By Tabora Bojang
Health Minister Dr Ahmad Lamin Samateh told lawmakers yesterday that the community ambulance service scheme introduced by President Barrow to improve access to healthcare faces a litany of challenges including misuse, fuel and funding constraints forcing some of them to be grounded.
The Barrow government ventured into a partnership with the UN Office for Project Services, UNOPS, and commissioned a fleet of ambulances to support community ambulance services and ease burden on referrals as well as bridge the gap in access to health care for rural and urban communities.
Appearing before lawmakers yesterday, Health Minister Samateh disclosed that following the commissioning of the ambulances, the government inked an arrangement with Riders for Health, RFH, to help his ministry better manage the ambulances with regard to fueling, maintenance and upkeep allowing the ministry focus on other problems in the health sector.
“The permanent secretary would be called here and there that an ambulance has broken down or the battery has been stolen or the fuel is stolen and so forth. So all these burdens are on RFH and that allows us to concentrate more on other activities because it would have been a nightmare for us to manage them,” Dr Samateh stated.
He said under the arrangement the government is expected to make monthly reimbursements to the RFH for the upkeep of the ambulances but it was not being done due to the finance ministry’s failure to release funds as proposed in the budget.
“What is actually budgeted unfortunately is not what we receive to transfer to RFH each month. We have budgeted D9 million monthly but unfortunately we have not received that most of the time. Each month, arrears keep on accumulating and it gets to a level RFH also complained and grounded some of those vehicles,” the minister disclosed.
Responding to recommendations by the health committee to ensure ambulances unfit for road worthy are replaced, Samateh said this was part of the government’s contract with RFH but it cannot be enforced unless the arrears are paid.
He also added that the ministry is aware of a number of complaints regarding fuel shortages disrupting services.
Asked how much is provided to each ambulance, Minister Samateh replied that he could not tell since such details were under the purview of regional health directorates. “I don’t know exactly how much each one of them gets. It varies depending on the location of the ambulances; he said.
The health minister also decried “the misuse and abuse” of some ambulances. “We had reports and we dealt with those reports of people trying to use the ambulances for other things. We had a report of someone taking one of the ambulances across the border into Senegal for private reasons. So those are issues of abuse and we are dealing with them.”
He disclosed that in a bid to address misuse of the ambulances, a plan was being drawn with support from the German government to establish an ambulance command centre where GPS equipment would be installed on all the ambulances to monitor their fuel consumption and ensure they are used for ambulance services alone.