The sad state of our rural clinics
BY JENNIFER KUSAPA
Lack of staff, facilities and vital medicine has long been a problem for rural clinics.
So, with COVID adding to the pressure clinics are under, Island Sun set out to investigate the state one rural health clinic – the Kalenga Clinic in Isabel province.
Rural health facilities are the first-place people turn at times of medical need and the backbone or our health system.
While there have been more financial resources allocated to health budgets as a result of COVID-related initiatives, rural clinics still have the same load of other illness and accident to deal with.
In many ways Kalenga Clinic is an average clinic – not particularly better or worse than so many across the country.
What we found were some big gaps in basic services and not much improvement from the time of the last major assessment of the state of medical services done in 2018 by the Ministry of Health, despite fundraising efforts of the community.
In 2022, Kalenga clinic is sometimes without a nurse to look after almost a thousand people, including boarders at its primary and high schools.
Island Sun arrived at Kalenga’s beautiful beach early in the morning of June 3, 2022 after a four-hour boat ride via outboard motor to Isabel from Honiara.
Kalenga is located at the southern end of Isabel, the longest island in the Solomon Islands.,
Upon our arrival we were welcomed by villagers.
Not so welcome was the bad smell that greeted us – a sign that this community does not have proper sanitation and that people are having to use the beaches for convenient purposes.
Sanitation is a basic building block for health, but it is just one part of the the health picture.
Island Sun was there to look more specifically at the status of Kalenga Clinic and to see if it is adequately serving the people of surrounding communities.
We asked the villagers to introduce us to Kalenga Clinic’s newly-appointed nurse, but the nurse was not there.
Having found a lack of crucial medical supplies when he arrived to take up his post, he had set off for Honiara to obtain medicines to restock the dispensary.
That left the clinic without its only trained medical staff.
Back in 2018, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services found that lack of trained staff is an all-too-common occurrence across the country.
The Ministry’s Statistical Health Core Indicator Report showed most provinces had rural health clinics with no registered nurse.
Isabel was not one of those provinces, so it seems that in 2022 things have not improved despite new COVID funding.
Kalenga Clinic Chairman Josie Gedi revealed the clinic has been struggling since 2015 despite the surrounding communities working hard to raise funds to make up for gaps in services.
“This clinic was built almost 25 years ago and due to its closeness to the seashore, the clinic committees then, agreed to build a high floor building to avoid high tides or king tides washed inside the building.
“But a high-floor building is not suitable for women, elderly and people with disability, as there was no access for such people and they always find it difficult to climb up the stairs”, Gedi said.
Gedi who is now taking up the position of chairman has been organizing his committee to raise funds to build a new clinic convenient to all people.
His committee has been seeking funding from leaders and authorities since 2020 to re-construct a concrete floor clinic, but there has not been much support.
Gedi said only the members of their communities contributed but that was not enough.
“As you can see this clinic is without a bathroom and toilet and it has been difficult for sick patients and even women who come here to give birth.
“Authorities should come and assess this place properly and see for themselves the problems we face, even our Provincial leaders and Health authorities never address the problem this clinic face,” Gedi highlighted.
Gedi also said the clinic often runs out of medicines, leaving sick patients to turn to home remedies or herbal medicines for their health problems.
Meanwhile, Provincial Member for the Kalenga clinic area Tony Vahia, said that the provincial government does not have enough funds to support all rural clinics within the province.
“Even-though we knew that our rural health centers need funding support and it is a need for us leaders to support, as our health is important, we did not have the funds to build proper facilities, unless donors support us”, Vahia said.
He said with the current state of Kalenga clinic and with COVID cases in the country, proper health facilities are needed in the rural areas.
Annette Kafa, one of the women representatives in her late 40s, shared her concern that, as a woman and mother, she wants the Ministry of Health and the Provincial Health to always make sure that nurses posted to rural clinics do not leave clinics unattended.
She said during the recent COVID community transmission Kalenga clinic was without a nurse for almost four months and it really affect the communities especially women and children.
“Provincial health should always bear in mind that whenever a nurse is on annual leave, they should send a nurse to relieve the nurse on leave to avoid inconvenience for our community” Ms Kafa said.