Re-Branded Quackery And Extra-Professional Infiltration In Nigeria’s Healthcare Practice (I)


One of the markers of underdevelopment is that while other nations are progressively raising the bar to epical level in advancement of man’s fortune, lowly-rated nations are trailing in the rear, struggling with obsolete ideas, feigning delusionally, to be champions in their own continental milieu. As news flashes around the globe disclose novel breakthroughs across diverse fields of human endeavour, some third world countries in their insolent and lethargic indolence, continue take solace in the loathsome quote that “in the land of the blind, an eyed-man is a king.” And so, Nigeria is the “Giant of Africa.”

That is why, the world is leaving us behind. While conversations in the 21st century have shifted from application of technologies in aiding man’s adaptability to nature, to manipulation of mother nature itself, to suite the numerous wants of man; Nigeria’s policymakers are backpedaling to resurrect antiquated narrative on open grazing routes and RUGA bill. Our Engineers supervise the erection of skyscrapers that would collapse before completion due to manifest negligence of quality assurance protocols and avaricious ‘cutting of corners.’ As stated in this space last week, when we discussed the multi-gradient factor that expressed itself in the Ikoyi Building collapse incident, the nation’s beggarly situation was a marker of integral institutional failures. These failures were entrenched by practitioners of various professions who were meant to prevent them.

Ikoyi may have exposed the flaws in construction industry, but there is one other vital industry serially bedeviled by such monumental system/personnel errors — the Health sector. Nigerian nay Africa add very little to nothing in advancement of science/technology. We are at best, mere consumers of scientific knowledge, a poor one at that. Most Medical Science text books which guides health professional practice in Nigeria were authored by Euro-Asian or American scientists. Our indigenous medical professionals like Professor Ezillo (who wrote Essentials of Human Physiology) had tried to put up something in global medical literature, but their efforts have their bases from already Western-defined principles. They don’t have any peculiarity to tropical medicine which is unique to Africa. There is no homegrown illustrative knowledge, like China had, to show that we can effectively be considered as a big name in global health sphere.

In Nigeria, the most popular Medical Laboratory Science text books remained the “District Laboratory practice in the tropics” written by Monica Chesbrough and “Introduction to Medical Laboratory Technology” authored by Mayer and Baker, both Western Medical Scientists.

In 2002, there arose from University of Ibadan, the Delta-born Prof. J. Ochei who wrote “The Principles and practice of Medical Laboratory Science.” It connotes to appreciable extent, the African experience in laboratory medicine.

Yet, many indigenous practitioners don’t observe any of the universally accepted guidelines. ‘Cutting corners’ continues to be the acceptable indoctrinated culture.

However, unprofessionalism is more defined not by Medical and Healthcare professionals who despise the established procedures to reproducible diagnostic results, but by the gory incidents of those practitioners within the health profession, who drift into a field that is not their core call. Such intrusion has caused untold disharmony within the healthcare family

Each medical and healthcare profession have well-defined career path and professional fiat. But usurpation of other sister professions are rampart. For instance, there were so many cases in court where Medical Laboratory Scientists and Clinical Pathologists drag ownership of the Lab. Pharmacists and Physicians are in contest over who superintends drug administrations, Radiologists and Medical Radiographers/Medical Imaging Scientists are at loggerhead over supremacy etc.

While such intra-sectoral friction over illegal encroachment into other’s fundamental duties are detested, the worst is happening clandestinely within the family. In asmuch as it is defined as “quackery,” Nigerians are tragically at the receiving end.

Over the years, encroachment into the Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) Profession by graduates of Basic Science courses has increased alarmingly. Those who study Biochemistry, Microbiology, Parasitology and zoology (in faculty of natural sciences in our universities) and those from Food Science Tech, Science Lab Tech and allied Science courses (from Polytechnics), all claim to be Medical Laboratory Scientists, and thus compete for employment spaces with qualified, certified and licensed Medical Laboratory Scientists, who are the only Health Professionals authorized by the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN) in line with Act 11, of 2003, of the National Assembly to practice Medical Laboratory Science in Nigeria.

The law was unambiguous but deliberate deviants refused to observe them. Simply put: unless one obtains a Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science (BMLS) degree in an NUC-accreditated university, gets sworn-in/inducted into the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN) and licensed by same, one is not a Medical Laboratory Scientist; and cannot and shall not practice Medical Laboratory Science in Nigeria. Anything else is quackery.

Meanwhile, there is some traces of in-house compromise among the MLS practitioners that accommodates such paroxysmal illegality.

And this is how it occurs: In the course of their studies, students of Basic Natural and allied Sciences either in the Universities or Polytechnics desperately solicit to undergo their 4-month or 12-month Students’ Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES), more commonly called Industrial Training (I.T) program in hospital laboratories, which is outside their scope. Some MLS professionals naively accept them.

And at the end of their studies, they go for NYSC Scheme, and surreptitiously demand to be posted to medical laboratories under false pretext that they are Medical Laboratory Scientists. NYSC officials are seemingly oblivious of these distinctions in career paths, thereby falling to their gimmicks.

There is no similiarities between the two. It is akin to Veterinary Doctors claiming Medical Doctors.
These impostors lack the knowledge of Human biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Medical Microbiology, Haematology, etc (the list is endless), not to talk of patient care and management. Their curriculum and training was not in laboratory medicine.

It is worrisome how a life-saving profession could be witnessing such wanton infiltration by quacks. In all these, the unsuspecting patients, bears the brunt as end-reciever of consequences of quackery. Lack of knowledge of the principles governing Medical Laboratory tests leads to issuance of fake and non-reproducible test results that does not represent the true picture of the patients’ health. This misguides the doctors/nurses and ultimately culminates in patients suffering irremediable damage in their health.

Nigerians beware of these impersonators. Physicians (especially those in private practice) should neglect the cheap cost of running their side-Labs with these quacks and rather, in the interest of the patients, seek the services and expertise of a qualified, Medical Laboratory professionals, for life is sacred. MLS professionals should as well censor off SIWES and IT students from clinical laboratories, for the collateral damage of false lab test results in the life Nigerians are unquantifiable.

But in the final analysis, the buck stops at MLSCN desk. The onus to salvage this cataclysmic misadventure in the profession rests on them. It is noteworthy that the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMSLN) has constituted anti-quackery committee with MLSCN mandate to clampdown on defaulters. We wait to see the sincerity of this mission.

This leads us back to the premise of our opening paragraphs; that while advanced countries are aiming at the use of sophisticated automated robots in diagnostic medicine, we are still here debating the ignominy of quackery and illegitimacy of professional usurpation.

May daylight spare us!

✍Jude Eze



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