by Samsudeen Sarr

Folks, President Adama Barrow has done it again. I am beginning to believe what many people have been telling me about Barrow’s slow response to emergency crisis situations. That it usually takes him a week to rehearse reading speeches prepared for him before he is well dressed up with new reading glasses now to look smarter than Albert Einstein and televised in delivery. After all, the message he read to the Gambians yesterday, other than the D500 million “emergency fund which the Ministry of Health and Finance will work on for disbursement and use to fight the Covid-19”, was more or less the exact one President Mackey Sall read to the Senegalese people through a teleprompter last week. Of course, we are one week behind Senegal in everything they do in this Covid-19 fight. Why not start coaching Barrow on how to use teleprompter when reading his speeches? It will make him appear more convincing that he authored his messages than the way he struggles to concentrate on every line read from the pages. One doesn’t need a degree in speech analysis to see how emotionally detached he was from the sentiment behind his proclamations. It was really a lousy job to put it mildly! I think that is one of the main reasons why critics were expressing their disappointment with him regardless of his fans trying to shove it into our throats that he was perfect and should be given a break.
As for me, my disappointment is all about the time it took for him to emerge and read exactly what his “brother”, President Mackey Sall read to the Senegalese last week. The president aught to grasp the importance of originality in this crucial times. Besides, speeches delivered by heads of state in this crisis are better appreciated if immediately followed by questions and answers from journalists. For instance, coming to tell us that D500 million dalasis roughly US50 million dollars have been disbursed to the health sector to combat the pandemic needs further clarification on the source of the money and how the ministry of health intends to spend it. What has it got to do with the US10 million dollars said to have been a grant from either the IMF or WHO to the government in the fight against the pandemic?
Considering the shortages of virtually everything in the country’s hospitals, I believe a fraction of the amount could transform the Gambia’s health sector into one of the best in the whole African continent. Let the minister tell me that it is fake news that there are only three functional lung ventilators in the whole country, the most important equipment in the treatment of critically infected Coronavirus patients. I was checking prices and with US4 million dollars the country can overstock the hospitals with 15000 of these lifesaving machines. And since the government is emphasizing the significance of their liaison with the WHO I think valuable time has already been wasted for not seeking their assistance to facilitate the procurement of adequate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and the virus testing equipment. The MRC alone limited to the capacity of 16 test a day simply goes to confirm the projection of the WHO that Africa has more undetected carriers than registered.
We cannot continue quarantining people or restricting their activities and movements without a robust testing mechanism to evaluate its success.
However it is no secret that most Gambians don’t know what annual physical examination means for maintenance of good health; 99 % of Gambians don’t also know what Cholesterol mean and its threat to their health if it is above the 200 unit mark in our blood system. We don’t care about the health of our mouths, eyes, ears, prostates or ovaries. We only go to the hospital when our bodies can no longer endure its extreme breakdown called sickness.
That is to say that we are not only unaware of our coronavirus-infection data but that most of us are walking around with preexisting ailments that we have no clue about.
We hardly authorize doctors to perform autopsy to determine the cause of death of our love ones, attributing their death to preordained phenomenon with some sudden deaths from maybe, cardiac arrests, diabetic shocks and stroke blamed on supernatural causes.
I am quite sure that if the Bangladeshi national confirmed to be the only one killed by the coronavirus in the Gambia was not a foreigner, he would have never been checked for cause of death. Many elderly Gambians perhaps with preexisting conditions identified as the most vulnerable are dying and buried everyday without an autopsy.
I think the ministry of health should start counseling family members into cooperating with the doctors to conduct autopsies on corpses that at least fit the demographic of susceptible victims just in this special period. They will comply if approached the right way.
Last week, I read about a relatively young army officer in a Gambian hospital whose untimely death was ascribed to the malfunction of the dialysis machine he was using and had to stop frequently because of power failures. It was not the first time of reading about the disgraceful state of the dialysis department of our hospitals for being inadequately equipped, unaffordable to average Gambian patients compounded by the frequent and dangerous stalling of the procedure by electricity failures. The soldier also marches the profile of potential victims of the virus that could have killed him.
Hence, no matter how well equipped our hospitals are with ventilators, dialysis machines and all whatnot, if we cannot get adequate heavy duty standby generators to support the equipment when NAWEC malfunctions, the objective of the effort will always be defeated. Heavy duty generators capable of backing up such systems can be purchased installed and wired in all hospitals for another US4 million dollars. In total, it is possible to overhaul our health system with funds not exceeding US20 million dollars factoring the chartering of cargo planes to airlift all materials from any part of the world.
Counter-intuitively, I am still inclined to believe that Cuba could be the best place to turn to for immediate and affordable medical expert assistance. They have been doing it for Africa forever and are offering all assistance to countries asking.
Enough medical facilities have been built all around the country in the past 22 years and I believe there is no better time for President Barrow to adequately equip them than now.

Till my next article, I wish to apologize for offending anyone.

Samsudeen Sarr

New York City.

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