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Where you risk losing life and limb

By Alexander Chagema | September 1st 2016

One only needs to visit public hospitals to appreciate the vulnerability of patients, yet it is not something we think about every day.

Security is a concern. Gates are normally wide open and even where they are drawn closed, they are opened without much prompting as vehicles and people approach. There is no pretext of going over people with metal detectors. Where there is a semblance of security, the preoccupation is with patients not leaving the wards without parting with what is due to Caesar.

Wards are wide open and anybody can walk in and out without attracting a glance from staff on duty or fellow visitors checking on their hospitalised kin. It is not a wonder, therefore, that infants disappear from hospitals at an alarming rate without anybody being the wiser for it.

Perhaps due to the vastness of many hospitals, most medical staff are not familiar with their colleagues in other wards. I am not sure hospitals carry out induction or appreciate their importance, but in the recent past there have been cases where individuals masquerading as medics were arrested. The latest case was reported at the Rift Valley Provincial hospital in June this year.

A recent gangland incident at Mwingi hospital where gunmen killed a patient in cold blood informs this column today. Of course, it would be presumptuous to expect that ordinary security guards armed with batons would willingly engage someone wielding a gun on hearing gunshots.

The mere sound of gunfire would have caused a lot of apprehension, especially after six security guards were fatally shot in Mitaboni, Machakos County only a couple of days before the Mwingi incident. What lessons do we derive from this? Is it time the Government considered training and arming security guards at key installations with guns? Should the police guard public hospitals?

Previous suggestions that security guards be supplied with guns met resistance for fear it could encourage crime. It was also feared that since most security guards are advanced in age and given to the occasional catnap, guns would be more dangerous than useful to them.

But while that can be remedied through the employment of younger, more virile individuals, the question of discrimination against older men would inevitably arise.

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Equally important in a society that lays too much stock in the acquisition of academic papers, the level of education of security guards, needless to say, would act as an impediment to allowing them to carry guns. Devolving medical functions is yet to be fully actualised.

Mistrust between the national and county governments has only succeeded in throwing the sector into a spin. Doctors are not comfortable working under the control of county governments. Many have left for private practice or sought greener pastures. County governments argue they are up to the task but so far the public has been treated mostly to ineptitude and misplaced priorities.

Even as patients went without proper medication, one county government was comfortable buying maternity beds at a unit cost of Sh2 million. Another county spent Sh7 million on curtains while doctors were protesting poor pay and lack of medical stores to facilitate their work. Cases have been reported of county governments spending millions of shillings on hospital gates and toilets as patients go without medication.

Besides ensuring hospitals are better equipped and staffed, the security of vulnerable patients and infants at the maternity wards is of paramount importance. This security must start at the main gate.

If millions can be spent on curtains, the same can be spent on turnstiles to aid in security checks and inspection as people walk into hospital premises. Marine ports and airports, stadiums and institutions where security is a priority have them to ensure orderliness and to facilitate checks.

Needless to stress, access to wards should be restricted. There ought to be registers where visitors record their particulars. They must show their identification cards and specify which patient they are visiting. In a world being taken over by technology, Closed Circuit Television technology is a good investment. The police are increasingly adopting the technology in monitoring traffic and crime prone areas.

Hospital security should not entirely be left to security firms. The police should be involved. The contention the police service is understaffed does not hold water. I travel often and every five kilometres or so I see traffic policemen in groups of three, four or six stopping every PSV, pick-up and lorry for no reason other than to collect bribes from their drivers.

These officers should be deployed where they can be of service to the public, which pays their salaries, rather than be a public nuisance; for that is what latest polls by Infotrak say of the police.

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