Untold Agonies of Victims of Sexual Harassment in Nigerian Hospitals

The growing breach of privacy and patients’ rights and dignity in Nigerian hospitals is just concerning. Oftentimes, you hear issues discussed in hush tones, all because the next person must not hear about it. But this is real, happening inside the confines of supposedly Care Homes-hospitals and leaves the victims traumatized. With Sexual harassment of patients getting alarming, Gom Mirian investigates the prevalence of this social vice in Nigerian hospitals.

The Hidden Suffering:

The other side of the hospital you have yet to know, would leave you with grim feeling as the uncovered cases of traumatic experiences of victims through their caregivers’ exploits, expose the systemic failures that pervade our hospitals.

Within the hallowed walls of Nigeria’s hospitals, countless individuals have suffered at the hands of their supposed caregivers, their abusers cloaked in trust and authority. According to a recent study published in the International Journals of Health Sciences, over 70% of female patients reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment during their hospital visits. This horrifying figure attests to a rampant culture of abuse, long ignored by the very institutions expected to protect the vulnerable.

Meet the Victims:

In a quest to understand the magnitude of the problem, African Health Report spoke with two brave survivors who have summoned the courage to share their stories.

Favour Esu, a 29-year-old nurse, painfully recounts her experience while seeking care for an ankle injury. “I was taken aback by the doctor’s inappropriate touching and explicit comments,” she reveals.

“He violated the doctor-patient trust. I felt powerless and violated.”

Fatima Muhammad, an Abuja resident, felt trapped when her mum was admitted for a mental disorder that made her susceptible to harassment. “It was a nightmare I never expected,” Fatima said. “Yeah! Although I had a bit of it, I wouldn’t say sexual harassment per se. But while I was with Mum at the ABU teaching hospital, doctors from the psychiatrist department were just pressuring me. That was in 2018 for sex.”

She exclaimed, “Omo I hear emu from those doctors’ hands; (Sic)they gave me the reason to believe that all doctors are womanizers because about five, six doctors plus the HOD himself from the same department pressuring me not for anything serious but sex? Although afterwards one of them wanted me for marriage, but I declined because doctors are something else,” she said shaking her head in dismay.

 There are more male doctors than female doctors in Nigeria, according to Statista, an online platform that specializes in data gathering and visualization, which also said that out of the about 25,000 doctors in Nigeria in 2019, 65 per cent of them were men.

With the dearth of female doctors and the ever-increasing exodus of health workers leaving for greener pastures, the reality could be grimmer as a female patient is more likely to be attended to by a male doctor than his female counterpart.

Experts Speak

This, experts said, could give room to sexual harassment.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, sexual harassment is the exploitation of the physician-patient relationship in a sexual way. It is also the use of the physician’s power and dominance to satisfy his or her sexual desires at the expense of the patient.

The shortage of medical professionals in Nigeria leaves many patients with little or no alternative to medical care.

Involvement of Nigerian Professionals Abroad

Some Nigerian male doctors have been accused of committing the crime outside the country. In 2016, a panel set up by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador in St. Johns, Canada, found a Nigerian health worker, Dr. Adekunle Williams-Owolabi, guilty of making sexual passes at a patient.

He was banned from medical practice for six months after making sexual comments to patients at his clinic in Labrador West.

In a report on the incident, a teacher, Arlene Johnson, who visited Owolabi’s clinic, was said to have testified that the doctor made some sexual comments during a pelvic examination.

Johnson was reported to have said that after a test, he (Owolabi) hugged her and whispered in her ear, “You have a beautiful clit, does your husband tell you that?”

In 2023, another Nigerian doctor in the United Kingdom, Ewere Onyekpe, was suspended for having sexual intercourse with a patient.

UK’s Medical Regulatory Body

The UK’s medical regulatory body, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal of the General Medical Council, imposed a sanction of six months on his practicing license after he was found guilty by a tribunal that investigated the matter.

In February of 2022 also, a Canada-based Nigerian doctor, Efe Ovueni, was suspended by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta after hugging a medical officer and blowing her a kiss without her consent.

Expert Insights and Systemic Issues

Sexual harassment in healthcare settings reflects a complex network of systemic failures. Dr. Adaobi Nwankwo, a renowned social psychologist, explains, “The power dynamics between doctors and patients exacerbate the problem.

“Lack of proper training, poor institutional policies, and loosely enforced regulations create an environment conducive to abuse.”

Mrs. Oluwatoyin Arinze, a gender rights activist, adds, “We must dismantle the culture of silence and stigma surrounding sexual harassment.

“Institutions must take responsibility, develop comprehensive policies, and facilitate access to justice for victims.”.

Voices of Hope, Support and Rehabilitation

Beyond prosecution, it is essential to address the trauma experienced by survivors. Mr Gabriel Akase, a psychologist specializing in trauma, highlights the urgent need for counselling services to support victims.

He also emphasizes the importance of survivor-led support groups and vocational training programs to empower survivors and help them rebuild their lives.

As the shadows of sexual harassment are uncovered within Nigerian hospitals, the collective responsibility to address this grave issue becomes apparent. We must not only establish robust mechanisms for reporting abuse but also challenge the social norms that perpetuate such behaviour.

This report serves as a clarion call to provoke conversations among policymakers, healthcare professionals, and society at large. Only by working together can we ensure that hospitals become sanctuaries of trust, respect, and dignity for all individuals seeking care.

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