By Sainey Darboe
Following a visit to Gunjur in the course of a fact-finding mission, a Commonwealth group has recommended that “significant investment and support from the international community is needed to support improvements in the healthcare system”. While touting the successful procurement of $16M funding from the African Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank for building new hospital, which will be the first international standard hospital in The Gambia, the report said:
“Our interactions with the health system were limited. We visited the medical clinic in Gunjur, but did not speak to any government officials or doctors working in the area. Of those we did speak to there were constant references to problems, lack of quality, and lack of capacity. Significant investment and support from the international community is needed to support improvements in the healthcare system.
As with education there was an expansion of health centres around the country during President Jammeh’s tenure, and health improvements were registered as a result. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the life expectancy of Gambians at 61.2 years, is a net increase from 51.3 years in 1990.
There is, though, a significant shortage of doctors and nurses. Many qualified medical professionals have left The Gambia to work abroad. The health system has also been badly affected by the electricity outages which have become common in 2017. We heard stories of babies dying because there was no electricity to power incubators for example. The WHO ranks The Gambia as among the poorest 20 countries in the world for deaths by Malaria, Maternal Conditions, Falls, Hepatitis B, and Measles. Mental health support was also reported as almost non-existent. These areas could all be improved with well trained staff, investment in facilities, and better infrastructure such as electricity supply and the road network to support health gains across the country”.
The report which will receive its public release on the 16th April, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London added on a more positive note:
“We did see one example of the positive effect of medical professionals leaving. We met Dr. James N’Dow, who benefitted from a British Council scholarship and now a Professor of Urological Medicine in Aberdeen.
Dr. N’Dow supports healthcare charities which supports The Gambia, and has recently secured funding of $16 million from the African Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank for a build new hospital, which will be the first international standard hospital in The Gambia”.
The fact finding mission was constituted following an application by The Gambia to re-join the Commonwealth .The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative constituted a Commission of Commonwealth eminent persons to provide an assessment of the country’s suitability for re-admission, and the support that the Commonwealth family of member nations, intergovernmental organisations, and accredited organisations should provide to The Gambia in the event of its re-entry.
The objective of the assessment, according to the Commonwealth, would be to ensure that The Gambia can be assisted to establish a more enduring democracy, adherence to constitutional values and good governance, and thus become a worthy member of The Commonwealth.
The Commission was led by Nyameko Barney Pityana, former Chair of the South African Human Rights Commission. The other Commissioners were Zeinab Badawi, broadcaster and Chair of the Royal African Society, and Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, former chair of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission. The Commissioners were supported by David White, Director of the London Office of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.