A jerican half filled with formalin, rusty carving knives, dirty dead man/woman, clothes piled up in one corner of the main post mortem room and two non-functioning cold storage rooms, does but only tells half the ugly truth behind the deplorable state in which the morgue facility in Lamu’s main referral, King Fahad Hospital, is in.
Despite the County Government allocating more than Sh. 169 million of its development budget towards improving health care services across the County in its 2019/2020 financial budget, morgue facilities in Lamu paint a sore tale of negligence and lack of administrative will, to improve the most vital cog in the overall wheel of Universal Healthcare Services.
At a time when the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths, the County Health Department in Lamu seems oblivious to the urgency and agency that a properly functioning morgue facility plays in running a main Referral Hospital, especially during this pandemic crisis period.
A Senior County Health officials interviewed by KNA have intimated that previous municipal and county government administrations had not seen a need to rehabilitate or even improve morgue facilities in Lamu due to the County having a predominantly Muslim population that buries its dead almost immediately after death.
This modern day urban legend in Lamu holds true, today, with the current administration yet to improve much less rehabilitate the existing morgue facility three years into its current term.
“It is true that the morgue facility at King Fahad, especially the cold storage rooms are not working as per Level 5 standards,” Lamu Health Executive (CEC), Dr. Anne Gathoni, admitted, adding that presently the Mpeketoni Sub- county Referral Hospital is the one providing support to the main Referral Hospital.
The Mpeketoni Sub- county Hospital has a capacity of handling 12 bodies at a time, though hospital officials have also intimated that it is prone to frequent breakdowns.
Although these concerns have been raised in the past even on social media by concerned Lamu residents, county officials have failed to adequately address the eyebrow raising questions over how they want to improve morgue services in Lamu, especially at the King Fahad Referral Hospital.
A spot-check of the King Fahad Referral Hospital’s morgue facilities revealed the decrepit state of the cold storage which have not been use for so long, one has been turned into a formalin storage unit.
Locked behind the other storage facility is a human body that had long decayed and is now mere bones.
No family member in the past two years that the unidentified body has been lying at the morgue facility has come forward nor any effort been made to dispose the body properly.
As it is now, the morgue facility at King Fahad exists but only in the name, with the burden of its functionality transferred to the Level 4 Mpeketoni Sub- county Hospital.
Based on the Ministry of Health guidelines, aimed at safe disposal of patients that succumb to Covid-19, the decrepit state of morgue facilities in Lamu is a far cry from the standard required to prevent spread of novel Covid-19 by health workers and those who may end up handling the body.
“The environment around the morgue facility is not conducive to carry out a proper post mortem,” Solomon Ndungu, a Postmortem Assistant at the Hospital stated, adding that the County is flying blind with regards to the disposal of Covid-19 bodies.
The attendant, however, states that he and other hospital officials dealing with Covid-19 directly, they’ve been trained, however, lack of adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) is likely to present a conundrum in preventing any spread of Covid-19 beyond the post mortem area.
According to Ministry of Health (MOH) Covid-19 guidelines, the disposal of the remains will be conducted in a manner that prevents infection, control the spread of disease and is culturally appropriate for the bereaved.
The Lamu Health Executive (CEC), Dr. Ann Gathoni has however, rebuffed such fears that the County Government has a sense of lethargy in improving the morgue facility at King Fahad County Referral and instead offered that the County Government had set aside Sh. 5 million towards rehabilitating broken down health facilities in its 2020/2021 financial budget.
She stated that the main challenge towards improving the facility has been procurement issues surrounding the County Health Department’s spending.
However, according to the Lamu Health County Assembly Committee Chairman, James Komu, the County Executive has failed in its overall mandate to provide fully functioning health care services.
“The lack of proper morgue services in King Fahad, is part of a wider problem within the Health Department whose officials we have regularly summoned at the County Assembly,” he said.
There was need to probe for answers as to why basic services such as provision of drugs, the state of health care facilities not only in King Fahad but also at Mpeketoni Sub-county Hospital which is often burdened by the main referral’s lack of capacity,” the Health Committee Chairman and Hongwe Ward Member of the County Assembly (MCA) concurred.
He further noted that the complaint over bureaucracy and procurement challenges has often been used by the Health Department to escape responsibility for glaring incompetence, which he added is now being exposed by the Covid-19 crisis.
“Not to sound like an alarmist but as things stand, Lamu County is not ready to handle an epidemic the scale of Corona virus whether it is in patient isolation or handling the bodies of those who died of the disease.,” the Hongwe Ward representative stated.
He pointed to a recent County Assembly Health Committee check on health facilities for Covid-19 preparedness, which revealed that the County was prepared to handle living coronavirus patients.
The Mpeketoni Sub- county Hospital Administrator, Bill Jumlaa however, said that it is not all gloom when it comes to the morgue facilities situation within the County, adding the Sub- county hospital is able to handle cases as they come based on the current population.
Sentiments echoed by the Lamu Chief Officer, Dr. Victor Tole, who told KNA that the County Government was aware of the need to rehabilitate the morgue facility at the King Fahad Hospital, but reiterated that the County would set aside fund to rehabilitate the morgue facilities at the County Referral.
“We know there is a need to rehabilitate the main Hospital morgue, though for now the County can make do with the Mpeketoni facility,” he stated.
“In case there is a full blown pandemic in which the County has many death, there is no evidence on how the Health Department would handle such a crisis at the Referral Hospital,” Manda resident Benson Ojuok opined.
He narrated how, as a non-indigenous resident, he has in the past been after losing a loved one, they were forced to speed up burial plans due to lack of a cold storage facility at King Fahad.
“We immediately had to source together the few funds we had and were made to hurry due to the lack of cold storage at the Hospital,” Ojuok stated.
The Lamu Governor, Fahim Twaha maintained that healthcare under his Administration had improved vastly.
“As much as there are aspects that need improving, such as the rehabilitation of certain facilities within our Referral Hospital and other hospitals in Mpeketoni and Witu overall healthcare service provision has improved greatly,” the Governor said.
“Under the Sh.200 million Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC) programme by the County Government, there is also the provision for access to morgue facilities, which we have under the programme to ensure our 20,000 household initiative is covered regardless of their religion background,” he added.
He added that the main aim of the UHC NHIF initiative in Lamu is to ensure the dignity of all residents whether in life or in death is upheld.
By Amenya Ochieng