I was in a commercial vehicle along Fourah Bay road the other day when I overheard an old woman grumbling that our hospitals have almost become a death trap. I wondered what actually led to that conclusion and so I asked her to explain what she meant. And she said, the manner in which people, especially pregnant women die in our hospitals especially, the Cottage hospital, is something of concern.
This has almost become a common phenomenon whereby, patients go to the hospitals, especially government hospitals for medical attention but end up dying either because of the exorbitant charges levied by hospital authorities, or either because, patients cannot afford the cost to buy the prescribed drugs from either the private pharmacies or the drugs sold on cost recovery basis.
The human resource aspect of a country could improve only when there is a proper health care delivery system in a country and to which, Sierra Leone is no exception. A healthy nation, I want to believe is a wealthy nation. And so when President Koroma took over the reigns of power in 2007, he wasted no time but to give his priority to the country’s health care.
In paragraph 52 of President Koroma’s speech during the State Opening of Parliament on the 5th of October 2007, the President stated thus “our country has one of the poorest health care delivery systems in the sub-region” and that “This clearly deserves the attention of my government. We have one of the highest incidence of infant and maternal mortality”.
With these facts in mind, President Koroma promised to improve on the delivery of health care in the country and that he was going to institute better medical and public health standards in all hospitals, clinics and community health care units nationwide. Good intensions indeed but…
I have no doubt that the president meant every aspect of his words. But one thing that could not be ignored is the fact that, there are a few government hospitals which deserve the attention of the government, which could be one of the many ways to improve on the health care delivery system in the country. A good start could be looking at what is currently happening in these hospitals and try to make amends where necessary for the betterment of our country.
Today, there isn’t any difference between the private pharmacies and the government dispensaries in terms of the cost of drugs, especially essential drugs. When you go to cottage hospital or even the Connaught hospital, you will be perturbed to meet different things happening at these hospital dispensaries with regards the cost of drugs, as compared to what is expected by the central medical stores, the supplier of drugs to these hospitals.
In theory, you will see that the cost of a particular drug is encouraging but what is being practiced within the dispensaries is quite different from the people’s expectations. Now there is also the problem of the dispensaries not having the required essential drugs for patients and for most times, you realize that, instead of people getting drugs from government dispensaries, they go straight into the private hospitals where they are charged heavily by these pharmacy owners. So this could be a place where our government, especially the health ministry should look into if the president’s dream of a good health care delivery is to be achieved.
Corruption, like the attitude our president is asking us to change is everywhere. Therefore the ACC could do this nation well if they begin to look into these hospitals and even from the areas where government drugs come from, that is, the government central medical stores. Investigate the sources from where government drugs come and then the commission could go to the point of unearthing whether such drugs do normally reach the targeted beneficiaries.
In fact, I am made to understand that, supply of drugs to these dispensaries is now done by UNICEF and not the central medical stores and if that is the case, then I wonder what the central medical stores is now doing. At one point, somebody told me drugs meant for cottage hospital found their way to private pharmacies along Free street and Short streets in central Freetown. This shows that, even the authorities who are to be working in the interest of the public at times behave selfishly, thus undermining the efforts of the president.
That said, investigations I have been conducting for the past one month show that, nurses are highly involved in selling drugs in government hospitals. Go to cottage or Connaught and see for yourself. One common fact is that, when a doctor prescribes some drugs for you, especially if you are admitted in any of these hospitals, the nurses are always with the drugs, ready to sell them to patients at the same cost as that in the dispensaries.
The rehabilitation and construction of new health facilities, as said by the president could be one way of ameliorating the poor current health predicament in the country but perhaps, there is need to also encourage medics from our Medical school to stay in the country and help in improving the health situation. The other day one of my colleagues at Awoko, reported that, Bonthe was suffering from lack of proper medical facilities and interestingly, a dog was met at the hospital, instead of medical patients.
Also, in Kono where I recently visited, the Doctor, one Mr. Lebbie told me that the hospital is going through many problems, including the lack of electricity, water supply and even the unavailability of drugs. In Makeni, the same problem and worst perhaps is the fact that, there isn’t a mortuary in the Makeni government hospital. This shows the dire need for attention to our hospitals.
Medical doctors must be provided with the needed facilities. Their salaries must be improved if only president Koroma is to succeed. The life a medical doctor saves could be the very life of the president or the life of a child in my village, behind Binkolo.
The availability of medical doctors in the country is one of the many ways of tackling the existing problems in the medical sector, and that is achievable by giving more facilities to the existing hospitals thus encouraging those few doctors to stay in the country.
The government must continue showing its commitment to the area of health care in the country. Hospitals through out the country must be well equipped and hospital staffs given the requisite provision for their job. Even areas like Kailahun must be considered in this direction. They should not be given development only when they vote the APC to the council as said by our Vice President.
We have seen today that quack doctors have overtaken the medical profession and the government seems not to be taking that issue with the seriousness it deserves. “Peppeh doctors” must be stopped from “killing” our people, the Pharmacy Board must go beyond publishing fake drugs on newspaper but must go further in prosecuting those who import such drugs in the country.
Back street and Lumley streets are well known areas for the importation of drugs into the country and there is the possibility that even fake drugs are being imported by those people. So the Pharmacy Board must start checking those pharmacies where drugs are bought at wholesale and then retailed to people by these “peppeh doctors”
The development of a given nation must not be left in the hands of those elected to serve our interest alone. So even as the president is trying, lets all put our hands on deck for a better Sierra Leone. By John Baimba Sesay