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Regional referral hospitals lack isolation wards, ICU beds

FILE PHOTO: ICU bed

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Regional referral hospitals across the country lack the capacity to handle critical COVID-19 cases according to a survey conducted by URN. This contradicts earlier claims by the Health Ministry that Regional Referral Hospitals are prepared to handle COVID-19 cases should the need arise. Last week, Health Minister, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng said the 16 Regional Referral Hospitals would be equipped to handle critical COVID-19 patients.

She said each hospital would have an isolation ward with 30 beds, 10 of which would be dedicated to the intensive care unit. The Health Ministry noted that some regional referral hospitals like Arua, Jinja, Gulu and Mbarara have some equipment but would need re-enforcements. According to the World Health Organisation-WHO, ventilators are key in treating COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms because of breathing difficulties.

In some critical cases, patients may need to be admitted in intensive care to allow the monitoring of vital organs in cases where COVID-19 patients don’t respond to supportive treatment. Although Uganda has 52 confirmed COVID-19 cases, reports from regional hospitals show that not only do they lack personal protective equipment, they also lack isolation wards and ICU beds for monitoring critical cases.

A number of hospital administrators who spoke to our reporters on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from their bosses said they haven’t received any equipment. The few available beds are in terrible state and unfit for human use. In the Eastern Uganda, only two ICU beds are functional at Jinja Regional Referral hospital.

“We had four beds but only two are functional. The rest are not working because we have had problems with batteries for two of them. Also, the anesthesiologist we have only comes three times a day. We rarely use these services because we rarely get such cases. When we do, we forward them to Mulago National Referral Hospital,” one of the officers said.

Mbale Regional Referral Hospital is yet to receive any ICU beds as promised by the Health Ministry. Dr. Emmanuel Tugaineyo, the Director Mbale Regional Referral Hospital says they also lack an ICU ward and beds. He however says the Ministry directed that the hospital sets aside some beds to work as ICU beds to help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Tugaineyo says they have worked on the isolation center for the region pending few refurbishments.

At other regional referrals, the lack of designated places to act as isolation wards has forced them to discharge patients to create the much sought after space. Masaka Regional Referral Hospital prematurely discharged several patients with mental illnesses last week to create space for the COVID-19 intensive care unit.

Dr. Nathan Onyaki, the Director Masaka Regional Referral Hospital says all the ten patients in their mental health ward were discharged to prepare the facility for treating COVID-19 patients. The ward can only accommodate 10 patients and as of now no other area is being organised to handle the extra cases.

Entebbe Regional Referral Hospital has only three ICU beds. The ICU section has three respirators, three dialysis machines, five monitors and one oxygen cylinder which apparently one patient can consume in a day. A source at the hospital told URN on condition of anonymity that what the Ministry is saying are just promises that haven’t yet been realized on ground.

“We don’t have 10 ICU beds. As you can see, we have a few things. The only thing that is helping us handle these cases is that none of them has needed critical care. If they needed advanced care, the situation here would be different from what it is,” she said.

Some sources indicate that admitting confirmed COVID-19 patients in the ICU will require a total overhaul of systems thereafter before other people can use them to prevent further infection. Arua Regional Referral hospital also lacks ICU beds. The hospital Director, Dr. Philbert Nyeko, said they were yet to receive any ICU beds.

“I have not gotten any information about ICU beds. I know nothing about such beds being brought to the hospital. I do not even know if they are coming. Until, I get a letter from the ministry informing me of a pending delivery, this is news to me,” Dr. Nyeko said.

A doctor at Gulu Regional Referral hospital laughed off claims that they had received ICU beds, saying this was a bad joke. “Please go and cross check with the Ministry about the availability of ICU beds. This must be a plan in the works. Ask them for clarity. We do not know anything about ICU beds being delivered,” the doctor said.

The Health Ministry Spokesperson, Emmanuel Ainebyoona, said the Health Ministry has begun the procurement process of ICU beds, saying they will be available soon. He says since none of the patients receiving treatment needs critical care, there is no urgent need for ICU beds or even ventilators.

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