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    Saturday, 22 December 2018

    See Wealthy philanthropist who secretly pays patients hospital bills

    In Nigeria, very few medical services are free of charge, and if you can't pay your hospital bill you may not be allowed to leave. Who will help? In this deeply religious society, many stranded patients hope for divine intervention.

    Zeal Akaraiwai does not have the wings of an angel - he has a sleek black Mercedes, all purring engine and deep leather seats. This 40-something financial consultant - trim and neat - steps out of his car in a potholed government hospital car park in Lagos. He is greeted warmly by a team of social workers, and gets straight to business. He asks them for "the list".

    Neatly printed on A4 paper are the names of patients who are well enough to go home. But they are not going anywhere, because they cannot pay their medical bills.

    Heading along crumbling walkways to the wards, Zeal listens intently to the social workers' running commentary about those he is going to meet. In a male ward the tiles underfoot are scuffed, the paint peels, and 20 beds line the walls. Ancient fans whirr overhead, and the nurses wear epaulettes on the shoulders of starched white uniforms. An orderly is sweeping up with a dustpan and brush. Everybody is doing their best in challenging circumstances.

    The social workers guide Zeal to the bedside of a patient with a heavily bandaged thigh. He bends down close, and speaks in a low voice: "What happened to you?" The young man, a barber, says he was shot by he-doesn't-know-who.

    So how're you going to settle your hospital bill?" asks Zeal. "I'm praying to God," the man replies.

    Zeal chats to him for a while - the man does not ask who Zeal is, and Zeal does not tell him. Then, out of earshot of the patient, Zeal checks the man's story with the nursing staff. The bill is $250. And the barber is in luck - Zeal will pay it. Later today, the patient will go home.

    Zeal does not keep in touch with any of the people he helps. He does not even want to be thanked.

    The mere fact an individual, like me, has to go into a hospital to pay the bills of people who are stranded speaks volumes about the injustice in the system," he says. "There's no reason why we cannot have proper health insurance. We have clever people who can think of schemes that can work."

    But there is one thing he would like in return - that one day they might tell a story about him: the story of how when they were in hospital, an angel came, paid their bill and left.

    That's why I call this the Angel Project," he says. "Be the angel you hope to meet."

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