It is a beautiful Wednesday morning. At 5.30am, I embark on a mission to spend a few hours at the newly constructed China-Uganda Friendship referral Hospital at Naguru.
I intend to find out what is happening at the hospital that was set up with the aim of decongesting Mulago National Referral Hospital, despite the fact that it is now facing numerous problems, from cleaners demonstrating for their two months’ salary arrears, to patients going without essential medication.
At exactly 6am, patients are already entering the hospital gates, one by one. Moments later an ambulance brings a woman in labour and she is rushed to the maternal ward, probably in her final stages of labour.
By around 6:30am, some nurses who worked on the night shift have started leaving for home. Two nurses come in 15 minutes later. I find out that they are in charge of the children’s ward.
At exactly 7am, patients are queuing in the waiting room for registration. Each is holding a 48-paged book. I am curious about why they have these books and I soon find out.
In the emergency room, one woman keeps moving from door to door slowly. When asked why she is doing that, she says she is looking for any doctor or nurse for assistance, as she had come early in the morning for treatment but had been in the line for four hours. She had no hope of being attended to.
She finds a nurse and asks her if she can help, because she is feeling very weak. But because she has no book, the nurse asks her to buy one first, then she can help.
The nurse tells her that the book costs Shs500 and that she can buy one “from a lady sitting by the security room at the gate.” Unfortunately, the woman does not have even a single coin. I dig into my pockets and get a Shs500 coin which I give to her.
The registration books
When I inquire about these books, the nurse tells me that everyone must have a book if he or she wants to be registered to see a medical officer at the hospital. It seems the hospital does not have the stationery to register the patients. Someone somewhere is making brisk business.
Back in the registration room, I single out a woman, Ms Angela Nabukera, who is carrying her little two-year-old daughter. She tells me that her daughter is critically ill, suffering from s Typhoid. Nabukera tells me that she has been referred here from Matenge General Medical Clinic in Kawempe.
“She has been put on two water bottle drips and a quinine drip, but there has been no change in her condition at all,” she tells me. When I check the time, it is 8am and the queue had already formed a snake-like shape up to outside the hospital entrance door and the room is filled to capacity. There is a lot of noise from crying children.
Unfortunately for Nabukera, there is no sign that her daughter will be helped soon.
Finding a shortcut
Later, however, she asks a cleaner whether there is any way she can jump the queue and get her girl treated quickly. And that is when she is taken to an emergency ward, where she is asked to pay Shs25,000 for quick intervention.
But even after paying for the services, Nabukera is given Amoxylin and Panadol and told to buy the other drugs from the pharmacies outside. When asked about the trend, Dr Edward Nadumba, the hospital director states no person should pay for the services at the hospital.
In fact, all over the hospital walls are posters indicating the same information, but according to patients who talked to this reporter, the nurses solicit money from them. “If you are in hurry and you do not want to spend much time lining up, you talk to a nurse and you are given quick service at a cost of between Shs10,000 to Shs30,000,” said Ms Silvia Nanjego who had brought her six month old son for immunisation.
After spending at least six hours at the registration room with the queue hardly moving, as there is only one person attending to the patients instead of the supposed three, I decide to go check out the maternity ward on the second floor.
Mothers waiting for examinations are sitting all over the floor. Others who have already delivered are sleeping on the improvised mattresses. The lack of sufficient beds, according to Dr Nadumba, is because the hospital is not yet fully equipped and lacks capacity to accommodate all mothers with chairs and beds. He says, they have developed a policy as a hospital, after realising that patients’ numbers were overwhelming the resources they have.
“We decided that, a patient should not spend more than three days in the ward,” he says. “Unless the condition is not improving and he or she needs more time to be attended to,” he adds.