By Alagie Manneh
The health ministry has fervently denied claims that it has “neglected and abandoned” Gambian patients in Turkey, six months after airlifting them for a treatment programme in Ankara.
The Gambian patients, numbering close to 50, left the country last December as part of a partnership between Ankara and Banjul to treat a number of Gambian patients yearly.
But the escorts of the patients, including family members said the ministry has failed to live up to its promise of ensuring patients receive per diems and dignified shelter in Turkey.
“The agreement was to take care of patients, their escorts and everything,” Modou Ceesay, 30, told The Standard in a telephone interview.
However, Ceesay who is a general practitioner escorting a patient with heart condition, alleged that the ministry lodged them in the “cheapest hotel” in Turkey, and forced them to pay 300 euros.
He lamented that before the group left Banjul, the ministry claimed it could not access money from the finance ministry.
“They told us to go and the money will be sent later. They even told us to bring some pocket money. But we had to be here for four weeks before any money was sent.”
He said the government later sent them 850 euros each, as opposed to the promised $1000.
“We had already taken so much credit to take care of ourselves. The Minister came here and saw everything. He couldn’t believe we were here without money. But things got even bad when he returned. He was pretending,” Ceesay said.
Mr Ceesay said her sister’s situation is now dire. “She collapsed yesterday. We cannot afford to buy medicine. We are not happy here. We want help but we also want Gambians to know about our plight and to not fall victim when the ministry comes to them with promises of taking them for treatment.”
Fatoumata Trawali, who is accompanying her sister, 22, said accumulatively, the money that was sent to her by her uncle for her sister’s treatment “can buy two compounds in Gambia”.
“He has sent almost all his savings. He was not supposed to do that. That was the government’s responsibility,” she stated.
She said as a result, her uncle is now broke.
Kaddy Sanyang has also been in Turkey for six months now accompanying her brother, 16, with a heart condition.
She said her siblings have sent so much money that they no longer believe her story of government’s neglect.
“We have been dumped here,” she added.
A ministry official, one Amadou Darboe who accompanied the patients but now back in the country, told The Standard“I am not the PS of the ministry” when contacted to comment on the issue.
The permanent secretary, Momodou Lamin Jaiteh said accusations that his ministry neglect Gambians are false.
“When they were going, the government approved a payment for each patient and escort of $1000. If you go and you are able to get treatment before that money finishes, you come back but sometimes you go into diagnosis and your stay is extended. We were not officially informed of their condition. It was one family member who brought the issue to my attention,” the PS narrated.
He added that the accusations are an elaborate attempt to tarnish the good image of the health ministry.
“We are now processing what would be their third payment since they left. They are not even appreciative of our minister who went there to visit them.”
PS Jaiteh said the truth is that most of the patients and their escorts have been using their per diems for the wrong purpose.
“We noticed some of these people were sending money to their relatives here at home while living lavish lifestyles. We will not send our own brothers to Turkey to struggle,” he added.