Meeting the essential health needs of the people should be a priority for any serious government because a sick nation cannot have a vibrant workforce. It is no secret that healthcare is a nightmare in The Gambia, but as usual the government of the day continues to make us believe that something is being done to address this extant misery and that we just need to be a little more patient since they inherited a very bad system. Therefore, the citizens are left with no choice but to make do with the current deplorable health system until an optimal solution is found, no matter how long that might take.
The fundamental question to ask is what exactly is being done to address this dire situation? We continue to be inundated with a plethora of fundraising campaigns on Facebook and other social media platforms to help foot the medical bills of our children with some health complications that require overseas treatments. Kudos to the thousands of Gambians out there whose timely responses to these fundraising drives represent nothing but pure undiluted philanthropism on a silver platter, undoubtedly. Not being pessimistic here, but one is forced to worry about the sustainability of these fundraising campaigns as donor fatigue sets in, and you wonder if we will be able to fundraise ourselves out of this mess without government’s intervention to provide a lasting solution. There is always this argument that government cannot do it alone. I am afraid that argument is giving the government some leeway to abdicate its responsibility to cater for the needs and welfare of the citizenry. One of the things I always look forward to seeing in these fundraising drives is that accompanying letter from the hospital recommending overseas treatment and the reason for that recommendation. In one of those letters, the hospital recommended an overseas treatment for some child because they said there is no pediatric surgeon in the country. Seriously? It is my fervent belief that our hospitals are keeping this data on referrals in terms of the number of referrals, types of cases been referred, the frequency of the referrals, and the cost of the treatments. The government through the ministry of health could use that data to identify the resources and capacity that we have versus the resources and capacity that we need. Once that gap is identified, we can then work on bridging the gap, if the political will is there in the first place.
The lame excuse that governments of developing countries always put forward for not addressing the welfare needs of their citizens is the lack of pecuniary resources. A closer look at the lavish spending by the same governments in some areas makes you wonder whether we lack the pecuniary resources, or we are just not prioritizing our spending. Did The Gambia government not spend D18M on President Barrow’s charter flight to the US a couple of years ago when it didn’t have to? Did the former vice-president Madam Jallow Tambajang not inform us that her Permanent Secretary and the Accountant General wired $32,000 to the gambian mission for a two-week trip to the US, out which $15,000 to $18,000 was spent on vehicle rentals alone? Could those expenses have been sliced to reasonable minimum amounts and the balances reallocated to the health sector of the economy to address some burning issues there? The answer to that would be an emphatic yes because a quick trip down memory lane reminds us of the government’s assertion that the nation’s coffers were empty when they came to power. One would have expected austerity or frugality to be the order of the day as a means of curbing feckless spending, but what we have seen so far is the complete opposite; a spendthrift government for that matter.
Mr. President was in Farafenni last night as part his meet the people’s tour. This city houses the Farafenni General Hospital, a major hospital that was built by the AFPRC/APRC government not for ornamental purposes or to beautify the city, but to reduce if not stop referrals to the RVTH from Farafenni and surrounding communities on the north bank of the River Gambia. I hope Mr. President visited that hospital to find out for himself whether this major health facility is equipped with the necessary capacity and resources to achieve the very raison d’être of its establishment. The budget for the meet the people’s tour is in the millions we heard and do not doubt the veracity of that information. It is crystal clear that this tour has always been and continues to be a political jamboree coupled with razzmatazz that drains the nation of its meager financial resources while the very people that the tour is meant for continue to live in a state of destitution with lack of access to basic primary healthcare among other things. It is about time the government rethinks how this tour is to be conducted vis-à-vis its intended purpose to not make it look like it is talking the talk but not walking the walk.
Our health sector requires the swift attention of the government and needs to be made a huge priority or at least elevate to a higher level on the government’s scale of preference amid scarce resources. What strategies are being formulated to ensure that five, ten or fifteen years later our major public hospitals will not be recommending overseas treatments for our children with complications? Are we training our medical personnel in the various specialty areas as a way of building capacity? Do we plan on acquiring the required equipment for our hospitals? Are we even trying to find out the acquisition cost of these equipment to see if we could reallocate our meager pecuniary resources to get the equipment soonest possible? We ought to remind ourselves that there is no invisible hand that would intervene to fix our deplorable healthcare, nor is the problem going to fade away just like that. We must have the political will and exemplary leadership to take on this issue with a meticulous and pragmatic approach.
Finally, it is without a jot of doubt that we have come a long way. The past and present governments have achieved somethings that we can build on. What we must not do is rest on our laurels and be complacent with the status quo for there is always room for improvement. It is indeed frustrating that we are moving at a chameleon pace when we have the means to accelerate this movement. Let’s continue to push our government to its elastic limits to improve our health and social wellbeing, instead of having a penchant for anything that is coming from the government.
The writer, Dibba Chaku, lives in the United States