Healthcare system buckles

Healthcare system buckles

MASERU-MARIA Boshofo’s one year old daughter/son came down with diarrhoea one night last month. In the morning, she could not get transport to rush her and her baby to Tsatsane Clinic due to lockdown travel restrictions.
Fearing the worst, she set for the three-hour journey to the clinic on foot, carrying her sick baby on the back – only to find the health facility closed.
“I was devastated,” the 26-year-old told thepost.

“I had not slept at night because my baby was very sick. I had no other option because I feared that my baby would die,” she says.
A security guard told her that the clinic usually closed around 12 noon during the Covid-19 lockdown, especially when there were no patients queuing for services.

“I looked at my baby and cried,” says Boshofo, adding that an elderly woman in the village ended up being her “Knight in Shining Armour”.
The elderly woman, a friend of Boshofo’s parents, had fallen sick to diarrhoea a month earlier but had recovered so she “donated” her remaining drugs to Boshofo’s daughter.
“My little one would have died had it not been because of my parents’ friend,” she says.

Boshofo’s story is familiar across the country, as lockdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic severely limit people’s access to health centres.
Apart from scarce transport services, navigating roadblocks manned to stop people from making “unnecessary” movements is hell on earth. Many are dismayed to find health centres also closed or offering only partial services due to the pandemic.

’Matoka Mokuena from Tosing, says she travels about two hours on foot from her home to Tsatsane Clinic.
The time increases to six hours when it rains and the Dalewe River overflows.
“I have to use the bridge and that’s a longer route,” she says.
The other clinic close to her home is St Matthew’s, but she still has to walk the same distance, although she does not have to cross a river when going to St Matthew’s clinic.

“You arrive at a clinic, sickly and having walked a long distance, only to be told they have closed for the day. It is disheartening. I was very hurt,” Mokuena says.
“I had left my village at 6am and had to go through the bridge because Dalewe river was overflowing.”
The rains have also destroyed the road linking her village to the clinic that “even a car takes a lifetime” to reach the clinic using that road.
“We need a clinic closer to us,” she says.

In other districts there are stories of how people in need of health care have failed to access clinics because the police beat up and blocked taxi drivers from providing services due to lockdown rules.
Police later resolved the issue and allowed taxi operators without permits to ferry passengers who were in need of essential services such as healthcare.
The Network of Early Childhood Development of Lesotho (Necdol) says it is working with disgruntled patients and relevant authorities to try and find a lasting solution.

Necdol Communications, Advocacy and Research officer, Tšepiso Makhetha, says their aim is to ensure that people have easy access to primary health care facilities in rural areas.
The 2021 Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC Lesotho) Report says access to health services in Lesotho remains limited, especially in rural areas, due to the long distances people have to travel.
“Covid-19 has overstretched health systems and disrupted health service continuity,” notes the report.

“With the second highest HIV prevalence globally and in the absence of community HIV services due to Covid-19, Lesotho is facing heightened risks of HIV and unplanned pregnancies,” the report says.
It warns that “adolescents and young people could be more vulnerable to new HIV infections, gender-based violence, unwanted pregnancies and child marriage”, adding that this calls for increased mental health and psychosocial support.

The country’s health and HIV response should focus on enhancing the continuity of essential health services, including sexual and reproductive health services during the pandemic, the report states.
The focus, according to the report, is meant to support the provision of community-based integrated essential health services and prioritise people living with or at risk of HIV, adolescent girls and young women, orphans and returning migrant populations.

“Given the high HIV prevalence in Lesotho, UNICEF will support the immediate humanitarian needs of pregnant women and children at risk of or living with HIV.”
HAC Lesotho is one of the UNICEF humanitarian projects for which US$6.7 million (about M97.1 million) has been secured.

Through the project, at least 12 600 children aged between six and 59 months were vaccinated against measles in Lesotho during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The project has also helped 262 000 children and women to access primary health care in UNICEF-supported facilities
A report published by the Partnership for Global Health in December last year notes that Lesotho’s health care system was overburdened and lacked the requisite infrastructure to cope with the demands of Covid-19.

The country “traditionally relies on South Africa to provide complementary secondary and tertiary health care”, according to the report.
“The health care system suffers from an acute shortage of human resources, with only six nurses, one physician and a pharmacist per 10 000 people,” the report notes.

“The low-quality health care system increases the vulnerability of people living in Lesotho – including health care workers – to Covid-19,” it adds.
In the meantime, villagers such as Boshofo and Mokuena may have to endure the risks associated with lack of access to primary healthcare for some time.

Staff Reporter

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