Nollywood and Medicine

By Dr. Clara Onuigbo

Recently, while watching a Nigerian movie scene trying to depict a medical emergency, I realized how wrongly the movie industry has portrayed the medical practice and the entire medical profession in Nigeria.

Hospital scenes most often are acted out so shabbily, you are left to wonder if this is deliberate. How on earth do they audition for the roles? Is it deliberately done to mock the medical profession?  A scruffily dressed sweaty ‘doctor’ dangling a stethoscope on his neck, barely able to place it the proper way on his patient! A confused inattentive nursing staff who can hardly express herself correctly! Is this really the image a visit to the Nigerian hospital conjures?

The worst is the medical ‘jargon’ the script writers concoct. Why do they assume their viewers/audience have no idea whether the medical term is right or wrong. They cook up non existent medical terminologies, diagnosis and procedures. The flow of information and patient handling is shabby and unprofessional. It bothers the psyche of a right thinking person. 

The question is can the producers not take the pain to ensure that proper medical journals are used to get the right information, as well as the pronounciation of medical terminologies. Or better still, why not invite health care professionals for their technical input and direction. 

In addition, the set of most Nollywood hospital scenes are confusing and hilarious! A doctor’s consultation room can be set in a background you can clearly tell is a kitchen, all tiles, kitchen cabinets and all! A patient can be admitted in what is clearly a bedroom, closet, drawer, queen sized bed!!! It is very heart breaking!!!

I am most pained by the “bring so so amount of Naira or you will die” scenes. This over familiar scene is acted in almost all Nollywood movies involving surgical intervention. I don’t know why they think this is an absolutely proper route to express desperation. 

Much as I admit that Nigerian hospitals are yet to attain perfection, I know from many years of clinical practice in both the private and public hospitals that this “Shylock doctor” images created is false or at best an exaggeration. 

What do Nollywood script writers hope to achieve? 

What do producers and directors have in mind by tearing the medical practice in Nigeria down?

Do they not realise that movies depict or mirror a nation especially when viewed from outside our shores?

Do they not realise their influence in shaping the General psyche and belief system of the society? 

Are there no excellent medical practices and hospitals that can be showcased? Was it not a doctor in private practice in Nigeria that picked the index Ebola case and averted what could have resulted in a national calamity?

Are there no health care professionals doing well? Can these not be acted out? Must it always be tales of woe, incompetence and malpractice?

A few medical themed series like “Doctors Quarters” have tried to show the good side of the medical practice in Nigeria but it was short lived. This is nothing compared to the numerous movies and series that barge and misrepresent the medical profession. Hollywood has ER, Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy etc. These are medical themed  television series displaying excellence. They are not just well researched and entertaining but they promote medical practice and educate their viewers. They build confidence in medical practice in the USA. They have created a picture of perfection and near wonder working image and ability of medical practitioners in the USA.

What about Bollywood? Hospital scenes in Indian movies are well scripted and well delivered. The set most times is an actual hospital environment, displaying competence and excellence… Nollywood should borrow a leaf from them. 

Despite the lack of depth in the depiction of medicine in Nollywood, it is not all bad news, some Nigerian movies have tried to further the  course of medical science and educate the masses. For example movies written by the late Amaka Igwe tried to portray medicine in the right light.  Forever, which was produced by her beamed light on the problem of drug abuse and depression in teenagers and young adults and how to overcome it. There have been movies on female genital mutilation (AKA female circumcision) and vesicovaginal fistula (VVF) all coming from Nollywood creating awareness and discouraging the harmful practice, but more needs to be done. 

Nollywood needs to stop the shabby misrepresentation of medical practice in Nigeria. They should present a standard that will market the medical profession both within and outside Nigeria. Believe it or not Nigeria is a destination for medical tourism, people from neighbouring countries like Togo, Chad, Niger etc. flock to Nigeria for medical attention. Let us celebrate the “little” success we are making, lets stop tearing ourselves down. Nollywood should be guided by the fact that movies have the ability to influence our thinking, shape our opinions and direct the entire society’s perception. 

Photo Credit: Grey’s Anatomy