, with population of 1,319,571 (2006 census) has only eight functional incubators.

However, the service is not free. A member of staff of the hospital told Newsbreak that booked cases – women who registered for antenatal at the hospital – pay N20, 000 and an additional N10, 000 for phototherapy if the baby is jaundiced. She added that un-booked cases cost N30, 000 and an additional N10, 000 for phototherapy if necessary.

Speaking on the effects of the inadequacy of incubators in the state, Dr Akeem Ayankoso of Tolu Medical Centre in Apapa, said the paucity of personnel to operate incubators, rather than the scarcity of the facility is the bigger problem. He said it is important to have people with expertise Neo-natal Intensive Care to operate them.

Dr Seun Oyerinde, a private medical practitioner, spoke in similar vein. He explained that paediatricians, especially neonatologists (medical experts in caring for newborn infants especially ill or premature ones) as well as respiratory therapists, are not readily available.

He added that when incubators get faulty, it is difficult to get biomedical technologists that could repair them.

“Biomedical experts that can repair the machine are not up to 40 in the country. The babies don’t even have the basic environment which gives them a chance at survival,” he said.

Dr Olushina Onigbinde of Ropheka Hospital in Egbeda, said many private hospitals cannot afford incubators because they are expensive, a situation worsened by the exchange rate.

“Incubators are expensive, especially now that the value of our Naira to Dollar has dropped. Many hospitals can’t afford it.

 “When we were about starting up our hospital some 28 years ago, we brought in some incubators from Belgium. Even though they were second hand at that time, each was about N50, 000. So you can imagine how much it will be now,” he said. 


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