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Sierra Leone News: A walk to the hospital

CHETANYA

CHETANYA

Yesterday my colleague Ophaniel and I walked briskly through east Freetown to the large complex containing the Cottage Hospital, which serves pregnant women, and the Ola During Children’s Hospital. We were hoping to interview some staff about what challenges the hospital is facing. I took an interest in this issue after doing a story on a young girl being treated at the 34 Military Hospital, who needs to be flown to Ghana or India for proper diagnoses because hospitals in Sierra Leone lack the basic medical equipment.
It was raining lightly, and at first the road was mostly clear as we walked, though from time to time we had to step out of the way for cars.
It soon became crowded as we entered what appeared to be the auto shop district. For a moment, every shop in sight specialized in car parts, advertising parts for all different car brands on their bright hand-painted storefronts. Street hawkers and small market stands appeared in the road, men and women of all ages, from waist-high children to the grey haired selling products ranging from the practical and stylish to the edible. On the practical side I saw shoes, belts, hygiene products, pens and soccer jerseys. Women balanced trays piled with yellow popcorn, bananas, and people carried baskets of colourful frozen treats in bags.
As we reached the hospital, Ophaniel pointed out the Chinese-made road, saying the area only became ‘walkable’ after the road was built. It was definitely a modern road with no potholes. I can’t deny it was a good thing, though as I wrote in my column, I still think these Chinese investments are still just that – investments in Sierra Leone, not gifts of friendship. As such, they should be viewed with a critical eye. Ophaniel and I debated the merits of China’s no questions asked approach while we waited to talk to someone at the hospital. I can understand the point of view of Sierra Leoneans on this issue, but my viewpoint hasn’t changed.
Like the Connaught Hospitals I saw the day before, it was clear the Children’s Hospital needed more investment and development. Paint had become grungy and worn with age. The children’s ward was thick with the smell of chemicals. It was dim, lit with only a few small bare lightbulbs. While talking to a nurse to see if we could set up an interview, I got a glimpse of several beds close together with children lying on them, and four or five nurses in turquoise scrubs busily filling out paperwork on a table.
Ophaniel and I continued our debate, which shifted into how much the outside world should interfere with controversial cultural practices in Sierra Leone, while waiting to talk to a nurse. Outside her office were posters from the World Health Organization and Ebola prevention posters.
Ultimately we didn’t get an interview at either the Children’s Hospital or the Cottage Hospital that day. I hope I’ll be able to in the coming week, to learn more about how hospitals in Sierra Leone are struggling and how these shortages are affecting the lives of patients. This is definitely in the public interest, and raising awareness could only help the hospitals improve.
On the way back, we wove and sometimes pushed our way through crowds of people, walking along the edge of the gutter filled with trash and grey water. Trucks, cars, vans and buses squeezed us and the rest of the people to the edges of the road, or over on the other side of the gutter. I followed Ophaniel’s lead as he deftly found the quickest routes through the traffic, sometimes walking into the road and once walking in the middle of the slow-moving traffic, between two trucks.
Ophaniel pointed out that journalism sometimes requires a long, tiring slog through the chaotic streets of Freetown. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thursday August 04, 2016

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