After taking a break to undergo medical treatment, Fortune’s longest
contributing columnist returns from Belgium, convinced that the services
provided by healthcare institutions in Addis Abeba leave much to be desired.
Following a long interval of not less than four months, the subject on
what to write called for some contemplation. It was difficult to bring pieces
together and come back on track. After much contemplation, personal experience
pointed in the direction of the trials suffered by a sick man in Addis Abeba.
May God for bid for anyone to get sick in this country, said an old
woman in the dark clothes of mourning with a broken voice. She was one of the
many to visit the hospitalised writer. It was unclear whether these words were
intended as a blessing or curse. However, the truth of the message was to be
conveyed in due course.
A patient is required to tolerate the humble and innocent remarks in
the form of queries and uncalled-for advice from friends and relatives. Some ask
the starting date and time of the ailment. Others limit their interrogations to
the routines to be performed by way of their own past experiences. Others,
lacking their own story, affirm the lamentations of others.
So poor might the nation be that a patient does not know where to go if
his bowels are emptied by diarrhoea, leaving her dehydrated. No doctor or
healthcare institution may be known for dealing with ailments in this field.
Should it be accompanied by vomiting, people tend to assume it to be viral,
caused by poisoned food.
The patient may find himself subjected to a series of anecdotal advice
of some sort. These range from consolation therapy to ways of escaping the
torment caused by the ailment. Some people are generous in their consultations.
One woman recommended a seven-day bath in holy water. Her contentions were based
on her belief that clinics are nothing but business quarter thriving at the
expense of patients.
Given the amounts of money some private clinics charge for the likes of
stool tests, a patient may be forced to agree with her.
Surprisingly, some doctors can be seen shuttling about while their
patients suffer the maxim of pain in their beds. It was only upon witnessing
their disadvantageous state, in terms of facilities and equipment, as compared
to that of their colleagues abroad that these criticisms subsided.
However, their scarcity in numbers and ill-equipped clinics cannot
absolve them from blame.
Amazingly, one is charged 100 Br for an A4 size patient card on which a
nurse writes one’s name, age, and address before a doctor scribbles his
diagnostic notes on it. Such a simple card cannot cost that much by any stretch
of the principles of arithmetic.
The process does not stop there, as the same patient must pay at least
20pc for reissuance of the same card if she must revisit the doctor a week
later. The daily charges of clinics also vary, with the average ranging from 250
Br to 350 Br per day, excluding medical services.
The services of healthcare institutions in Addis Abeba leave much to be
desired. Personal experience has revealed too much in this area to be
sufficiently dealt with here.
Admittance to three separate clinics all proved to no avail of finding
a cure. Aside from a preoccupation with determining which doctor was more
qualified, the patient’s family also debated whether or not an urgent trip
abroad for medical attention would save his life. Some family members wondered
if a seven-hour flight was possible for the patient. Time was running out fast
and, at last, it was decided in favour of the trip.
The next problem was obtaining two air tickets, one for the patient and
the other for his wife. The soonest available flight was only in one week’s
time. However, three passengers had just cancelled their flights to make travel
possible on the following day.
After a thorough examination by a doctor at Ethiopian Airlines, he
half-heartedly signed the papers. Upon leaving, the whole neighbourhood came out
to the street to gloomily behold those leaving. Despite these opinions, merely
eating the snack on board the Ethiopian flight rooted a certainty that recovery
Arrival in Brussels, the capital of Belgium, saw the patient
immediately admitted to a hospital. The treatment at St Lukas Hospital, one of
the best in Brussels if not in Europe, made one feel human for the first time
since becoming sick and there are no words to express the deepest appreciation
Unlike their Ethiopian counterparts, Belgian doctors wait for their
patients in corridors. Had it not been for the intravenous rehydration
treatment, following a thorough medical evaluation, death from dehydration would
have been on the cards.
The doctors and nurses were available for the patient around the clock.
Their effort came to fruition, enabling the patient to eat solid food the next
day. In two days’ time, the diarrhoea and vomiting were under control. After a
few more days, discharge from the hospital was possible.
Drawing comparisons between Belgium and Ethiopia is not fair, but,
there are many things that should be improved. Foremost, laboratory equipment
and trained personnel should be in place to identify causes of ailments before
they are treated.
Based on the experience of the past few months, advice for Ethiopian
doctors is to take care before prescribing drugs, lest someone die from it.