Page of Many years ago, I went to visit a father of a friend of mine at the then Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) and now the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital (EFSTH) in Banjul. My friend’s father (“Uncle”) was a highly respected elder who had retired from the civil service after an illustrious career. Some of his children held significant positions in the public and private sectors and were, in their own rights, well-respected in the country.
Uncle was admitted in the RVH Private Block in a room which, as I recall, he had to himself. I still recall (and this happened about 40 years ago), thinking to myself the first time I saw him in his hospital bed: we better work hard to make this country better! The reason that thought crossed my mind was that I thought that all the respect he had could not save him from the shortcomings of our wretched health care system. And if Uncle couldn’t be saved from the wrath of our ineptitude and wickedness, no one else would.
About 10 years ago, a pimple on a leg of niece of mine in Ballanghar who was heavily pregnant burst, and she started bleeding. She was taken to the Ballanghar Clinic, where she was examined and referred to Kaur Minor Health Centre about 7km east of Ballanghar. The health workers at Kaur in turn referred her to the then AFPRC Hospital in Farafenni, about 30km west of Ballanghar. She died, along with the child she was expecting, when she reached Ballanghar on her way to Farafenni. Although no autopsy was conducted on her, even a lay person like me can figure out that she bled to death.
What is outrageous about this is that no health worker in Ballanghar or Kaur bothered to tie a string or rope (torniquet) around her leg above the bleeding pimple to reduce the bleeding. Although the use of torniquet is basic First Aid, supposedly trained health care workers in Ballanghar and Kaur did not know or care to do so to save the lives of my niece and her un-born child. And nothing, absolutely nothing, came out of it.
Although my late niece was an ordinary, un-educated Gambian peasant, others more privileged and educated than her have suffered similar fates at the hands of our health care system. For example, a friend of mine who was a senior civil servant in The Gambia died literarily right before my eyes at Serrekunda General Hospital following the failure of a ventilator that was helping him breathe. The reason for the failure of the ventilator?: power went out, and the ventilator was not hooked to a UPS. I mean, how can you hook someone to a ventilator without a UPS, knowing that power can go off anytime? Again, nobody was held accountable.
The most recent, and perhaps the most painful example, of the wickedness of our health care system has been unfolding over the past few months and is the case of my friend Matarr Bah, commonly known as “Dad,” who retired a few years ago as the Director of Fisheries.
I first met Dad 52 years ago, when we both went to Armitage Secondary School. I recall having a problem calling him “Dad,” because I wondered why such a small boy should be called “Dad!” We were together for five years at Armitage, and became lifelong friends, as often happens with kids from boarding schools.
We went our separate ways upon graduation from Armitage: Dad joined the Fisheries Department, and I joined the Department of Agriculture. I later went on at various times for further studies, as he too did, but we went to different countries, and studied in different fields. So we went on for a few decades without seeing each other, or keeping in touch.
Nevertheless, the bond between me and Dad was unbreakable; not even by time or distance. The reason for this was simple. Dad, you see, was saintly. He had a clean heart that wished everyone well, and he had no ill-intentions. Dad was one of those people who, whenever I met them, I felt had a special liking for me – a boundless love that was as genuine as it was selfless. In our later years, he always called me “Doc,” and embarrassed me every time he did. Although I protested many times that he should call me “Katim,” he would have none of that.
Dad fell ill a few years after retirement, and thus started his battles in our health care system. I learned that he was sick around the time he was about to go into surgery at a private clinic in The Gambia. And his medical problems went from bad to worse following his surgery. In addition, the encounter with a private clinic exposed many of the shortcomings in our health care system. For example, when he wanted to have a WhatsApp call with the surgeon who operated on him, he was made to pay, as he had to, to get copies of his medical records.
He then turned to the public health system. There again, he faced many problems, ranging from difficulties seeing a medical doctor, lack of medication, the high cost of drugs, and lack of or inadequate care and follow-up on his situation. He one-time arranged for a medical doctor to visit him at his home, but even then, things didn’t quite work out.
Almost two weeks ago, Dad passed away at his home in Serrekunda. And I felt that not only had I lost a great friend and brother, The Gambia too, had lost a great citizen. Dad lived with his family in their family compound until he died. He did not accumulate massive wealth through corruption or build a mansion or mansions with public funds. And he was in a position to do so, if he wanted to. Being at the helm of the fisheries sector, he could have made millions selling fishing licenses and/or turning a blind eye to illegal practices in the sector. But he did not.
Besides his professionalism and integrity, Dad was kind, friendly, and supportive to many. I never met a person who said a bad word about him, and everyone I met at his funeral gushed about how nice a guy he was.
Despite all the praise that was heaped on Dad when he passed away, I felt that we, as a country and as a society had failed him. In his greatest moment of need when he was sick for a long time, this man who dedicated his entire working life to serving our country honestly and to the best of his abilities, got no support or the quality care that he deserved. We, as a people, probably did not deserve the hard work and integrity that was Dad’s trademark as our public servant. Fortunately, Allah SWT has even higher rewards, and I pray He grants Dad Jannatul Firdaus, where he’ll be a welcome citizen.
Katim Seringe Touray, Ph.D., is a soil scientist and an international development consultant, and can be reached at [email protected] Please visit the online version of the article on Medium (https://kstouray.medium.com) to access the links to sources of information in the article, and other articles by him.