May 25, 2015 By Patrick J. Kamara
On a daily basis, the situation at Connaught Hospital, Sierra Leone’s biggest and main referral hospital is as though the country is now Ebola free. When Concord Times visited the hospital last week, there were only three patients below the age of 15 in the Ebola Isolation Unit and everyone else was going about their normal duties.
The Ebola Isolation Unit is just one unit in the hospital where there is a lull in activities. This is because of the few new Ebola cases recorded in the country lately.
According to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, there were just eight Ebola cases last week. Before then, there were two cases.
There are sufficient equipment and personnel to deal with higher number of Ebola cases, says Sahr Yokie, a staff at the Isolation Unit. The only thing is, new cases are unlikely to spike in the future to the levels recorded in December or January, according to health experts.
But the situation with the other hospital Units is dire. Matron, Isata Kamara says that the hospital was facing serious logistical challenges. For example, although the government was supplying drugs, there were inadequate beds. Initially, the hospital had a capacity for 2000 patients; however, due to insufficient beds, it can only now accommodate 500 patients.
“The population in the city is between two to three million with nearly half of that number coming to the hospital whenever they get sick. There are some cases that are to be admitted, but we cannot because of the limited bed capacity,” said Matron Kamara.
The Connaught Hospital’s situation has been made worse by the homeless patients that were brought in after the operation Western Area Surge to contain Ebola transmission.
“They are now occupying beds that others are supposed to use. We have approached the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs for the welfare of these homeless people but they are yet to respond to us. All of them should have been discharged but how can we when they are homeless. They are traumatized,” she noted.
There is a gradual increase in the number of patients visiting the hospital, said Matron Kamara. The fear of Ebola may have prevented people from going to the hospital, but over the months, confidence is being restored, she stressed.
All the 15 wards in the hospital are currently functional and about 400 nurses are on hand to attend to patients. There are however few doctors.
Surgical cases, road traffic accidents and paediatric surgical operations are some of the common cases in the hospital, disclosed the Matron, adding that that the nurses were providing care and support for the patients.
Sheku Marrah, a homeless patient, told Concord Times that he used to stay with his friends, but when he became sick they drove him away fearing he might have been infected with the Ebola virus. However, even when his health improved, his friends still refused to readmit him.
Also, 80-year-old Momodu Kargbo was staying at Savage Square and was brought to the hospital during the Surge. He has been denied access to his home even after being discharged from the hospital, he says. “I have to return to the hospital due to the stigmatization meted on me by my relatives.”
Another patient, Foday Kargbo, said he was receiving better treatment in the hospital, although the drugs provided were not free of charge. “They give us prescription and we buy the medicine. We however eat three times daily and the nurses are very friendly.”
Despite the problems with the hospital, one good news is that it has Personal Protective Equipment in abundance. The reductions in Ebola transmission numbers mean that there would be many unused PPEs. “We receive weekly supplies of the Personal Protective Equipment from the central medical stores,” she said.
The nurses and patients at the hospital want the government to provide more funding for the country’s largest health facility as part of overall efforts to strengthen the health system. That way, they said, Connaught Hospital wouldn’t be a shadow of its glorious past.