By Karamba Touray
I am writing this piece both as a citizen’s complaint as well as an alarm notification for the authorities of The Gambia Government. It is my hope that the five members of the National Assembly representing the approximately 100,000 residents of CRR North spread over the five constituencies of Upper Saloum, Lower Saloum, Nianija, Niani and Sami would constitute an urgent cross-party working group and prevail on the central government to address this urgent priority.
This large swathe of our country has no hospital. What it has are what the government call health centres in a handful of places like Kaur, Chamen, Kuntaur and Karantaba. These facilities individually and in total are basically ramshackle bare buildings with very little medication, diagnostic tools, no reliable water or power supply and not a single qualified medical doctor stationed at any of them or even one that occasionally visits any of them to render medical services. Every single one of these health centres are run by nurses and auxiliary staff devoid of the requisite medicines, tools and working environment needed to attend to even routine illnesses.
The consequences for this critical deficiency are dire for residents as diseases go undiagnosed and those who manage to show up can’t have medicines from these bare centres. I have had personal experiences with patients that had to be taken 350 miles to Banjul from Sami for treatment on medical conditions that a doctor operating from a moderately equipped health centre in Karantaba or Kuntaur could have diagnosed and treated those patients before their conditions worsened.
And the ones I have personal knowledge of may be among the lucky few having the opportunity of being evacuated. The vast majority just stay in their villages and endure their sad and difficult fate until death arrives. I realise our poor country has acute resource challenges but to consign 100,000 people to a situation where they are not serviced by a single qualified medical doctor and have no real health facility to turn to is both pathetic and intolerable.
Consequently, I am respectfully calling on our elected representatives to work as a collective and place an urgent request before the ministers of Finance and Health to accompany all five NAMs of CRR North on a fact-finding mission to the area to see firsthand the facilities purporting to be health centres. On the trip the delegation should make time to also randomly visit sick and infirm villagers bedridden in their homes with no ability to travel to Banjul or elsewhere to seek treatment.
Such a visit has the potential to help the ministers and lawmakers who have ultimate responsibility over the citizens they govern, put a human face in their overall considerations and decision-making.
While it is a given that the government cannot comprehensively address all of these serious gaps in accessing basic healthcare the people of CRR North face, I believe as a necessary interim measure, The Gambia government should immediately mobilise resources and send at least six qualified doctors to the area and upgrade two of the health centres with medicines, equipment, reliable water and power as well as two functional ambulances to serve as a bridge solution until the remaining three health centres can similarly upgraded.
The residents can then rely on the two that is being upgraded and the ambulances can be used to ferry more critically ill patients to and from the centres. Because of the acute nature of the crisis, getting help to this neglected community should be expedited and not be subjected to the routine bureaucratic red tape. Lives are at stake and something can and should be done. It is my hope that with government recognising the magnitude of the crisis and exerting maximum effort to address it , we can begin to see lives saved and citizens given a ray of hope that things can be better for them .
The author, Karamba Touray, is resident in the USA.