Health Dilemma

WE WISH to propose the establishment of a Public Health Inspectorate in the Ministry of Health whose mandate will be to evaluate performance of Zambia’s health care system and alleviate the needless suffering that patients must endure at the hands of poorly motivated staff.

This is what one such patient says about the situation: ‘‘Patients have continued to stand in long queues for many hours, despite having made many complaints to authorities. The situation is so pathetic; if this is happening in Lusaka, what is the situation elsewhere? This is unacceptable.  We are over 50 years and patients should not wait for hours on end to be seen by a doctor.’’

It is ironic that while the PF Government has embarked on one of the most ambitious health infrastructure development programmes the country has ever known – which is the envy of many African states – the medical and clinical situation on the ground leaves much to be desired.

The Kanyama debacle is only the tip of the iceberg. It is found in almost all the Government medical facilities in Lusaka, especially in our teeming townships and compounds. Even the University Teaching Hospital, the pride of our nation in terms of medical advances and quality of equipment and clinical care, cannot escape this analogy. The situation is worse in rural areas.

At many of these facilities patients, especially expectant mothers and those with children on their backs, arrive there to seek medical attention at 05.30 hours to be in the queue to see a doctor, clinical officer or nurse. They will spend the whole day either standing, seated for the lucky ones, and moving from one table or office to another till 18 hours.

By then some of them would have been attended to; the majority are told ‘‘come tomorrow’’. In the midst of this chaos,  patients complain that staff at these clinics arrive for work at 09 hours, go for tea and lunch breaks sometimes for up to two hours; laboratory test results take two to three days to come out; even a malaria test may take the whole day. Scan and X-ray results may take up to one week to be available.

But the patient is told to go to the clinic and check for the results every day. One hopes the patient’s medical complaint will ‘‘understand’’ the problem and wait. That is how some of them die in queues.

While the dilemma of Zambia’s medical challenges cannot be blamed on Government alone, something urgent needs to be done to find a solution. We cannot go on and turn a blind eye, pretending all is well when it is not.

We know that the ever-increasing demand on Government health care system has outstripped budgetary allocations. The doctor-to-patient ratio is widening every day despite the huge effort to train more medical personnel; nurses are trained and pass out almost weekly, but even they are a drop in the ocean.

The national budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Health is ballooning every year, but the challenge is far greater than the effort.  The country is faced with a crisis of expectation.

It is about time our medical technocrats in the Ministry of Health sat down under the stewardship of Dr Joseph Kasonde and his capable deputy Dr Chitalu Chilufya as a national Indaba to evaluate the performance of Government facilities and find out why, despite the gigantic progress made in the provision of trained staff, equipment, infrastructure, medicine and other critical facilities, we are failing.

How do our neighbours, with similar challenges, budgets, constraints and background, manage? It could be they try harder than we do.


Categorized | Editorial

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