Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What does the gas company fire toll say about Gambia's health system?

Last week, the official paper of the regime in Banjul reported that a fire accident had occured at, what now appears to have been, a propane gas factory where 13 victims were evacuated to the main referral hospital located in the capital city of Banjul.  One of the victims died the same day. This was on Wednesday 1st October.

At the time, the acting Director of Health Services Dr. Samba Ceesay assured family members and the public that the rest of the victims were properly being cared for, and that "essential medication...was being provided" to the surviving victims.

However, by Friday 3rd October or two days later 7 (seven) more victims of the accident have died while being 'treated' at Gambia's premier hospital where Gambians were assured less than 48 hours previously that the rest of the victims were in good hands.

Even though 7 (seven) of the 8 (eight) victims died by last week Friday, Gambians are only being told about this massive failure in Gambia's health system almost a week later.  This came as no surprise because this regime survives on deception as it is opaque in its dealings with the public.

The 5 (five) surviving victims - it appears from their last names that most of the victims are from the same family - we are told, have eventually been evacuated to Dakar, Senegal.  The evacuation did not take place earlier because this regime likes to pretend that it can hold its own.  It is what we refer to as a 'self-sufficiency syndrome' that has permeated every fabric of the dictatorship that has finally realized that it has failed Gambians but yet must continue to act otherwise.

Of course, the accident is a national tragedy, and our sympathy goes to the victims, their families, friends and colleagues.  Drawing lessons from the tragedy is appropriate as well, given the obvious failure at the main referral hospital that also enjoys the designation as a Teaching Hospital but without the basic medication and equipment to treat malaria patient much less a burn victim.  

The challenges faced by the health systems is central to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  Most of these countries (Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea) have witnessed their health systems ravaged by war and neglect only to be faced with the biggest public health threat they've ever experienced. Although Gambia is Ebola-free (a term we hesitate to use because of the false hope it provides), the country appears to be ill-prepared to handle a one-case scenario that Senegal experienced recently, and successfully handled, we might add.

To be fair to our friends in Banjul, all is not lost, however.  Hotel proprietors have been raising their voices with the hope of raising public awareness to the threat posed to both the health of Gambians as well as to tourism by the Ebola outbreak.  Financial contributions have also being made by the industry which, if properly utilized, will go a long way, we hope, to alleviating some of the obvious problems inherent in a very weak health system and a lackluster national emergency preparedness. The disastrous handling of the burn victims is certainly not a confidence-building event that will keep the Gambian public at ease in the face of a real public health threat.