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Before the advent of the European rule, Nigerians relied solely on indigenous medicine (read more about traditional Medicine here), which is peculiar to each culture, based on the illness or disease paramount to the culture. This is why traditional medicine in Nigeria is not uniform. Then, we had a well established medical system that uses the “Ifa” system to investigate the causes of illness and their solutions. This practice is pervasive and it influences all our activities. No wonder it is still in practice till date. The ancient medical system was limited, few for the people. Only the rich had access to it. It has limited power and influence in the society.
Modern scientific medicine was for the rich private homes where there are personal relationships between the patients and the caregivers. The patients are treated as a whole where the overall circumstances surrounding them are treated. The treatment is holistic, the surroundings, social circumstances, situations and environments are treated and not only the symptoms. Also, there were few effective drugs and the available ones were provided by the whites.
The enlightenment period that came with reasoning fought against religion and superstition. People believed they can develop new things which led to the development of science and technology. There was the emergence of bio-medicine. Medicine began to develop with development of science. Institutions and laboratories were built. There was also development in the formal training of doctors.
Modern Medicine dated back to about 500 years ago with the advent of Portuguese traders from the Southern part of Europe. Also, the Arabic medicine was introduced during this period through the contact with North Africa. The voyages of discovery by Prince Henry, who was a navigator, opened up the trade with the Portuguese. Pepper and slaves were the items for trade. Unfortunately, the malaria and Yellow fever outbreak brought hardship on the traders and slaves. To combat the epidemics, the Portuguese doctors were called upon to look after the traders and to confirm if the slaves were fit to travel across the Atlantic to Europe. Thus, the first doctors that came to Nigeria were these doctors who were meant to treat the traders and slaves in order to ensure no loss of profit. The slaves and the traders were not attended to because it was rare to see a doctor who could volunteer to treat them. This shows that social strata and inequality have always been in existence. By the year 1789, it became mandatory for all ships conveying slaves to have at least a physician to examine their physical and mental health.
Colonial masters and Missionaries brought Western Medicine into Nigeria( read about modern medicine and its advantages here) and has become the official medical system ever since. It came as an alternative medicine to indigenous system of health care. Among the Missionaries, the Catholic Church took the lead, followed by the Church Missionary Society (C. M. S). The missionaries forced 12 medically qualified doctors to West Africa of which 5 were sent to Nigeria. The first hospital in Nigeria is The Sacred Heart Hospital which was established by the Roman Catholic Mission in Abeokuta in the year 1800. This hospital was fully established years later and by 1886, the Catholic Nuns sent a crew of sisters as nurses and medical practitioners to the hospital.
Afterwards, the health care system began to gain grounds in other parts of Nigeria. In 1870, the colonial government established some hospitals in Lagos, Calabar, and other parts of the country. Between 1893 and 1914, medical stations have been established in the North and in places like Kano, Jos, Nguru, and Maiduguri. In 1928, hospitals spread to Eastern parts of Nigeria. The first Medical Training Institution was the Yaba Medical Training College in 1930, which came into operations ten years later. The institution was meant initially for the training of medical assistants. The Ministry of Health was established in 1946 to control health services in the country irrespective of the founders of health institutions.
The University of Ibadan which included Nigeria’s first full Faculty of Medicine was established in 1948. University College Hospital (U. C. H), Ibadan is an annex of the U. C. H, London. The adoption of the 1978 Alma- mater declaration of primary health care further increased the provision of health care facilities, and since then had expanded in Nigeria all through the 1980s and 1890s, but with problems. The Roman Catholic Church, who was the greatest body that brought modern medicine into Nigeria, also helped in training brilliant Nigerians. Scholars and brilliant students were sponsored by the Missionaries and sent out of the country to be trained in medical field and related fields (paramedics). They also provided elementary schools for basic education.
The World Recession also affected the health sector. Inflation in prices, devaluation of Naira led to the inability to purchase medical equipment. Government hospitals lost their standard of operations and people started looking for better health care system. Few hospitals were available with increasing sick population. Demand for health services was higher than the available hospitals. The available ones were over-crowded, even with poor medical facilities. The private owned hospitals saw this period as an opportunity to root their establishment. Medical personnel and paramedics (medical – related personnel), drugs, equipment were being diverted to the private hospitals.
During the period of Nigerians fight for independence, the colonial health care system was subjected to oppositions. They were regarded as the “Elitists”. The early hospitals were mainly for the Europeans and later extended to their employees and their family members. It took more time before it got extended to the general population. It was after independence that the health care system was free for government workers and their families, and was subsidized for the general population. As such, health care system was for the rich few people in the country and not for the poor. Equal distribution of health practices has been one problem of Nigeria health care system.
These health care services started from secondary health care and designed to cure illness. Primary health care and preventive systems were not first the aim of the health care centers. The establishment of the hospitals then was to the disadvantage of our immediate health care systems. Most rural areas were not provided with at least one doctor, a nurse and a public health officer. Nearly all major towns now have at least one general hospital sponsored by the State government. All universities towns now have teaching hospitals backed up by the Federal government; modern medicine is now almost all around us
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