Thursday, November 3, 2011

Government responsible for deaths at Moi hospital

Sorry for the delayed posting of last Sunday's article. Here goes!


Sunday Nation 30 October 2011

Last week the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret was virtually closed down due to a shortage of essential supplies that would allow it to function as a referral hospital. Specialists at the hospital concluded that the hospital could hardly operate at the level of a sub-district hospital, and stopped offering all specialist clinical services as a result.

The hospital’s Intensive Care Unit had long ceased to function after all the machines broke down, and the theatre was closed due to lack of essential supplies to ensure that patients could get safe surgery at the facility. The few emergency cases that were attended to before the theatre was closed had poor outcomes as a result of lack of sterilising supplies and antibiotics to prevent infections.

In the rest of the hospital, lack of bare essentials such as medicines, gloves, syringes and needles, and stationery, together with a demotivated workforce combined to make a patient’s stay at the hospital a living nightmare. Doctors at the hospital agreed that the ethical thing to do was to refer patients to safer facilities, and advise colleagues not to refer their clients to the second largest referral hospital in Kenya.

The government response was typical. A new acting director was appointed, and promises were made about funds being made available to address the hole in the hospital’s budget. Supportive noises were made by politicians, and a turf war even erupted when the vice-president visited the facility on Sunday.

On the same day the VP visited the hospital, a patient died at the private wing of the hospital due to anaemia. Although her relatives and well-wishers were willing and ready to donate blood to save her life, the hospital and the regional blood transfusion centre did not have blood screening kits to ensure the safety of the product. Many patients died, and continue to die, of easily treatable conditions due to lack of cheap antibiotics in the wards.

Health workers in the hospital have been exposed to grave risks due to a shortage of protective gear while handling highly infectious material.

It is time someone took direct responsibility for this state of affairs. Several individuals must sleep with these preventable deaths on their conscience.

The hospital management should not have allowed the situation to deteriorate to this level. If necessary, they should have left their posts and gone back to the wards if they felt that the government was prepared to let patients die for whatever reason.

The hospital management board cannot escape responsibility by pretending that the situation deteriorated suddenly without their knowledge. If the board was unaware about the true financial position of the hospital, then the whole lot of them should bear responsibility for the preventable deaths.

The minister for Medical Services, under whose docket the hospital falls, was aware of the financial problems at the hospital long before the crisis exploded into the national limelight. He must not be allowed to have one more peaceful night’s sleep until he exorcises the ghosts of the innocent patients who died, and continue to die unnecessarily under his watch.

Above all, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga must be held to account. The blood of these innocent Kenyans is on the collective head of these two men and their “nusu mkate (half a loaf)” Cabinet.

Dr Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine 

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