He was smiling from eye to eye. I couldn’t see his face because he was wearing a white mask but I felt the warmth. Although he was beaming, Dr. Fomba’s heartfelt words of appreciation made me feel unease. This is an emergency but it had taken us 10 days to deliver his supplies.
On May 20, Dr. Fomba, the Medical Superintendent of the Bo Government Hospital sent me an email of their most urgent medical requests for the 34-bed COVID-19 Isolation Unit and Treatment Center.
The request included thermometers, oximeters, buckets, pampers, diapers, baby food, liquid paracetamol for infants, and more. These common things are the lifeline to front line health workers and patients dealing with the pandemic in Sierra Leone.
Among the items we delivered were 10 infrared thermometers. This basic tool is what Dr. Fomba says all facilities need to comply with the screening protocols for the Coronavirus. Until we made our delivery yesterday they didn’t have any functioning ones.
For the most senior medical officer in the second largest hospital in the whole of Sierra Leone to be full of so much appreciation for basic things is embarrassing. We are asking the best of the best, the most brilliant minds in this country to work without the basics and on top of that, we delay their allowances.
The C19 Dignity Project delivered over SLL 48 million ($4800) worth of medication, medical tools, and materials for cleaning and hygiene to Bo Government Hospital. In addition to the items, we purchased we also supplied the in-kind medical donations we received from Balani & Sons, Dr. Claudius Cole, and Rodynya Pharmacy. SL Mining made one of their ambulances available to us because we couldn’t fit all in one car.
It took our team 10 days to deliver the request made by BGH. There are three of us working as full-time volunteers at the C19 Dignity Project and one other person, a doctor working remotely in addition to her clinical duties.
Bo Government Hospital’s Covid-19 Treatment Center is still unfinished. There is no money to fix the bathroom and the donning area where the staff is meant to put on and take off protective gear. Different partners have come and done assessments but no one has sent funds. So they wait.
I want to fix everything but no one person can. It will take the whole village, each and every one of us. It will take the Churches and the Mosques to put donations for their hospitals. It will take local businesses asking what they can do and stepping up. It will take natives of each district who have the privilege that comes with wealth and power to go back into the hospitals (the ones they and their immediate family do not use) to ask what do you need and work with administrators to equip, repair, and maintain them.
Before I went to Bo I got a Facebook message from a doctor in Europe who is from Sierra Leone. He was telling me to be careful. He also said that he had lost all hope in the local medical system. What I gathered from what he said is this: Vickie, you are wasting your time. He means well but I can not take anyone seriously who can not join in the struggle. Building the Sierra Leone we want is not work we can delegate or spectate.
I wondered if this idea of giving up on one’s home is a universal thing or something that only affects Sierra Leoneans. When you give up on the healthcare system or on anything affecting home in what way does that action fix the problem? If you are not willing to go the distance how do we get to that imagined state of national development that we all agree we want and deserve?
We left Bo and drove to Kenema. Dr. Kapuwa the Medical Superintendent was also expecting his supplies. He had also sent us a request.
Matron Jeneh greeted us and we walked to their supply storage building. When she pointed out the doctor I was surprised as I am at all the facilities.
Dr. Kapuwa, like Dr. Cole at 34 Hospital, like Dr. Yilla at Lungi Hospital, like Dr. Baldeh and Dr. Awonuga at Connaught are all young. They are my peers. They are at that age where if you left to go be a doctor elsewhere you would make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. But they are in Sierra Leone working for us.
Kenema Government Hospital currently has about 6 members of staff who are Covid-19 positive. Their results came in the day we arrived. They will have to close part of the facility again.
We delivered over SLL 38 million ($3800) worth of supplies, matching as much as possible the same items that we delivered to Bo.
Until we delivered the pulse oximeters to KGH needed to monitor oxygen levels they had none. I asked Dr. Kapuwa (unfortunately a Man United Fan) how he feels knowing that citizens are mobilizing funds to support his work and this is what he had to say:
“It is not always that we should wait for the government to act. All of us have a part to play. We have to come together. Everyone brings their little something and lets fight COVID-19 together!”
From Freetown to Bo and Kenema and back to Freetown the distance is 686 miles. It took us 12 hours to make the round trip. Our supplies will be used to benefit 72 Covid-19 beds in two hospitals.
This week our goal is to deliver supplies to PTMC, a 200-bed treatment facility in the Western Area as well as the Makeni Government Hospital in Bombali.
Like Bo, Kenema and other government hospitals, Makeni also lacks the basics. If you want to go the distance you can. Get up tomorrow and go to your local hospital and ask them what they need to fight COVID-19, call friends, family, and ask your community to support front line, health workers. That is how I started the C19 Dignity Project just a month ago.
Another way to go the distance is to Adopt-A-COVID-19 Hospital Bed and we will make the trip for you!