There was an intriguing debate a few weeks ago on the Facebook forum for Nigerian doctors all over the world – “Naija Medics Worldwide”. A flurry of posts was triggered off by an article posted by Dr Peter Adeosun, a resident doctor at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, many complaining of the ill-effects of Nollywood movies on the health care attitudes of Nigerians.
Just like Hollywood and Bollywood, Nollywood has become the name for Nigeria’s feature film industry. Many might not believe this, but in terms of annual film productions, Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world (second only to Bollywood). The great Hollywood comes third on the rankings. Most Nollywood films are really soap operas – they try to portray the typical Nigerian family or society, and have become increasing popular since 1992 when the film “Living in Bondage” was released. Not just Nigerians watch Nollywood movies, it has gradually crept into the homes of millions all over the world. I was shocked when a Jamaican friend told me her favourite film was “Osuofia in London”!
To the simple mind, movies just educate and entertain; but a more critical review would show that movies reinforce tendencies, help to sell a brand and allows us to see stereotypical perceptions as the norm. Dale’s Cone of Experience – a tool often cited by learning experts shows that we tend to remember about 30% of what we see. Whether this figure is accurate is another issue, but most people will agree that what we watch has a great influence on what we do or how we come to perceive things. Nollywood and Nigerians are no different; people have come to transplant what they see in Nollywood movies into their everyday lives.
As a doctor, I usually watch programmes like ‘House’, ‘Casualty’, ‘E.R’, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, ‘Scrubs’, ‘Holby City’ and ‘Monroe’, and I am impressed at the attention to detail when acting out medical scenarios. There was a colleague of mine who prepared for his postgraduate medical examinations by watching “House” when he was taking time off his books. Every episode had a new clinical presentation and an interesting diagnosis. Some of the filming for “Monroe” (another series based in the hospital setting) was done in a hospital I had worked in and some of the medical staff were invited to join the film crew to ensure that it was as ‘real-life’ as possible. After watching it, I had to agree that they were “spot-on”.
Why doesn’t Nollywood do the same? What Nollywood does is reinforce the set of harmful customary beliefs and practices that contradict safe modern-day health principles in Nigeria. To make things worse, with the lack of access to sources of quality information for many Nigerians, the best health education teachings many get will be from their stack of Nollywood CDs. Imagine the impact if Nigeria’s film industry could team up with the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) or the Ministry of Health. Safe health care practices will be seen and learnt, medical professionals will be seen as people that can be trusted and believed & disease conditions will be dealt with more urgently. There was a series called “Doctors’ Quarters” on MNET some years ago featuring Kate Nuttall-Henshaw which tried to address these issues but unfortunately did not last too long on TV. By the way, ‘Doctors Quarters’ was not really a Nollywood programme and was only shown on DSTV so not everyone got to watch it.
Just so that you have a grasp of how big the problem is, here are a few excerpts from some Nollywood movies:
– A man reading a newspaper suddenly falls down and starts shaking vigorously with some foamy liquid coming out of his mouth. The wife and daughter start shouting that he has a heart attack.
– Dressed in a scruffy manner (he looks like he has just been across the Sahara desert) but with a stethoscope around his neck, he blurts out “Hello everybody! Your mother is in a critical condition in our ICU now and she has just 2 days more to live. If you don’t get the money for the operation by tomorrow morning, she will die”
– “My sister, you have contracted staphylococcus disease? If you don’t use these antibiotics, it can transform to a very chronic virus’.
– A doctor places the outside part of his hand on the patient’s forehead and says “ Aaaaah, this patient has been poisoned and it is beyond medical treatment”
– Two cars collide and passers-by quickly gather to start dragging people out of the vehicles. (No one remembers to keep their necks immobile because of the risk of spinal cord injury)
I cannot remember a lot of Nollywood doctors giving good news. All they say is “We have tried our best but the patient died” or “This one is beyond us, it requires spiritual treatment”. No wonder, so many people believe in metaphysical aetiologies for the simplest medical problems. The hospital scenes resemble a room on a poultry farm (no wonder no one wants to go to hospital!). A typical cubicle contains a make-shift bed covered with a white bed sheet, and the patient has an empty drip bag swinging over him/her. The drip cannula on the patient’s arm could be in any cardinal direction (north, south, east or west). The doctors shown in Nollywood movies are very limited in their diagnostic abilities. They can diagnose pregnancy (very well….), malaria, typhoid and AIDS, but nothing else. Any other diagnosis leaves them extremely confused and so the patient’s family end up going to the pastor, imam and most times, herbalist. The herbalists are the ‘know-it-alls’ and they never get it wrong (…or at least that is what the family and the film watchers are made to believe). Some of them, as part of their treatment protocol even advise that the patient should not get any second opinion or else the condition will get worse.
Now, I don’t hate Nollywood! I strongly believe it is one of Nigeria’s most successful exports and I would not say all hope is lost. Simple medical maneouvres can be taught via the films e.g. CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), Heimlich’s maneouvre, haemostasis (controlling bleeding) using pressure etc. The values of childhood immunization, good nutrition, compliance with medications and prompt presentation to hospital should be emphasised on. Medical experts should be invited to advise on scenes that show “anything medical” instead of us being fed the fruits of a film director’s imagination. Nollywood movies can be an excellent means of public health education and it might even achieve much more than health education experts! Hope the guys at 51 Iweka Road, Onitsha and Idumota market, Lagos are reading this?