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08.05.2007 Health

Korle-Bu’s Gynae Theatre now a white elephant

By myjoyonline

The magnificent Gynaecology Theatre Department of the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital is an empty edifice.

The facility, built at a cost of 5.1 billion cedis to bring relief to women needing gynaecological treatment and situated adjacent to the multi million-dollar Cardiothoracic Unit, is only edifying from a distance, according to the Public Agenda written by Jonathan Adabre.

The paper said “It is only dust and cobwebs that hang in the stuffy air that welcomes you if you happen to find your way into its interiors.”

The newly refurbished gynae theatre was commissioned with a splendid and colourful ceremony and declared operational on July 27, 2005 by the President, Mr. John Agyekum Kufuor but has been closed since. Public Agenda has gathered that since its commissioning not a single operation has taken place because there are no theatre beds.

The situation has compelled doctors to shift gynaecological operations to the children's ward where the three operating tables available there are shared between gynecologists and orthopaediatricians and children whose ailments require operation now have to be transferred in ambulances to the main surgical block, some 150 meters away for treatment.

As a result of these anomalies women, in pain or in near-fatal fibroid conditions or struggling with ovarian or cervical cancers are compelled to stay in long queues for unending months to have their cases attended to by the specialists.

There are only few places in Accra where Gynaecological services are accessible: The Ridge Hospital, the La General Hospital and the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital. Besides the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, the other two are reportedly not sufficiently staffed and do not possess the necessary theatre equipment to handle complex cases.

For this reason, many cases each day are referred to the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital from within and outside Accra. But without a functioning theatre, many of these patients report there only to be put in long queues with some unlikely to receive treatment at all.

"We undertake between 12-15 caesarean sections a day, and because of the long queues some of the expectant mothers have to wait for about seven hours. The prolonged delays sometimes result in deaths.

Maternal deaths could be prevented because we have the doctors and personnel who can deliver. Unfortunately we have only one functioning theatre," was how Prof. Yaw Kwawukume, Head of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department described the situation to the paper.

According to him, the intense pressure on the single functional theatre is unbearable.

In an interview, a highly placed officer confirmed that as a result of the closure of the theatre, only emergencies are sometimes attended to, while "elective ones" are put on wait till' space is available. The source further disclosed that there are even times when not all emergency cases receive attention because of the overwhelming pressure they go through.

When contacted on why the only gynae theatre of the nation's premier hos¬pital has been rendered non-operational for two years after its commissioning, the hospital's Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mr. Mustapha Salifu said the shutdown was necessitated by a demand from officials of the gynae department that "certain things be changed."

"The place was ready for use but the department said they wanted the whole place tiled and the position of the air-conditioners changed. And that is what we are currently doing," he explains.

While Mr. Salifu's explanation may come across as trivial and not worth the difficulties patients go through at the hospital, they are indeed the reasons why the multi billion cedi theatre complex is wasting away.

He however, promises that the theatre would be ready for use by June. But that retake-off date could also come at the cost of some lives.

Meanwhile, an angry staff who spoke to the paper on a plea of anonymity, views Mr. Salifu's explanation as tinkering on the edges of the problem. To him, the gamut of problems plaguing the nation's premier medical centre has more to do with politics, greed, conflict of interest and vendetta than the trivial demands Mr. Salifu lists as coming from the gynae department.

The aggrieved staff explained that some senior officials of the gynae department are running their own hospitals very close to Korle-Bu and at other locations, which offer same services and are indeed competitors. "It is these officials who are undermining the progress of this hospital," he pointed out.

"Go ask them if their private hospitals, which they clandestinely refer patients to, have all the things they are demanding to be fixed here before they get to work?" he asked, in frustration.

When Prof. Kwame Kwawukume, Head of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department, was contacted on phone, he said he could not comment on the issue because he was on leave and did not want to be seen as interfering from outside when there was an acting head. He directed the reporter to speak to Dr. Abed, the acting head who also did not want to go on record.

The only thing he could vouch for was that conditions at the gynae department "are not optimal," but "that is how it is everywhere in the world" and that they were doing their outmost under the cir umstances to save lives.

With a heavy backlog and increasing new cases from all over the country, the operating theatre at the children's block is no longer able to absorb even patients whose cases under normal circumstances would have been considered emergencies.

Some doctors, who spoke to Public Agenda on anonymity, said some patients may never receive treatment because, on the two operating tables available to them at the Paediatrics Ward, only five operations at maximum can be conducted in a day.

Had the new theatre, with three operating tables, a recovery ward, doctors' offices and changing rooms, been put into use, more than fifteen operations would have been possible in a day. Some officials blame the scenario at Korle-Bu on Prof. Frimpong Boateng's non-consultative management style, as well as greed, bickering and pettiness on the part of some senior officials.

The development has compelled some women to ask whether tiling and re-arranging air-conditioners ought to take two years. Or is it the case that the lives of women do not matter?