In a waiting area of Bakau Health Center, Isatou (not her real name) sits her young daughter on her lap waiting to see a doctor. Next to her on the floor is a five litre bottle of water she brings from home.
“I carry a bottle of water each time I come here,” she tells The Chronicle. “I use it when I got to the toilet or my child does because there’s no running water in this health center.”
Along the small corridor where toilets are located, a middle-aged woman warns an older woman waiting to go into one of the toilets, “I don’t think you want to go in. It’s filthy in there and there’s no water.”
The moment you step into that corridor, you are hit with an unbearable stench of urine and poop. In the rest rooms, the toilets are so filthy you have the feeling they’ve not been cleaned for months. There’s no running water, no soap for hand washing, no toilet rolls, no nothing. Just filth, a perfect breeding ground for germs to multiply.
“It’s like running away from danger and getting into another danger,” says Isatou. “You come to the health center because you are sick or your child is sick and you want treatment. But then the whole time you are here you’re worried because there’s no water to even wash your hand when you use the toilet.”
The water crisis in Bakau Health Center and the entire community where it’s located has been going on for about two years, putting the health of both patients and health practitioners at risk.
“The other day a patient had to leave the waiting area to go home and use the toilet even though she was looking very sick. She didn’t return to the health center that day. I kept wondering what could have happened to her,” says Isatou.
Fatou Njie, a native of Bakau says sanitation in the facility has been compromised. “Imagine, you go to a hospital for treatment and wanting to use the toilets but you cannot because there is no water. This is serious. We’ have been living in this condition for two years now.”
Fatou Sanyang, the official in charge of the health center declined to comment for procedural reasons. But one of the staff who spoke to The Chronicle on condition of anonymity described the situation as life threatening.
“Our standard protocol is that you wash your hands each time you treat a patient so that you don’t move diseases or infections from one patient to the other. But if you don’t have water you cannot do that,” he said.
According to him, patients would sometimes come and wouldn’t be able to use the toilets because there’s no water, adding that some of them who are under pressure would resort to using the toilet without water.
“There is no water for drinking or for hand washing. Even when pregnant women deliver their families have to go fetch water from outside the health center. That is very serious. Imagine conducting delivery without water. You are dealing with blood all over.”
He said the health authorities were engaged through the Regional Health Directorate (RHD) but nothing has been done to solve the problem.
According to other sources on the ground, doctors and nurses often buy bottled water from outside with their own money to clean their hands after treating patients.
The head of the Regional Health Directorate, Alagie Sankareh was contacted for comment but he declined a phone interview, saying he was on a regional tour.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the National Water and Electricity Company Pierre Sylva said the company is aware of the situation but hasn’t been able to find any solution.
According to him, NAWEC has six boreholes supplying Bakau and Fajara where the health center is located. He told The Chronicle that one has been taken off service because it was deemed unfit for public consumption due to nitrate chemical content in it.
“PURA, our regulator ordered that we stop using that borehole. It’s is no more functional and this has aggravated the situation. So the remaining five, comparatively small boreholes, cannot cater for everybody. At the moment, we are grappling with that situation not only at the health center but the whole of Bakau and Fajara.”
He said NAWEC had thought of creating some diversions to enable the health center to have consistent flow of water but that didn’t work out.
“They have studied the situation and realised that if they did some diversions to the health center the situation would have been worse. Almost 75 percent of Fajara would not have water.”
Sylva said an Indian project is underway to improve the water situation in the Bakau area, including the health center. According to him, instruction has been given to the water department to visit the health center for a possible short term solution to the crisis.