Is it life or money?

Published on 5th July 2005

This week The African Executive talks to Emily Lagat, a nursing student at Baraton University currently doing her internship at a local Provincial hospital.

 Q. What inspired you to join the nursing profession?

A. For a long time I suffered from asthmatic attacks. Having had first hand experience of what asthma victims go through, I resolved to study medicine and help alleviate the pain of asthmatics. I also used to admire nurses especially when they were in their uniform. I am sure this contributed to my interest in nursing too.

 Q. Are you still asthmatic?

A. I am not prone to attacks as in the past, having mastered how to manage it. I only experience mild allergies.

 Q. What causes asthma?

A. Asthma is triggered by multiple factors such as cold weather, strong perfume, dirt and smoke, among others. Too much smoking can also make one develop it.

Q. Lagat, why is disease still an elusive burden in this nation?

A. There are a number of factors ranging from socio-economic to political. Just to cite one, health care in general is quite expensive. As a result, a low resource family is unable to access it. A ‘good’ painkiller for example, costs above Kenya Ksh.100. An average citizen with other needs such as food and school fees for children cannot afford this. I grew up in a village setting. Malaria would take a great toll on my family economy such that my parents could not afford food and paying school fees, leading to our being chased away from school. I visited one medical practitioner in his office with no idea of how much he charged for his services. I was shocked to be asked to remit Kshs 2,000.The Doctor was charging Kshs 200 per minute spent in his office. Honestly, can an average citizen afford this? What about those who don’t have the gift of expressing themselves in brief? The amount I was charged is the equivalent to an average worker’s monthly salary! This payment is made, notwithstanding the fact that there is still another step- purchase of drugs.

Q. Do you imply that public health institutions have no hand in this?

A. Not really! Most people flock to the government hospitals. As a consequence, patients have to make long queues to see the doctor. The patient spends as long as seven hours before getting to the doctor who has to have a tea- break at 10 am and surface one hour later in readiness for the two hour lunch break. The times in between are spent gossiping, reading newspapers and serving the next of kin and friends. The high patient to doctor ratio also fatigues the medical staff. Patients in the meantime watch and wait as they observe the wisdom of a Swahili adage: “Never upset a midwife while you still have the ability to give birth!” Hospital wards are too congested that it is common to get five to six children sharing the same bed, with their parents standing in the corridors. All this, compounded with the agony of long waiting drives patients to the private clinics where they are served faster but woe unto the majority who cannot afford the services. They end up visiting pharmaceutical shops; explain their problems to the shop attendants who give them drugs related to their symptoms. Some of the shop owners are driven by the need to bring drugs near the people but have no medical knowledge.

Q. Is it wrong for a medical practitioner to make profit?

A. Absolutely not but when he puts money first and the patient second, this is quite unethical. You don’t kill the goose that lays golden eggs. Some doctors force expectant mothers to undergo caesarian operation owing to the amount of money pegged on such an operation. This is wrong! I have witnessed anesthetists threatening people who have brought patients for operation that unless they are paid some figure; they will overdose the patient or deny him oxygen. Surely, what is this? Our profession and oath is losing track! No wonder people whose patients are admitted in a reputable hospital in Eastern are closed from the hospital compound and spend several weeks in cold outside the Akamba bus park. Can you imagine a doctor having monopoly over a patient because the patient is well to do?

Q. What challenges do you encounter in your profession?

A. I am not sure of being posted after my course. Many of those who went before me, in spite of their having first or second degrees are still out of the job market. Narrowing down to work, we also work under difficult circumstances.  Maternity wards for example, are not adequately equipped.  Sometimes we have to come in contract with blood for lack of gloves.  Then, there is a one-way communication between nurses and their bosses. We are expected to obey without airing our informed opinion.  Understaffing is prevalent.  Medical wards are packed past capacity with patients but you find two nurses in a shift, commissioned to dress all of them.  Nurses are supposed to be promoted after every three years but most of them don’t as others do it by backdoor means. The council of Nurses is very corrupt!

Q. What is your comment on the recent nurse’s strike?

A. Nursing is a calling as well as a profession.  The salary that nurses get is very little.  What can Kshs 15,000 to 20,000 do in a month with the current price hikes on commodities?

Q. What is your message to the entire nation?

A. The government would work towards policies that will enhance affordable health care. 

A sick nation cannot prosper. Pharmaceutical companies should produce cheap but quality drugs to cater for the common man.  Doctors should not just be out to get money but save lives

Q. If all patients recovered, what would be your plight?

A. I would have nothing to do.

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