Zeal Akaraiwai may not have wings or a halo, but he’s an angel nonetheless.
Every week, the 40-something-year-old financial consultant makes a trip to his local government hospital. There he meets up with a group of social workers and is handed a list.
His mission is simple: Quietly pay off patients’ hospital bills so they can go home.
Why Hospitalized Nigerians Need an “Angel”
Nigeria is just one of several countries around the world that don’t have universal healthcare. On top of that, only 5% of citizens have health insurance.
A trip to the hospital can quickly become a financial nightmare for anyone who falls into the remaining 95%, particularly those who can barely afford to put food on the table, never mind pay off crippling medical debt.
And if the stress of looming bills isn’t enough, if you can’t pay your hospital bill? You may as well settle in for the long haul — because the hospital won’t let you leave.
This is where Zeal comes in.
After being handed a list of names of patients the hospital refuses to discharge due to financial difficulties, Zeal gets to work. He visits each of the patients to assess their condition and confirm their stories with the nursing staff.
He’s looking for patients who fit his criteria: they must be well enough to immediately go home.
How the “Angel Project” is Helping Poor Patients Return Home
According to the BBC, Zeal has met people who have been forced to stay in the hospital for anywhere up to two months after they have been discharged. Just because they don’t have the financial means to settle their hospital bills.
Even if the hospital offers an instalment plan to make payments more affordable for patients, there are still some who cannot pay. Their only recourse is to pray for divine intervention.
Which is exactly what one patient was doing when Zeal met him. The young man, a barber, had been shot in the thigh.
“So how’re you going to settle your hospital bill?” Zeal asked him. “I’m praying to God,” the man replied. Unbeknownst to him, his prayers had just been answered. Without saying a word, Zeal secretly paid off his $250 debt and the young man was finally able to go home.
He was one of eight patients Zeal helped that day.
The Motivation Behind the Angel Project
Zeal’s philanthropic acts of kindness aren’t motivated by gratitude or the need for recognition. He just hopes that someday, his actions will inspire others to do the same.
He tells the BBC that he hopes that one day, the people he helps will tell a story about him. “The story of how when they were in hospital, an angel came, paid their bill and left.”
Zeal is making a significant difference in the lives of hundreds of uninsured and poor patients. But he’s not doing it alone. Many of his friends and family also donate to his cause.
While he generally chooses to cover the bills of the patients who are already well enough to go home, he does admit that there are times when he breaks his own rules to help out certain patients with severe, ongoing health conditions.
And while he’s happy that he can help, he’s angered by a medical system that is failing.
“Every week I see the impact of not having compulsory health insurance, and people die. So where do you want to put the price of a human life?” he said.
The Gift He is Giving is Priceless
Not only is Zeal sending patients home, but he’s also giving them the peace of knowing they don’t leave the hospital drowning in debt. And that peace? Is priceless.
We all have a role to play in creating a more just and equitable society. But until the day healthcare reform comes to the countries whose citizens desperately need it, we can all take a page out of Zeal’s book and do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those around us.
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