The Monitor (Kampala)

29 January 2012

Uganda: Power Cuts Cause 150 Hospital Deaths

Photo: East African
Uganda power lines.

Jinja — More than one hundred fifty people have died in Jinja Referral Hospital in the last six month due to unstable power supply and load shedding, hospital authority have said.

This comes as the country continues to suffered inadequate power supply resulting into a 12-hour load shedding schedule over several months now; the hospital experiences at least three days a week of power cuts.

Hospital authority said the unstable power supply has affected mainly patients in children's ward, intensive care unit, emergency wards and the operating theatre. But with adverse effects in the Nalufenya Children's Ward.

"As doctors we get caught at a crossroads to refer patients you are sure won't reach Mulago (National Referral Hospital) alive or keep them and rely on chance. A patient on life support may only survive for five minutes in case of severe infection after the supply goes off," a doctor at the children's ward, who asked not to be named, said.

He added: "Children that we subject to life support (oxygen) are in most cases diagnosed with pneumonia, birth asphyxia in premature babies, heart condition, and asthmatic attacks, among others. Many of them are brought in critical condition. This means they can't survive without it (electricity)."

Doctors who spoke on condition of anonymity said whenever there is load-shedding there must be mortalities. Perusing through the documents with Sunday Monitor, the medics put the death toll at the children's ward due to load-shedding at more than 100. However, the Hospital Director, Dr Michael Osinde Odongo, sais the figure is "ridiculously low."

"You are talking about the children's ward, how about the Intensive Care Unit? What of the mortalities in the operating theatre? These are sections of the hospital where patients are in critical condition. You may be transfusing or trying to keep a patient breathing and then power goes off," he said.

Dr Osinde added: "You could possibly put that figure at 150. Children die and they die in big numbers, especially premature babies. What those doctors are telling you are not rumours." He said there is no money to buy fuel for the generators that supply power to the hospital in case of a power black-out.

"We are given Shs7 million for everything; cars, ambulances and generators. Generators take Shs2.5 million per month. The generators we have consume 20 litres per hour, yet sometimes you have it running the whole night," Dr Osinde said.

When water marries power

Efforts to get comments from the ministry failed. The spokesperson asked for more time to find the responsible people to comment. Matters get only worse for the hospital that admits 400 patients, including 150 to 200 children, daily when water taps run dry due to load-shedding.

"When there is no electricity, there won't be water running the next day, so water is rationed as there are no reserve tanks. All sterilisation has to be halted until power is back, meaning operations are postponed which creates a backlog impacting on hospital targets," said one of the doctors.

Another doctor said, because of lack of electricity vaccines die and considering their cost, the hospital runs big expenses. "At emergency cases, doctors just look on as people die because it is against government regulation for a patient or their attendants to buy fuel," the medic said.

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