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Patients bask in the sun as they wait for doctors to attend to them.

By Frederick Womakuyu

Rose Chelangat, 24, had just delivered and had lost a lot of blood that she was bed-ridden. She could hardly stand up or speak. She urgently needed blood transfusion. Her newborn baby also needed some blood.

But Kaproron Health Centre IV — the only health facility in Kween district serving a population of about 205,000 people, did not have any. The newborn needed to be fixed on an oxygen concentrator  but the health facility did not have any.

Chelangat needed oxytocin to control bleeding but it was out of stock. Therefore, the health workers recommended that Chelangat and her baby be transferred to Kapchorwa Hospital, 40km from Kween.

But the health facility ambulance did not have fuel, so they asked her to pay for fuel. “But we did not have money, so we strapped her on a stretcher and rushed her to Kapchorwa Hospital,” explains Peter Chemisto, her husband.

However, halfway the journey, the mother died, leaving behind three children. The newborn baby was still alive but Chemisto did not have any more energy left to continue. Weeping, he decided to go home instead and by the time he reached, he had two dead bodies.

“I lost my child and the mother due to poor health services. A health facility is supposed to save lives but this one has become the leader in taking away lives,” says Chemisto.

Blood shortage

According to the in-charge, Boniface Muge, three newly born children die everyday because the facility has no blood transfusion services.

He adds that the facility also loses about two mothers every three months due to lack of blood.

In the maternity ward, there is nothing to write home about. While the three-bed labour suite glitters with new equipment including delivery kits and beds, there is no single doctor to operate on mothers who need a caesarean section yet the facility receives about 10 women per week that need one.

No wonder an average of 500 women in the district die of complications related to child birth annually, which is the second highest in Uganda, after Karamoja.

While the three enrolled midwives try as much as possible to help the mothers deliver properly, lack of an oxygen concentrator for the newborns to re-energise their breath and lack of oxytocin plugs the facility.

Like many rural facilities, this health centre also has no electricity yet a power line passes over their roof.

A huge generator that can power a full trading centre lies silent in the compound because they cannot afford fuel. Since they bought it, they have never used it due to lack of funds to get fuel to power it.

The health facility receives less than sh20m annually to carryout repairs and rehabilitation, fuel for vehicles and generator, administration and secretarial services. The facility uses charcoal to boil and sterilise delivery instruments. The fact is, Muge admits, most times the kits get contaminated, which affects the health of mothers.

While some mothers are able to deliver normally without any problems, they are told to buy everything including drugs, syringes, gloves and disinfectants like jik because the facility does not have them.

Jane Chebet, 34, a mother who had just delivered says she was asked to buy a syringe and the drugs at the nearest clinic which she suspects is owned by one of the health workers.

She was also asked to buy the gloves and Jik and all this cost her about sh30,000. At least she could afford it since her husband is a teacher. However, it took three days for her to finally get treatment.

“We buy everything here. The health workers tell us that they do not have what we need,” adds the mother five.

Death everyday

Despite having shiny new buildings, Kaproron health facility is known for having deaths almost every day. On the day New Vision visited the facility, all the drugs were out of stock and the few patients at the facility were advised to either buy some from the drug shops and clinics or go to Kapchorwa Hospital or simply go back home.

Alice Chelimo, 30, of Benet sub-county, had stayed for a week. Her son was suffering from severe malaria. The health facility did not have any antimalarial drugs to help him.

So, the health workers advised her to buy one from a clinic. She bought some at sh15,000 — the only money she has saved for close to a month and did not have anymore, yet by that time the boy had not yet recovered.

Severe staff shortages

Serving at a level of a hospital — this facility is supposed to have at least an X-ray or C-scan and several specialists. But the facility is serving at almost less than 10 percent health staffing professionals.

While they are supposed to have at least seven doctors, they have none. The only doctor at the district is the district health officer and due to his overwhelming duties, he rarely attends to the patients that need him.

The facility has no registered nurse except three enrolled nurses, yet these are supposed to be 25. The bottom line is that the health workers at Kaproron are some of the most overworked in the country. Some work for nearly 24 hours a day. No wonder many frustrated patients who cannot understand what goes on in there, are crying.

Boniface Muge explains that they want to recruit more staff but many people do not want to work there because the place is difficult to access with an impassable muddy road during the rainy season and poor pay.

According to Muge, while their counterparts in other districts like Bukwo are being paid a top up allowance of over 50% of what they earn, the health workers in Kaproron do not have any of this.

He, therefore, requests the ministry to pay them a hardship allowance to attract health workers there.