Liberia: Stranded Phebe Hospital Charging Patients for Fuel Fee Before Treatment

Suakoko — The acting administrator of Phebe Hospital has warned that patients who require surgery and emergency services would be made to pay for the cost of fuel. This, according to Rev. Victor Padmore, would help sustain the services at the hospital.

In a FrontPage Africa interview Wednesday, Padmore said patients, who cannot afford the payment, will not be forced to pay.

"We say that our services are free, but [we are] challenged as a hospital. We have not received fuel from government since September last year. The only time that we expect someone to pay for something is when you are in a hospital and you are being asked to do a surgery or there is an emergency situation," he said.

"We have to sustain the service. It means that something must be paid for the fueling of the generator for that particular case. That doesn't mean we are charging. But when really the persons cannot afford, we will not insist that the person must, at all cost, pay," he said.

Operations have come to a halt at Phebe - the largest referral hospital in central Liberia - due to fuel shortage.

One doctor at the hospital, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisals from his bosses, said doctors can no longer perform most emergency operations.

The doctor said patients are told to either buy fuel to run the hospital's generators for the duration of the surgery, or pay for a private clinic elsewhere.

"Even me, they have been calling me now that we need operation, but I told them, frankly, there's nothing we can do, nothing in my hands," the doctor said.

Poorest of Poor

Phebe Hospital serves central Liberia's poorest residents. Most cannot afford to pay for health services.

Patients, who spoke to FrontPage Africa Wednesday, said they were shocked that the hospital was asking patients to buy fuel on their own for the hospital's generator when the hospital services are free of charge.

One woman in labor was writhing in pain in the maternity ward on Wednesday when our correspondent visited the hospital. She had suffered epileptic seizures, according to family sources.

Her mother-in-law, Jennifer Korkollie, search frantically for fuel so the woman could have an emergency C-section.

"They say that if the fuel is now ready, they will just make the operation now," Korkollie said.

But even if she finds the fuel, she doesn't know how she will pay for it. "What can I say? I will just put God ahead, because I have no money," she said.

One gallon of fuel costs about LD$ 600 on the black market in the area, and with the hospital's generator consuming about 10 to 11 gallons to carry on a surgery, Padmore was worried. Unfortunately, black market fuel is simply out of reach.

Some residents are also claiming that the charges will result to death, especially among residents of rural communities, who are very poor.

Ms Josephine Wright, a resident of Foequelleh, Panta District, said she took her ailing mother, who had suffered from a labor pain back to the district because they did not have money to buy fuel for the hospital's generator.

"We didn't have the money they were asking us to give to buy fuel for the generator," she said.

Phebe Lacks Gloves, Other Medical Supplies

The acting medical director of the hospital, Dr. Jefferson Sibley, said, "It is the worst thing for this hospital to be short of gloves. It is not possible for a doctor of a referral hospital to touch a patient without gloves. The poor patients are left with no option but to buy it from the market."

Dr. Sibley also complained about the shortage of fuel to run the generator of the hospital. "Since September last year we have not received fuel from the government. And this is hurting our operations as a hospital. We are running on empty."

"We will have no alternative but to shut the hospital if the current situation persists," Dr. Sibley said.

Dr. Sibley added: "We are facing serious medical shortages that affect how we do our work. Simple things such as gloves, bandages or needles are not easy to get. There are times when I've had to operate without surgical gloves. I use the short non-sterile gloves which we use for basic consultations."

Earlier this year, Dr. Sibley recalled that he attended to a woman who had a miscarriage, and he had to do a pelvic examination using non-sterile gloves.

"The gloves are short, and I had to go right inside her. The blood went onto my arms; it was just oozing all over. I know the risk of being infected is high, but there's nothing I can do if someone is in need of help," he said.

Continuing, he added: "Every time I have to perform a procedure without adequate equipment, I'm scared I could get something like hepatitis B. If I'm working on a patient who is infected and I have a small cut I'm unaware of, I could be infected because it's highly contagious -- but in some situations one has to make some hard decisions."

Meanwhile, a pharmacist of the hospital said for the past six months the hospital is without supply of antibiotics, constraining patients to purchase costly antibiotics from the market.

Theresa Siafa, who delivered a baby few days back, recalled: "I came to this hospital in the hope we would have to spend less here. We are poor, but in the past three days I have spent more than LD$ 10,000 on medicines, injections and antibiotics from the market."

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