Response to statement attributed to the Minister of Health
I crave your indulgence to express my views on an article published in your newspaper on the press conference convened at the opening of the Conference and Scientific Meeting of the West African College of Surgeons at the Kairaba Beach Hotel.
The article has generated considerable controversy in the medical fraternity and has pitted the Health Minister against the general public, State and Non-State actors at a crucial time in our democratic transitional process.
As someone who has worked with the Health Minister, I believe the Minister’s impeccable character, professionalism and commitment led to her appointment to this high office. Since the publication of the said article, there has been a huge public outcry and the assumption in some quarters that a non medical professional is not fitting for the position of Health Minister.
This thinking is rather erroneous or misguided. Many countries have adopted the practice for good reason. It is noteworthy that The Gambia has had more non-medical practitioners as Health Minister since Independence than medical professionals. Between 1962 and 2013, The Gambia has had fifteen (15) Health Ministers of which only six (6) were from the Medical field. Our neighbors, Senegal, just returned to the same practice in the latest cabinet reshuffle.
Apart from the sensational title of the article “Corruption Hindering Health Sector” written by Omar Bah and published in the Standard Newspaper edition of 28 February 2018, the piece claims amongst other things that the Minister of Health castigated young doctors, employed within the health sytem, for unpatriotic practices. Giving due respect to your paper, the Minister’s utterances, in my view, did not single out any group of doctors. The Minister made reference to the open secret of malpractices at our nation’s hospitals, for which there is a genuine expectation that medical staff, as custodians of medical resources in our hospitals, must bear some responsibility.
In this period of abundant goodwill, many philanthropists and international actors (state and Non State actors) have complained that their donations and inputs are nowhere to be found in the medical facilities they were intended to assist. This cannot be acceptable and is certainly not sustainable. We must be bold enough to address any malpractice that defeats our sole objective of providing efficient and effective health care to the nation. The Minister’s statement was therefore, in my view, a first step towards turning around a difficult challenge.
Every so often, and the evidence is there for all of us to see, patients are referred for tests or treatment to private helth facilities that are manned by the same government employed health workers including doctors. Obviously, this issue alone does not constitute the only challenge faced by our hospitals. It is not a matter of shifting blame but calling a spade a spade.
The Hon. Minister fully recognises the challenges faced by the doctors and has no intention of minimizing the tireless contribution they make time and time again in salvaging the ailing health system bequeathed to this government. But, as in many government sectors/departments there are unscrupulous elements that privilege their personal interests against the general good. As a health administrator of considerable experience the Hon. Minster has a good idea on the source of many of the sector’s problems and has been arduously trying to redress them within the existing limitations.
Her latest initiative relates to better regulation of private clinics who with their exorbitant charges very often keep patients they do not have the expertise to treat only to dump them at government hospitals when they are on their final hours or minutes. Imagine a patient being given anesthetic for operation only to discover that there is no oxygen in the clinic!
As a concerned Gambian medical practitioner I call on my colleagues to bury the hatchet and to engage the Hon. Minister with a view to dissecting further how to resolve the problems facing our ailing health sector, how to strengthen our profession and how to serve in the best interests of all Gambians.
Our Health Minister needs the collaboration and support of health service providers and all stakeholders in order to continue the good initiatives she has started. Her vision is to promote better health service delivery for Gambians; and to move the sector to the level Gambians aspire to and deserve. We must all work with her to ensure that this vision is achieved underpinned by clear objectives we should all contribute constructively to.
This is no time for bickering. It is time for practical action. Health service is not a game of politics as it concerns the important matter of life and death. The issue revolves around good governance and eradicating undesirable practices in the health system, which any patriotic citizen should applaud and support. Failing to reckon with this fact only serves to condone and perpetuate a cancerous situation that everybody knows exists.
A concerned health practitioner
A cup of tea for Mr President: UTG
Mr. President, could you please draw your mind back to 1st December, 2016 – when The Gambia decided to vote you in which was later rejected by the then President, Yahya Jammeh? The students of the University of The Gambia were among the first to denounce Jammeh’s irrational expression against the valid election conducted by the IEC. Such a bold step by the UTG students during that period of excessive fear, despair and chaos is praiseworthy and genuine. It is because they stood, stand and will continue to stand by rule of law, democracy and the rights of people to be safeguarded. Thus, it is mandatory that your government shifts its undivided attention to this prominent institution since it’s the citadel of education in The Gambia.
Unfortunately, since the entrance of your government into office, not a single tête-à-tête platform has been given to the UTGSU despite the numerous letters they wrote to your office seeking audience. This is unimpressive and not promising, for the simple fact that the UTGSU is the mouthpiece of students in the UTG. As a result, if they are not given an opportunity to meet you as the head of state and the chancellor to discuss pressing issues affecting students in the university, then where would you expect them to go and find a panacea to their problems? Sir, UTG is faced with enormous challenges since its inception, among them include: shortage of competent lecturers, insufficient campuses, downgraded library, inadequate educational facilities, and the list of goes on. Sir, if this institution we entrust with producing intellectuals to drive this nation forward is not empowered with the needed mechanism, be assured that our vision will fail and the development of our beloved nation will stagnate.
Therefore, your government must endeavor to sit down and have a roundtable discussion with the UTGSU in order to collaborate and tackle matters asphyxiating the UTG. Sir, students deserve an environment with adequate competent lecturers, an updated library, establishment of more campuses, and better learning facilities. This is due to the fact that UTG students are tomorrow’s leaders and they’ll be the ones to push this nation to higher heights. That being the case, more attention and plans must be effected for the best interest of the UTG and its students most especially.
Muhamed Lamin Ceesay
University of The Gambia