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24.02.2006 General News

Incubator Babies In 'Hell' ...

By Public Agenda
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...AT HOSPITAL 'ZONGO' More than 40 children who were delivered prematurely and had to stay in incubators at the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of the Korle-Bu Hospital have been dumped at a place popularly called 'Zongo'. The reason is that they would not be released unless their parents or philanthropists are able to settle the cost of incubation and delivery.

The children, aged one to two months are locked up at a compartment of the intensive care unit, popularly referred to as 'Zongo,' by their mothers and 'spread' on student mattresses. They lie there wailing day after day, while waiting for divine intervention.

'Zongo,' is behind the main intensive care unit, between a resting room and a 'temporal mortuary' where dead babies are kept, waiting to be transferred to the main mortuary or for burial.

The nursing mothers who named the place 'Zongo' did so out of anger and frustration. They are not happy that their children are being kept at a place, “so close to a 'mortuary' and a toilet room,” and that once the babies are posted to 'zongo', “no nurse is assigned to take care of them.”

The Second Matron In-Charge of the unit, Principal Nursing Officer (PNO) Lily Baiden admits the accusation of lack of proper care for the babies, but explains that “because of inadequate staffing,” they are unable to give the babies the utmost care.

She said the place was originally reserved as a waiting room for mothers of the babies who are delivered prematurely to learn how to handle such babies before they are discharged. She describes the area rather as a 'kangaroo mothers care unit' because, as she explained, the mothers are taught to carry the incubator babies like kangaroos.

“Ideally, we should have had one nurse to a baby, or at maximum, a nurse to four babies. But as at now, we have only 28 nurses on a 24-hour shift, taking care of over 88 babies. That works out to one nurse to 22 babies. Therefore, those who have been discharged usually do not receive the necessary attention as their mothers would wish. It is therefore not the making of anybody that they are not being properly catered for,” Lily Baiden explained. When Public Agenda visited the unit, 36 of the detained babies were placed side-by-side on pieces of student mattresses.

The 40 children are said to owe the hospital over ¢200 million for sleeping in the incubators for about two to three weeks. According to the nursing mothers, it costs between ¢300,000.00 and ¢500,000.00 per day to have one's child kept in an incubator. Thus, depending on the number of days one's baby spends in an incubator, the final cost could be as huge as ¢4 million to ¢10 million. And this was confirmed by the hospital authorities.

The nursing mothers however suspect that the NICU centre is a private business of “some powerful officers and doctors of the hospital” who are hiding under the cloak of the Child Health Department to charge them exorbitant fees. Some of the women suspect that in order to get more money from the incubators, the nurses and doctors use the slightest excuse to induce more women to give birth prematurely and keep the babies in the incubators.

According to the women, doctors specifically ask patients to go to specific laboratories for tests and also to specific pharmacies to buy drugs. They suspect that the labs and pharmacies belong to a group of doctors, a kind of private sector operating within a public hospital like Korle Bu. In a recent report on Ghana, Transparency International cited doctors referring patients to their hospitals and pharmacies as acts of corruption in the health sector, which are killing the health sector slowly.

But the Acting Head of the Child health Department of the children's block, Dr. B. Q. Goka was dismissive of the women's suspicion. He told Public Agenda that the bills slapped on the women are the result of the high cost of intensive care services in general.

“Such services elsewhere cost even far more. In the United States of America for instance, it costs about $10,000.00 a week to provide intensive care services,” she explained.

“We are not happy keeping these children here but it is not possible to say that anybody who cannot pay should go home. You know, nothing in this world is free and in one way or the other, somebody has to foot the cost. It could be government, religious bodies, civil society organizations. But definitely, somebody has to pay,” she noted, adding, “we (Doctors) would have preferred not to be bothered about who pays and who doesn't. If we had the resources to provide the services without having to ask for payment from anybody, it would have been better for us.”

She said but for government subsidies, it would not have even been possible for many of the mothers to pay for the use of the incubators.

Despite Dr. Goka's explanation, some of the mothers are convinced that the hospital authorities are using the unit to make money for themselves. Some of them even claimed that the “doctors gave them medicine and induced them to deliver prematurely so that they (the doctors) could keep their babies in the incubators in order to profit.”

They are aggrieved not only at the exorbitant charges that are slapped on them at the NICU unit, but also at the high cost of hostel fees they pay as rent to the doctors. According to them, they are charged between ¢25,000.00 to ¢70,000.00 a day for the use of the mothers' hostel.”

Public Agenda's interaction with the nursing mothers revealed that most of them are unemployed and 'loosely' married.

Charity Nku, is a 21-year-old mother and has been at the NICU with her baby boy for the past two and half months. Her bill now stands at ¢8 million. Her husband, a former illegal timber dealer, is currently broke after chain saw operations were outlawed. She is also unemployed and wonders how she “would be able to raise the ¢8 million she owes the hospital.”

Dede Adama is 22 years old and married to one Adjaley Bentun, a fisherman. Their two-month-old son owes ¢3 million. Confort Vevor, is also 20 years old. Her two-month old baby owes ¢7 million to Korle-Bu. Averagely, all the 40 babies owe about ¢6 million each and still bills are still rising so far as they continue to be held hostage at the hospital.