The Pain of Seeking Treatment in Public Hospitals During Covid-19 Epidemic

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By Dr Libeya Bethuel, a pharmacist

It is t half past 7p.m, one and a half hours into my night shift at the place of work. I’m still at the preliminary stages of acclimatizing to my environment, where I would spend almost 12 more hours. A dark, slender lady shows up at the pharmacy, ready to have her prescription processed. Her face and voice communicate frustration and disappointment from the long hours she spent on queue waiting to be served. I throw words of encouragement here and there to help her out of the frustration before proceeding to run through her prescription for processing.

‘Mamaa, hizi dawa zote hatuna. Utaziangalia kesho kwa chemist karibu na penye unaishi’ I spoke these words with a heavy heart as I handed over the prescription back to her. She collected the prescription and left. This is a tide of frustration that health professionals swim through in public facilities when they have the knowledge to help but no tools/medicines to make the help happen.

A few minutes later, she shows up again…

‘Na niulize daktari…nisaidie na painkiller yoyote, nipunguze uchungu ndo ninunue dawa kesho. Saizi hakuna chemist iko open na siezienda nyumbani juu ya curfew. Atleast nikilala na njaa apa kwa corridor ya hosi bila uchungu itakuwa afadhali…’

These words cut through my heart. Here is a lady. She came to seek health services, something that her government promised to make available. Because of the large number of patients who had to be served by the limited number of health workers and infrastructure, she ended up being caught by the curfew. This could be a mother and a wife who is being expected by her family to be back home. But there she was, stuck within the hospital environment. As though that was not enough, she none of the prescribed medicines.

After asking a few questions on contraindications, known drug and food allergies, I gave her some pain killers, and slices of bread, since she had not eaten anything from the time she stepped into the hospital compound. Then she left to find a place to put up for the night, within the hospital compound.

This encounter left me with streams of thought. This could be my mother, or even elder sister, aunt, or grandmother. The situation is not different in any of our public hospitals.

Almost on a daily basis, this is what an average Kenyan goes through. It is sad that these same Kenyans remit all types of taxes to the government yet receive mediocrity in return. Will it be too much to demand accountability from the government on delivery of quality healthcare services to tax payers?

Kenyans have grown fond of giving private solutions to problems that require solutions from the government. No wonder we are opting for private hospitals and schools because the government ones are dysfunctional. Many would find it easier to send 500/- to their friend/relative hospital bill funds drive than to demand a vibrant health insurance scheme from the government for its citizens. Being philanthropic is good and highly encouraged, but not in matters that need to be sorted by the government. It is not sustainable in all ways.

Sustainability of solutions that need government address is only a surety if the government is kept in check on matters regarding needs of its people. It is time Kenyans have to shift their mindset from always running for private solutions to public problems, and start demanding government solutions to public problems from the government.

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