TAPPITA, Nimba – Mary Choko, a resident of Tappita, complains that it is impossible to see a doctor or access services at the Jackson F. Doe Memorial Hospital after 2:00 p.m. because of the limited supply of electricity at the hospital.
The hospital was dedicated in 2011 as Liberia’s second tertiary hospital, and it hosts the country’s first CT scan machine. The facility also hosts a relatively impressive number of physicians, including the only neurosurgeon in the country, Dr. Alvin Doe, in addition to 15 other medical doctors, including eight foreign specialists.
However, the facility is limited in its capabilities because of its frequent power outages. Dr. James Sobboh, the medical director of the hospital, said because of the high cost of fuel, the hospital limits the number of hours it runs the generators.
Sobboh said the hospital is normally powered from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and then from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. the next day. However, when there are fuel shortages, the generators are shut down when there are no emergencies or patients needing surgery.
“Or, if we have a patient in the hospital that is on life support, and we can’t shut the power off otherwise we could lose them, we keep the power on for them,” he added. “If we have somebody who needs to have a procedure like emergency – CT scan or X-ray or whatever, [we] turn it on for these emergencies.”
The hospital’s four diesel generators require more than 8,000 gallons of fuel to operate each month, Sobboh said, which can sometimes make it difficult to maintain with a tight budget. The medical director had previously complained that the hospital does not receive enough to fund its operations.
For the last five budget years, approximately US$2.79 million has been allotted annually to the hospital. Sobboh said of the US$1.80 million allotted for the hospital’s operational cost, US$720,000 is used exclusively on fuel to generate electricity. That means 26 percent of the hospital’s total budget goes toward the cost of fuel.
This amount is surprising, given that Tappita is one of the cities along the border with Ivory Coast that enjoys electricity from the West African Power Pool project, which allows’ Liberia’s neighbor to sell reasonably priced power to border counties.
Sobboh said his hospital had not yet been connected to the grid because it needed to acquire a special transformer. He assured the public that the Jackson F. Doe would soon see stable electricity supply, as he said government officials had promised that the upcoming budget would include a provision to procure a transformer. The hospital’s allotment in the draft budget for the pending fiscal period is US$3,015,363, about US$100,000 more than past years.
The hospital’s deputy administrator, Ebenezer Strother, told The Bush Chicken that the cost to connect the hospital and to purchase the transformer was US$100,000.
Featured photo by Ballington Chie