BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa â€“ Amid a persistent lack of electricity that has made it impossible for health workers at the Liberian Government Hospital to perform minor surgeries and maternity deliveries at night, Grand Bassa residents are calling on the central government to intervene.
Staff at Grand Bassaâ€™s largest medical facility have now resorted to using mobile phones and flashlights for night operations.
Grand Bassa is the fourth most populous county and Buchanan is a major commercial center, with numerous concession activities and a major seaport. With key features and the countyâ€™s importance in generating revenues for the government, it comes as a great shock to many that the facility continues to sustain darkness due to lack of electricity.
Speaking to The Bush Chicken in an exclusive interview in Buchanan on Wednesday, Mar. 4, the chairman of the Grand Bassa chapter of the National Civil Society Organization, Barley Tokpa, said the lack of electricity is one of the most serious impediments to development in the county.
One way to address the power crisis at the hospital, Tokpa said, is for the central government to make the hospitalâ€™s annual allotment available in a more timely manner. That, he said, would avoid further disruptions in crucial services and potential closure.
Residents of the county are concerned that the constant lack of electricity at the hospital may lead to loss of lives, as medical doctors become unable to effectively perform basic surgeries or deliver other crucial medical services at night.
The Liberian Government Hospital was allotted US$200,000 in the 2018/2019 fiscal year budget but has received only about half of that amount, US$105,000, in several installments. The hospital is still awaiting its 2019/2020 allotment.
County authorities say it is not only the hospital that has been neglected by a lack of power supply.
â€œIt is not only about the hospital, but also the entire city of Buchanan, no electricity,â€ Tokpa said. â€œWe are in darkness â€“ other business areas are dark while others are using candles or Chinese [LED] lights.â€
But the lack of electricity is neither unique to Buchanan nor Grand Bassa. It is also affecting the entire country and could undermine important investments in Liberia.
â€œLook around Grand Bassa and other counties, do you see electricity? Businesses are overspending on diesel generator just to get electricity. Our hospital cannot get stable power â€“ this is wrong,â€ Tokpa added. â€œWe have lots of potential businesses across the country that should be paying electricity bills to government, but besides some part of Monrovia, electricity is in demand. So, how can the government raise enough money from the energy sector?â€
The medical director of the hospital, Dr. Abraham Jawara, confirmed that the lack of electricity has been undermining the hospitalâ€™s operations.
â€œThe lack of electricity is a grave issue,â€ he said. â€œTime in time out, we have been informing the general public with respect to the delay of our allotment, which serves as [a] major source of us running the hospital. We have gone three quarters already and we are yet to get our allotment.â€
According to Jawara, all efforts to secure the hospitalâ€™s allotment from the Ministry of Finance have proven unsuccessful.
â€œWe have been out of fuel for the last one week now. Right now, we are at a serious crossroad. In the absence of the availability of funds, the hospital is now on the verge of shutting down some of the activities if we do not get electricity on time.â€
A recent L$2.5 million (US$13,298) donation was made to the hospital by the Save the Liberian Government Hospital Committee. But the amount has proven insufficient for long term support, as it was quickly exhausted. The hospital caters to an estimated 250 to 300 patients daily, some coming from Sinoe, River Cess, and all parts of Grand Bassa.
Despite the challenges, however, the hospital has kept its doors open, offering the most basic health services as it can.
â€œWe canâ€™t shut down the hospital because doing so at night will lead to lots of casualties,â€ Jawara said. â€œWe are trying to avert that outcome. So, what we are doing now is to keep the hospital open, manage cases we can, and refer cases we canâ€™t handle here to other health facilities. But we are doing everything possible to ensure that the hospital remains functional.â€
The Save the Liberian Government Hospital Committee, set up by citizens of the county to raise funds to support the hospital, has continued to pursue those efforts and has recently presented an additional L$200,000 (US$1,010) to the hospital.
The head of the committee, Martha Karnga, said although the amount was small and may last for only a short time, she hoped it would help alleviate some of the constraints faced by the hospital, especially the electricity problem.
Karnga has called upon all citizens and friends of the county to contribute and for those who have made pledges to fulfill their commitments as soon as possible.
Upon presenting the donation, Karnga disclosed that the committeeâ€™s account was virtually depleted as of Wednesday, March 4. Under such conditions, the committee would be unable to respond to any further calls for help from the hospital.
Under Liberiaâ€™s Rural Energy Strategy Master Plan 2030, the government will extend electrification outside of Monrovia by 10 percent by 2020, 20 percent by 2025, and 35 percent by 2030. The plan also targets the provision of power to an estimated 65,000 customers outside Monrovia by 2020; 140,000 by 2025, and 265,000 by 2035.
The plan will prioritize key facilities such as hospitals, schools, and commercial centers, to be supplied either through grid-based electrification or by 100 percent solar-based individual solutions by 2025.
A more immediate solution, the CÃ´te dâ€™Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea Interconnection Project, is seeing a power substation built in Buchanan. However, it is not clear when Grand Bassa will see the effects of this effort, as the Monrovia commissioning of the project has been delayed to June 2020 due to the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
At present, only four counties â€“ Montserrado, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, and Maryland â€“ are benefiting from an electricity grid. Grand Gedeh, Nimba, and Maryland are connected through the West African Power Pool, with power coming from the Ivory Coast. Meanwhile, Montserradoâ€™s power is supplied by the Mount Coffee Hydro Power Plant.
Amidst these many challenges, the citizens of Grand Bassa are hopeful that the countyâ€™s Legislative Caucus would intervene and ensure swift disbursement of the hospitalâ€™s budgetary allotment to help respond to the electricity problem at the hospital.
Featured photo by Sampson David