By Judd-Leonard Okafor
The man in white lab coat runs a blood test and delivers the verdict: the girl is pregnant. The woman in blue scrubs steps out of the theatre, pulls off her face mask and gives the dreaded announcement: I’m sorry; we’ve done all we can.
Such scenes are easily recognizable in Nollywood, and millions of avid fans eat them up. But they have doctors fuming at the portrayal of medicine in Nollywood.
Medical scenes in movies are a constant. Nearly every other story involves a doctor, but it is how movie doctors approach their work that has the Nigerian medical establishment biting its nails.
“You can’t just run a blood test and conclude a woman is pregnant,” fumes one woman doctor when the Nigerian Medical Association met with Nollywood executives at a skills workshop in Abuja. “It just doesn’t happen.”
Now doctors are struggling to change how they and their profession is portrayed in movies. The NMA in turn wants to use Nollywood to teach Nigerians what to expect from their doctors.
“Talk to me, doctor” is a sentence Nigerian doctors detest. It strikes at the heart of a doctor’s inability to explain medical conditions to patients in a language they can understand.
Patients can hardly read a doctor’s handwriting on a prescription note, and understand even less when a doctor explains what’s been ailing them.
The skills workshop was meant to change that. Nollywood could teach doctors to step beyond medical speak and talk to patients in ways to aid effective understanding.
The barrier between doctors and their patients came to light when women in Yobe used chlorhexidine gel as eye drops for their newborn babies.
The cord cleansing gel was packaged to look like eye drops, and even though it’s labelling clearly said “chlorhexidine”, it did look like eye drops and women used it as such.
The result: at least a couple of babies came down with reactions their mothers, who couldn’t read the labelling information, didn’t intend.
Nigerians arguably see more doctors onscreen than they do in a consulting room and hold Nollywood’s words above a white lab coat and stethoscope. That’s why doctors want medical scenes to just be correct, if not politically correct.
Medical scenes in the movie “Dry” show a doctor blundering through a power outage and leaping out windows to stop a husband who’s trundled his wife to a tiny clinic in a wheelbarrow.
It’s a bitter pill for the medical establishment. But it also shows another doctor, very efficient in surgery and financing the respect of her colleagues, black and white alike.
The grouse of doctors is that Nollywood doesn’t do enough research before writing its scripts and rendering edited onscreen images of doctors putting the profession in bad light.
They show doctors who don’t even understand the conditions they are supposed to be dealing with.
Nollywood shows doctors “deliberately killing the system,” says one doctor at the skills workshop. “I think that should be addressed.”
“I feel sad and highly disappointed,” says another doctor, commenting on a running series on TV and YouTube that has doctors in all manners of shenanigans.
“If someone from another profession is doing this, I wouldn’t take it seriously. But when a doctor is doing it, it is somehow. Where are you taking the public? What are you showcasing? What are you telling the public about the profession?”
The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, which regulates the practice of doctors nationwide, is yet to weigh in on the issue, but the Nursing and Midwifery Council has stepped in months ago to redeem the image of nurses.
It was angered at the portrayal of nurses in the series “Clinic Matters” and other Nollywood fares as “Doctor Sweet” as slutty, second-rate staff whose only aim was to get the handsome doctor or patient onto a hospital bed for a horizontal mambo.
If that’s an insult to nurses, doctors find it an outrage.
Doctors want a reasonable position to attack the public from, a preferred image: how they want the public to see them.
The medical scenes in “Mortal Inheritance” scaled that hurdle. Its scriptwriters researched sickle cell anaemia so thoroughly, they could pass as authorities on the subject, says producer Gbenga Adebayo, himself a doctor.
He’s behind the production of “Area Doctor”, a pidgin-English portrayal of what viewers expect from “Grey’s Anatomy” and “ER”.
“As a filmmaker, I’ve always endeavoured to do enough research,” he says. He now runs a platform to connect filmmakers tackling health issues in movies with doctors to help their research.
He summarises a live doctor’s impression of medical scenes made in Nollywood. “When you watch a film where somebody is dying in a Nollywood film, you just get the impression that doctors are jobless. I mean, you look at a doctor who didn’t do jack stand up and say, ‘we’ve done our best.'”
It isn’t Grey’s Anatomy but doctors want to change the cliché-laden portrayal of them in Nollywood by having scriptwriters turn in their plots for vetting by medical doctors.
Nollywood actor Keppy Ekpeyong-Bassey says it is okay. To see changes, watch out for the next medical scene.