25 March 2020
A look at the resource and equipment needs of the National Referral Hospital (NRH) set against the need to combat COVID 19
Yesterday, I wrote about storytelling in the context of the Solomon Islands and the way telling stories had both positive and negative responses by citizens and by individuals.
I want to relate a personal story of an event that occurred during my time in office in the Solomon Islands now over two decades ago, but a story that I consider has relevance and meaning today when the Solomon Islands government and the people are faced with the possible onslaught of the invisible but terrible coronavirus disease.
Firstly, though, I want to record the words of Ms Ruth Lilqula wrote, under the umbrella of Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI), and contained in a private view letter published in the Solomon Star newspaper this morning, Wednesday.
“TRANSPARENCY Solomon Islands lauds and commends the Ministry of Health and Medical Services in their tireless efforts towards protecting the Solomon Islands from the COVID- 19 pandemic that is affecting the countries of the world regardless of their development status.
“This is a mammoth task for a Ministry that is mandated, tasked and expected to provide health and medical services to the people of Solomon Islands and rise to these challenges and yet very poorly resourced in every aspect.
“Transparency Solomon Islands acknowledges the assistance that is given by our neighbour Australia in testing facilities, China for sharing their findings on COVID-19 with the world, and provision of test kits to the Solomon Islands.
“Other development partners are also assisting us in whatever way they can.
“Information is power and the most important in pandemics. The Solomon Islands' most important valued assistance in the fight to control COVID – 19 is the sharing of information by China in the fight against this global pandemic.
“The sharing of information extends to scientists working together to understand the virus, mode of transmission, important in strategy to limit the spread.
“These findings have been contributed to strategies taken in China and in other affected countries including the Solomon Islands, to limit spread.
“They have shared with the world what works in limiting spread and infection working with WHO is at the helm coordinating world effort.
“Much of what needs to be done to avoid infection and spread rests with each and every one of us.
“Transparency Solomon Islands believes that it is this information that must be communicated in media, face to face and in our advocacy be it the public, family, and friends.
“The authorities are doing what they can to address the bigger picture, stopping the virus from getting into the country and its spread as well as getting ready for any positive cases.
“Given that our health and medical system and services including hospitals are poorly resourced, Solomon Islands is grateful for what assistance is being provided to us, be it China or any other country.”
I fully endorse what Ms L said about the laudable efforts of the staff of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services towards protecting the Solomon Islands so far from the intrusion of coronavirus.
I was interested to read what she had to say in thanking China for the provision of ‘test kits’ and have to presume they have been used already in assessing whether or not a person displayed symptoms of a fever, kits such as hand held thermal thermometers.
Test kits, however, fail to meet the needs of the National Referral Hospital (NRH) in testing, diagnosing and treating anyone suspected of having contracted coronavirus and the NRH does not have the critical care unit or facilities to handle such cases.
Referring to the needs of the NRH brings me to tell you about the story relating to an important meeting I once attended in my role as the then Commissioner of Police. I began outlying to the participants at that meeting some highly important information I felt needed to be shared and went on to suggest how that information might be best considered. I was interrupted by one participant who said to be, very bluntly, “You don’t tell us what to do, we tell you.” I responded calmly by saying I was merely passing on factual information that I felt important to relate as there could be consequences if the information was not considered and perhaps acted upon. I can say that the information seems to have been ignored and the result was as I expected it would turn out and a situation in the Solomon Islands that proved disastrous at the time and one that lingers to this day.
Why I have mentioned this story, and forgive me I have broached my vow of being a- political in all that I believe in doing for the Solomon Islands, but the story serves to illustrate ignoring professional advice and should serve as background to the latest warning sounded by Dr Claude Posala, the incumbent President of the country’s Medical Association (SIMA) who claimed in the Islands Sun newspaper today that the NRH, quote:
“The NRH does not have the laboratory facilities to diagnose COVID 19.”
“The NRH does not have an intensive care unit or a high dependency unit which can look after very sick patients, currently, an Isolation Facility is being constructed at the NRH and a mass Quarantine Facility is being established outside the NRH.”
Dr Posala, in view of his concerns about the unpreparedness of the NRH to deal with COVID 19 as it should be properly resourced and equipped, has called on the Solomon Islands government to put a stop to all foreign travellers coming into the country, including foreign diplomats.
Meanwhile, it has been reported the Solomon Islands government is likely to lock down the country in an event the first COVID-19 case is confirmed.
That’s according to the Chief of Staff in the Prime Minister’s Office Robson Djokovic.
He was speaking at a round-table discussion on the COVID-19 the Tourism Department organised at the Honiara Hotel on Tuesday for frontline agencies and stakeholders.
Mr. Djokovic told the discussion the government with other responsible agencies was seriously working on preventable measures.
“The government is serious in making sure we maintain the degree of normalcy to protect our citizens from catching the virus,” he said.
Asked about a possible lockdown, Mr. Djokovic said the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (OPMC) was seriously assessing the situation with the latest ‘Travel Advisory’.
“And if the Ministry of Health and Medical Services confirm that we have a positive case this means the country will have to go on lockdown to allow the medical team to assess and track the virus,” he said.
He added stricter measures like curfews and other measures to restrict people’s movement will also come in place.
Mr Djokovic also commented, “This is a very serious situation and more and more discussion and sharing should be on what we can do individually to protect ourselves and more importantly suggestions to our government of what needs improving in our health and medical infrastructures, human resources and level of capacity that this country needs to deal with any future pandemics for this will not be the last one.”
Dr Posala has said an Isolation Ward is currently being constructed at the NRH but how soon is such a facility going to be ready and is there enough money to see its proper construction and made fully equipped and operational?
An Isolation Facility, as I understand it, is not an Intensive Care Unit and a facility that should have priority along with the construction of the Isolation Unit.
We have been cautioned about bringing China into discussing the situation in the Solomon Islands but China has been mentioned in the TSI letter of having been supportive with test kits. I believe China has the capacity and the means to see the NRH gets the Intensive Care Unit it so clearly and urgently needs if it is to stay ahead of the fight against COVID 19.
In China, the authorities, using pre-fabricated walls and other structures build a huge isolation hospital in just 10 days to try and contain the spread of coronavirus.
A gift of pre-fabricated parts to the NRH could see an ICU off the ground quickly and a suggestion well worth the consideration by the Chinese government.