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Monday, July 15, 2024

Medical law center seeks justice for victims and legal reforms

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Founder and CEO of the Mollluma Yakubu Centre for Medical Law, Gloria Ballason, has called for urgent legislative reforms to ensure justice for victims of medical negligence in Nigeria.

She and other lawyers made the call on Thursday in Abuja during the launch of their organisation’s medico-legal book and 10th annual conference. The conference was themed “Medical Confidentiality: Balancing Patient Privacy and Legal Liability.”

The book, ‘Medical-Legal Practice and Justice: The Intersection of Law and Justice’, was edited by Ms Ballason and was reviewed by Yahaya Dangana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) at the event.

To support her view on the need for urgent legal reforms, Ms Ballason cited cases of medical negligence in public and private hospitals in Nigeria, where families have continued to seek justice for many years.

She shared the ironic story of the medical negligence-related death of a close friend of hers.

According to Ms Ballason, her centre is named after her friend who died from medical negligence despite having completed her master’s thesis on the subject.

Ms. Ballason, a lawyer whose center legally addresses medical malpractice and seeks accountability for mass atrocities, also recalled that the deceased came from a family of many doctors and nurses.

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She stressed that her friend’s death underscores the harsh reality that no one is immune to the dangers of medical negligence, regardless of their connections within the health profession.

Group photo of the Molluma Yakubu Centre for Medical Law and the Prevention of Mass Atrocity Annual Conference held at the FCT Chief Magistrate’s Ceremonial Hall, Abuja

3 million deaths a year

Around 1 in 10 patients suffer harm due to safety lapses during their medical care, leading to more than 3 million deaths a year worldwide, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) fact sheet published in September last year.

According to the WHO fact sheet, the main sources of harm to patients include medication errors, surgical errors, healthcare-associated infections, diagnostic errors, patient falls and venous thromboembolism (blood clots).

They also include pressure ulcers (injuries to the skin or soft tissue), unsafe transfusions, patient misidentification, unsafe injection practices, and sepsis, a serious condition that occurs when the body’s immune system has an extreme response to an infection.

Citing WHO data, Ms Ballason denounced the alarming rate of harm suffered by patients, adding that “the probability of suffering harm in an African hospital is 20 times higher than the global average”.

Need for reforms and accountability

In arguing for the need for legislative action, Ms. Ballason highlighted the urgency of legal accountability to save lives and improve health systems.

He called for a cultural shift toward transparency and accountability among healthcare providers and institutions, citing successful models from countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, renowned for their strict medical liability laws.

“These rights are crucial for transparency, accountability and seeking closure in situations where understanding the cause of death is essential,” he stressed.

Ms. Ballason noted that countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and many European countries have strong laws on medical liability.

“It is no coincidence that these countries are prominent destinations for medical tourism,” he said.

He argued that legal accountability for deaths caused by medical negligence “is crucial, not only to save lives but to improve our health care systems.”

He highlighted the need for Nigeria to adopt international standards such as the International Health Regulations (2005), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the WHO Patient Safety Initiatives and the World Medical Association’s International Code of Medical Ethics. .

“All death reports must be as clear and detailed as medical reports. Nigerians deserve to know the actual cause of death and not the approximate cause of death,” he added.

He also called for a culture of accountability and transparency within the health system, emphasizing that clinical decisions must meet the operable standard of care expected by law.

Similarly, former Nasarawa State Deputy Governor Onje Gye-Wado called for improvements in the legal frameworks governing medical confidentiality.

He said comprehensive legislation was needed that balanced the rights of patients with the responsibilities of health care providers.

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“The Freedom of Information Act (FOI) precludes the disclosure of personal or medical information,” he said, stressing the importance of protecting patient privacy.

The book’s reviewer, Mr Dangana, criticised medical negligence and the role of some lawyers in defending negligent doctors.

He called on lawyers to act according to their conscience and the oath they have taken, especially in cases of negligence resulting in death.

The book was launched by Martin Okey, representative of the Chairman of the House Health Institutions Committee, in the presence of dignitaries.

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