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Concern at Siaya Referral hospital after 49 patients died in one month

The main entrance to the Siaya County Referral Hospital. [George Orido, Standard]

Siaya County Referral Hospital is in the eye of a storm after 49 patients were reported to have died at the facility within one month.

The county assembly's Health Committee is currently investigating the deaths that happened in November last year after some residents and local activists petitioned the MCAs to look into the state of affairs at the hospital.

And when he appeared before the committee on Tuesday, the hospital's medical superintendent Alex Liech was at pains to explain how so many patients could have died within such a short time.

While it was reported that the patients died in November alone, the human rights activists claimed that the deaths were reported within the first 15 days of that month.

Dr Liech attributed the increased deaths at the hospital to Covid-19. He also said that some of the patients who died at his facility had been referred from sub-county hospitals.

"We also have many cases of self-referral that are coming to the hospital. We have also been receiving those with terminal conditions. Some of the patients come here when they are critically ill and they later die, sometimes even before we attend to them."

Liech was also pressed by the MCAs to explain the death of a 10-year-old child at the facility after the management reportedly declined to give her a referral to another hospital due to a hospital bill of Sh3,100.

But the official told the ward reps that the hospital actually waived the bill after due diligence had been done by the waiver committee and social workers, to facilitate the referral. However, according to Liech, the mother decided to take the child home against doctors' advise. 

"She left and went home against medical advice. She cited financial constraints. The child was not readmitted to the hospital and did not die within the hospital premises as alleged," Liech said.

However, the over 100 residents and the human rights groups, in their petition to the MCAs, attributed the high number of patients dying at the hospital to the poor services.

The petitioners also laid the blame at Liech's doorstep saying he is inexperienced and lacks the capacity to supervise running a major health facility such as a teaching and referral hospital. 

At the same time, Liech has also been accused of detaining patients who have been treated and discharged over nonpayment of medical bills, ignoring the waiver policy.

"The hospital has been plunged into other problems because of his (Liech's) actions that include detaining patients who have been discharged for medical bills as little as Sh3,000," the petition said.

The petition signed by among others, Hillary Omondi, an activist from Siaya Muungano Network, further claimed: "A patient was detained because of Sh3,000 bill thereby denying her a transfer for dialysis at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and in the process causing the death of a 10-year-old minor.”

Kenya National Union of Nurses secretary for Siaya, Sylvester Nganda, and his Kenya Union of Clinical Officers counterpart Kennedy Opiyo, who had also been summoned by the committee over the matter, claimed Liech’s appointment was erroneously done.

They said Liech was unable to supervise the duties of senior officers as he lacks capacity to ensure professionalism is adhered to by the hospital staff.