Students suffer due to inadequate services at campus clinics

Life and academic activities became frustrating for Maryam Yusuf (not her real name), a third-year student of fisheries and aquaculture at the Federal University Dutse in Nigeria’s Jigawa State, when, in 2021, the heat in the region started to make her sick.

“If it is hot between noon and 3pm, my body will start to react and I will develop a headache,” she said. Soon, Yusuf felt she needed medical treatment for her constant headaches.

“When I was in severe pain in 2022, I visited the school clinic to get treatment. I was not given any medication; the doctor just advised me to stay away from stress. I felt bad because I was in pain. I had to come back home for treatment,” Yusuf said, pointing out that, based on her experience and observations, the school clinic is understaffed and lacks the necessary equipment and treatment options such as medication.

At a general hospital in her home state of Kano, she was diagnosed with migraine – a medical condition that causes severe, recurring headaches that may throb or pulse. Yusuf gave up on using her university clinic for any medical care.

Her case is one of several examples of students who have had difficulties in accessing health services at their university clinics when they need them – even in emergency situations.

The problem of lacking campus health services was highlighted in an investigation by the Daily Trust in 2021.

But, two years later, based on interviews with students on six campuses, University World News has found that many clinics are still not functioning optimally. Some of the common problems include doctors who are not available, a lack of equipment and drugs, and sometimes, unsupportive staff.

Lack of services not new

Complaints about the poor healthcare on campuses have sparked several protests in the past. Students at the University of Ibadan, the oldest university in Nigeria, have repeatedly protested against the state and services of the university’s Jaja Clinic.

In 2015, students barricaded the entrance to the clinic when a second-year student died after he was denied treatment because he did not have his medical card, the Daily Post reported on 7 May 2015.

In 2018, the death of a final-year nursing student at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, who reportedly died due to the negligence of staff at the university clinic, triggered a protest by students of the institution who blocked the school entrance roads, Daily Trust reported.

Long wait to see a doctor

Yusuf’s health problems contributed to her failing several courses. “I have missed a lot of lectures and continuous assessment tests due to my absence when I went home for treatment. I am still retaking some courses due to this and my CGPA [cumulative grade point average] is very low,” she said.

The students University World News interviewed at different universities share the same concerns.

Zaynab Dasola Abideen is a final-year student at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. In June 2023, she fell ill. She had lost her appetite and, over time, lost weight. She had to wait until the next morning before her roommates could take her to the university clinic. “I was rushed to the clinic that day because I was not able to go alone,” Abideen said.

“I was attended to in the emergency unit, but not as I expected. After some minutes of relief, the pain continued and I was left alone, asked to wait for the doctor.”

The doctor arrived six hours later. “My friends had already started looking for ways to transfer me to a general hospital outside the school.”

Drugs often not available

Several students complained that they boycotted school clinics because of a lack of medication and long waiting times. While a number of them noted that they prefer consulting private pharmacies to get drugs for their ailments which saves them the stress of a long wait and the chance of not getting any medication, some have never even attempted to use their universities’ clinics, to avoid the experiences others have had.

Abdulmuiz Salman, a student at the University of Maiduguri, developed a toothache that resulted in a severe headache in 2023. At first, he resisted visiting the school clinic because he said doctors were only available in the morning, and by 11am, they would sign off. A student has to wait until 2pm before another doctor comes on duty, he said.

He later reluctantly approached the clinic. “The doctor prescribed medication for me on a script to take to the pharmacy unit. The pharmacist on duty said the drugs were not available. I left the clinic sad,” he said.

Prescriptions must be approved

Dr Bala Gadanga, a staff member at the health services department of Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, told University World News that inadequate staff is a problem caused by the government’s failure to recruit new staff members.

“Students spend hours waiting because we do not have many doctors. Students should be patient because of this gap,” he said.

He said the process of getting drugs is cumbersome, involving a note from the clinic’s medical director to the school management, registrar and vice-chancellor for approval.

“The issue of drugs is not directly controlled by the clinic but by the university. And the available medications might not satisfy the students. Any students who do not get drugs should lay a complaint with the director of health services,” he said.

The doctor said students should persuade their student body leaders to take the responsibility of ensuring that their health and welfare are taken care of.

Meanwhile, Abdullahi Yahaya Bello, the public relations officer for the University of Dutse, stated that the management is continuously improving the university health centre for optimum service delivery after admitting that problems like inadequate staffing and medication exist.

“The university is always willing to employ more hands in the health centre specifically, and the university in general. The Federal Government embargo on employment made things difficult. However, the university management has always employed doctors and nurses on a locum [basis] to fill the gap, but efforts are on top gear to get permanent staff to solve the problem permanently,” he said.

Professor Maina Gimba, the dean of student affairs at the University of Maiduguri, referred questions to the student union at the university.

Munir Hassan Nababa, president of the Student Union Government at the University of Maiduguri, said the student body is aware of the challenges and is working to find solutions. “We recently had a roundtable meeting with the chief medical officer and all members of the clinic. We discussed the issue of drugs, and the lack of staff, among others,” Munir said.

Students’ health is paramount

Olympus Adebanjo, a public health expert, said the health of students who are already going through academic stress should be ensured.

Regarding the lack of staff and drugs and poor access to treatment, he suggested that the Tertiary Institutions Social Health Insurance Programme (TISHIP), which also provides healthcare for university students in Nigeria should be made available at the university clinics.

TISHIP funds are sourced from the contributions of students, charged by universities. It aims to ensure access to quality health care service for students in tertiary institutions with a view to creating a conducive learning environment.

“There is a need to integrate the tertiary health insurance scheme in the state health insurance scheme so that students can choose between accessing healthcare in school clinics and outside facilities,” he said.

This feature was updated on 24 September.