INVESTIGATIONS by the Lesotho Times have revealed depressing details about the deteriorating standards at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, the country’s biggest and only referral health institution.
As explained in our lead story, authorities have watched the hospital sliding into near-paralysis because of what we fear could be a blatant case of abdication of duty and sheer negligence.
Otherwise what else could explain the hospital’s decision to suspend critical surgical operations because of erratic power supplies and the lack of basics such as oxygen?
It’s disquieting that the country’s major hospital cannot attend to critical cases because someone does not bother to check why the electricity supplies at the hospital are erratic.
We are thinking of the up to 50 patients that the surgical department has to take into its theatres every week.
How about the expecting women who might need ceasarian sections?
Then there are emergency cases of people who would have been either shot, stabbed or injured in road accidents.
Isn’t it alarming that there are other emergencies such as bowel obstruction, appendicitis and ruptured ectopic pregnancies as well as urgent cases referred from district hospitals?
We have learnt that the crisis at the hospital is even deeper. Basic drugs that any health institution, let alone a referral hospital, should have are nowhere near Queen Elizabeth II Hospital. The blood reserves are always at critical levels. Essential things such as surgical gloves are in short supply.
We know that some patients sleep on the floor, and there is no hot water for their baths. Add to that a disaffected workforce that has to endure long hours in deplorable conditions. Doctors are forced to work long shifts because the hospital simply doesn’t have enough of them.
Nurses struggle to cope with the multitudes that have nowhere else to seek health services.
Some of the health workers complain that either their salaries are too low or delayed – or both – yet we expect committed and diligent service from them.
Needless to say, Queen Elizabeth II Hospital buildings are dilapidated. Private hospitals and clinics that offer better services in cleaner and friendlier conditions are there but they are for those who can afford.
Lest we forget, the majority of Lesotho’s 1.8 million people live below one United States dollar a day in a country where one in every four people has HIV, the virus that causes Aids.
This means the majority of the poor people of this country have no choice but to go to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital when they are sick or involved in accidents because that is the only place they can afford.
But if the conditions at the country’s major hospital are that ominous, we shudder to imagine how the situation is like at district hospitals and clinics.
It is the duty of every responsible government to ensure that the country’s healthcare system is in order. Curiously, a spokesman in the ministry of health said the problems at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital were minor and will be sorted out.
The powers-that-be are likely to be quick to remind us that they are building a new referral hospital which they say will be well-equipped. But as long as no one understands the underlying problems in our health sector, the crisis will never end. The priority should be to put proper systems in place.
The supply side is clearly one area the government can get right.
If the chosen supplier cannot deliver basic medicines and ancillary items, why should he be kept?
If the drugs and equipment are available at the central stores, then whoever is tasked with making orders for Queen Elizabeth II Hospital must not draw a single cent of taxpayers’ money.
And if there is no money to buy all those essentials, including functional power generators, the government should consider revising its spending.
That includes not buying ministers luxury four-wheel-drive vehicles ahead of more urgent priorities.
As long as we see the worrying situation in our healthcare system as a “minor problem” then we will continue to have a much bigger problem.
As it is we are sitting on a ticking time bomb – and we’ll continue losing lives unnecessarily – until the government takes drastic measures to revamp the entire health care system.
Access to health care should not be reduced to a privilege. It is a basic human right.