TAPPITA, Nimba – As a Tappita civil society group expresses concern over what it says is the frequent transfer of equipment from the Jackson F. Doe Memorial Hospital, a Nimba lawmaker who also chairs the House Committee on Health has assured the public that all equipment transferred will be returned after use.
The Concerned Citizens Movement has been raising awareness about key equipment it says are being taken from the hospital that could render the institution unable to handle cases it was designed for. Worse, the organization said foreign doctors who are stationed at the facility could leave if they lack the proper equipment.
In an interview with The Bush Chicken, the group’s spokesperson, Steve Demey, said he had information to suggest that a CT Scan machine, a ventilator, and a machine popularly known as the GeneXpert machine that was used in a study to test for Ebola have all been taken from the hospital and have not been brought back.
He said the hospital’s standby CT Scan machine was taken to Phebe Hospital in Bong in 2019 in exchange for a 1,500 KVA transformer to facilitate the electrification of the hospital. However, since the machine was taken, Demey said the transformer has not yet been brought in.
“A referral hospital is where other hospitals refer cases that they are unable to handle,” he said. “So to start taking those equipment that make the hospital a referral hospital is worrisome.”
He expressed particular concern about these machines being taken away when Tappita is recording COVID-19 cases. He said the GeneXpert machine that was used to test for Ebola could be calibrated to test for the Coronavirus and serve the entire southeastern region, which sometimes refers cases to the hospital.
Demey blamed the situation on the lack of a functional hospital board. He said the Concerned Citizens Movement was drafting a letter to the Nimba County Legislative Caucus to ask President George Weah to appoint board members.
Sen. Prince Johnson, who chairs the county’s legislative caucus, said he only became aware of the removal of equipment from the hospital in August 2019 when Tappita residents resisted the transfer of a neurosurgical microscope.
Scores of citizens had stomped the compound of the Jackson F. Doe Hospital to protest the removal of a neurosurgical microscope from the facility after health authorities ordered that it to be transferred to the John F. Kennedy Medical Center for surgical procedures that were to be conducted by foreign doctors who were in the country.
Sen. Johnson said he had told the president at the time to purchase a new one and leave the machine at the Tappita hospital: “So they want to empty our hospital to equip JFK? We can’t allow that to happen. I don’t even know how they took the CT Scan [machine] to Phebe Hospital and I am told that they have taken several equipment from the hospital without our knowledge.”
The self-proclaimed godfather of Nimba said he has instructed the hospital staff to reject any request from the Ministry of Health to transfer equipment.
“Now what they are doing is to empty our hospital, and that’s one thing we won’t allow to happen because our eyes are now open,” Johnson noted.
When contacted by phone, Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah declined to comment on ‘speculations’ and did not address the issue directly. Instead, she said she was focused on the COVID-19 fight. However, Dr. Jallah said she always writes the relevant authorities for authorization to transfer equipment.
The chair of the House’s Committee on Health, Rep. Joseph Sonwarbi, agreed that the Ministry of Health had requested the transfer of the GeneXpert machine to Monrovia for it to be recalibrated by an expert from South Africa to enable it test for COVID-19.
Sonwarbi, the representative for Nimba’s third electoral district, said the ministry promised to return the machine after its use in Monrovia. He described the transfer of equipment from one health facility to another as a common practice, although he said he understood why citizens might be concerned.
Sonwarbi assured Nimbaians that any equipment taken from the hospital would be returned. As a son of Nimba, he said he would not allow the hospital to be rendered useless.
Featured photo by Jerry Myers