With no nationalised health service or subsidised insurance schemes, The Gambia suffers on both an individual and a national level from lack of hospital funding. Hospitals and clinics are pushed to their limit to care for their patients on extremely limited resources, often missing life-saving medication and sterile equipment.
Even in the larger hospitals in the city of Banjul and the town district of Serekunda, a distinct lack of safe, clean medical equipment makes even simple procedures potentially life-threatening. With no medication for pain and shortages of beds, critically ill patients are often left in undignified and agonising conditions.
Hospitals in crisis
For both children and adults with serious conditions, the right medical equipment and care is essential to give them the best chance of recovery and healing. Shortages of money and resources mean that healthcare professionals in The Gambia often cannot give their patients the treatment they need – even if they know exactly what those needs are. Lack of working surgical devices and apparatus means that patients often need to be transferred thousands of miles for even routine surgeries, and those who are too ill to be moved have no choice but to do without. Medications for pain and anaesthetics are expensive and hard to come by in The Gambia, and the vast majority of patients do not receive the medication needed to alleviate their symptoms.
Maternity wards and children’s wards are often the hardest hit by lack of funding. With shortages of beds and rooms, labouring mothers are forced to give birth in wards with up to ten other women. Without enough sterile needles and proper surgical equipment, the risk of maternal and neonatal mortality increases tenfold.
The impact on children
During the rainy season, hospitals are packed full of children suffering from malaria and water-borne diseases due to polluted drinking water in their villages. Lifesaving anti-malarial drugs such as quinine rapidly fall into short supply, and doctors have to make the agonising decision to treat certain patients and not others. Children face death from illnesses that could easily be treated, and the risk of dying is compounded by their existing circumstances of poverty. Without access to anti-retroviral drugs, HIV positive children are at serious risk from minor illness and infections.
Malnutrition and poor development in early life is a significant contributing factor to life-threatening illnesses among children. Every aspect of a child’s health needs to be routinely checked in order to keep them safe – their muscle and bone development, their cardiac and respiratory health, their teeth and gums and any other concerns that may arise. Children in the United Kingdom are given health checks from the moment of their birth, but children in The Gambia frequently miss out.
Children in remote and rural areas are impacted most, as clinics are often miles from their villages and cannot be accessed easily. Rural clinics are also most likely to have shortages of supplies, preventing them from giving local children much-needed check-ups. Rural clinics, or ‘bush hospitals’, are frequently missing even the most basic equipment such as stethoscopes and blood pressure monitors. Without the tools to provide for the community, hundreds of children’s lives are in danger.
Health outreach for hospitals
Child Aid Gambia is responding to the urgent health needs of communities wherever we can. Our health outreach programme works in two ways – firstly by providing health equipment to hospitals, clinics and other specialist health services, and secondly by empowering communities to have better control and awareness of their health through first aid kits and education.
We are working with a number of clinics and hospitals in Banjul, Serekunda, Brikama and further afield. Many of the hospitals we visit are suffering from significant shortages of medication, equipment and financial support, leaving them inadequately prepared to deal with the needs of the community. Our outreach provides clinics and hospitals across The Gambia with sterile excess equipment and apparatus from the UK, all of which is safe and ready to use. The equipment is provided for free, which avoids much of the overhead charges and costs which prevents hospitals from obtaining this equipment themselves.
We are providing hospitals in The Gambia with:
- Safe and sterile equipment for immediate care, such as bandages, dressings, stitches and needles
- Monitoring equipment for wards and clinics, such as stethoscopes, blood pressure monitors, thermometers and scales
- Additional funding for development of the hospital or clinic, such as fundraising for beds, rooms, larger-scale equipment or specialist services for maternity or children’s wards
Health outreach for communities
Alongside our contributions to hospitals and clinics in The Gambia, we are also providing equipment and support for communities to take better care of themselves. In rural areas, even a simple injury can lead to a serious infection, and without access to a nearby clinic such infections could prove fatal. Providing a first aid kit can give a community the things they need in a medical emergency – such as sterile bandages and dressings, pain medication, gloves and masks.
By providing first aid kits to remote Gambian villages, we also have the opportunity to educate them on how best to use the equipment and what to do in an emergency. Through teaching both adults and children how to take care of themselves when they are injured or unwell, Gambian communities can be empowered to prevent health issues from becoming life-threatening. Posters and leaflets distributed to families and schools can provide visual information on caring for health, such as hygiene for prevention of contaminated food, caring of open wounds, and contraception for the prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases. By gaining the trust of the communities we work with, we can break down barriers and stereotypes about health, and give everyone a better opportunity to stay well throughout their lives.
How you can help
We are looking to expand our health outreach to encompass more clinics and communities, and further our mission in reducing the threat of deadly illnesses in The Gambia. You can help – if you or someone you know works in healthcare and has access to viable equipment we can send out, please visit our How to Help page or contact us.
Donations of equipment and monetary contributions are equally vital to improve the health outreach we provide – with more funding, we will gain further opportunities to save the lives of children living in poverty. £50 is enough to provide one first aid kit to a rural community, but any amount is hugely beneficial. No child deserves to live without access to basic healthcare in their community – so join us today in making a difference.