Liberia: Death Toll Rises at Phebe Hospital Due to Lack of Fuel to Provide Vital Emergency Services

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Suakoko, Bong County – The government-run Phebe Hospital, a 75-bedroom medical facility in Suakoko, Bong County, is under a cloud after two persons died Thursday and the medical staff blamed lack of electricity to run the generators for their deaths. 

This brings the death toll to five the number of persons who have died at the hospital awaiting oxygen in less than 10 days.

Medical sources at the hospital said the two patients who died required emergency surgery when the hospital was without power Wednesday and Thursday for 18 hours – one a pregnant woman.

A source at the hospital told FrontPageAfrica that one of the deaths on Thursday was a patient who was on a life support system, such as ventilators and incubators in the neonatal ward. 

Other emergency equipment that needed high voltage power to function was also affected, according to sources. “I used my mobile phone torchlight to carry out emergency surgery with a 28-year-old man,” said a doctor who was on duty on one of the affected wards.

The deaths occurred in specialty wards, including the surgical intensive care unit, neonatal intensive care and the emergency ward, all of which were affected as the result of the lack of electricity for the hospital’s generators.

“We have to sustain the service. It means that something must be paid for the fuelling of the generator for that particular case. That doesn’t mean we are charging. But really when the people can’t afford, we will not insist they must, at all cost, pay.”

– Victor Padmore, Administrator, Phebe Hospital

Phebe Hospital, through its administrator Victor Padmore, has warned that patients who require surgery and emergency services would be made to pay for the cost of fuel. 

According to him, it would help sustain the services at the hospital.

Speaking to FrontPageAfrica, Padmore said: “We say that our services are free, but challenged as a hospital. We have not received fuel from the government since September last year. The only time we expect someone to pay for something is when you are in the hospital and you are being asked to do a surgery or your situation is critical.”

Continuing, he added: “We have to sustain the service. It means that something must be paid for the fuelling of the generator for that particular case. That doesn’t mean we are charging. But really when the people can’t afford, we will not insist they must, at all cost, pay.”

Phebe Hospital serves central Liberia’s (Bong, Nimba and Lofa) poorest residents and most can’t afford it. Patients who spoke to FrontPageAfrica said they were shocked that the hospital was asking patients to buy fuel on their own.

Lack of electricity force women to deliver by candlelight 

 Last week, Dormue Korkollie, 26, delivered her baby boy by candlelight at the Phebe Hospital. It was after sunset and the electricity supply had been cut.

“Doctors were using candles and torches for lighting,” said the 26-year-old, holding her second-born. “I delivered in the evening, there was no electricity.

“There was a candle on the table. I heard the midwives say that they could not see properly, so they had to use torches as additional light sources. As one of the doctors assisted me, the others held the torches.

“I was just praying I deliver well, without complications. I feared the worst and sighed with relief when it was over.”

Women in Bong County have reported similar experiences to Dormue, relying on a small flame or a cellphone to provide enough light to give birth safely since the hospital experienced a fuel crisis two weeks ago.

A doctor at the Phebe Hospital, where Dormue welcomed her child, said the team usually asks pregnant mothers to provide their own lighting.

“[We] ask them to bring bulbs with batteries or torchlight as it is difficult to see when using candle lights,” a doctor told FrontPage Africa.

At Phebe Hospital, when authorities fail to purchase fuel for generators, doctors do whatever it takes to save lives.

“Hospitals need to provide comprehensive obstetric [and newborn care], among other things such as responding to emergencies and doing surgery. 

“That’s where the power issues come in. With the current cost of diesel to run generators, the situation is dire,” said Dr. Jefferson Sibley, medical director of Phebe Hospital.

“We are charging patients to buy fuel for surgeries and emergency cases. You can’t run a generator for 12 hours daily. The next thing is, it breaks down.”

When they do not have generators, the doctors and nurses “explore whatever options will be available”.

Dr. Sibley told FrontPageAfrica, patients who depend on electricity to survive – such as those in the Intensive Care Unit, operating rooms and those in need of dialysis – will be in a life-threatening situation if the lack of fuel for the hospital’s generators continues. “If this problem continues, the unit will collapse; it will be a catastrophe,” Dr. Sibley said. “We already have a shortage of staff, shortage of supplies, and a shortage of everything.”

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