Congo-Brazzaville: 'Irresponsible Officials' Put Patients at Risk

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

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Health officials in some hospitals in Congo are putting patients' lives at risk by engaging in unethical practices, local human rights groups have warned.

"The behaviour of such officials, notably their greed and the fraudulent sale of medicines, is a great obstacle to the right to healthcare," Maixent Fortunin Hanimbat, president of the rights group, Forum pour la gouvernance et les droits de l'homme (FGDH), said.

"It is inconceivable that after making the trip to the hospital, when a patient is often very fragile, they are confronted by irresponsible health officials," he added.

Government officials acknowledge the seriousness of the problem. "We need to expose those who take pleasure in taking money illegally from poor patients and punish them by law," Emilienne Raoul, the Health Minister, told IRIN. "It is appalling that this is going on in the health sector."

Some patients said they are forced to pay extra fees for medical care. Evelyne Nianga is one such patient.

She was denied medical care at the Talangai Central Hospital (CHT), in the capital, Brazzaville, while in labour as she did not have the 8,500 francs (US$19) to pay the consultation fee. "I was thrown out by a midwife while still in pain," she said.

"Can they imagine the pain felt by these patients when they are left to sort themselves out?" Hanimbat asked.

Due to the malpractice, some patients die. "I saw a woman [whose] husband could not pay the money required," a trainee doctor, who did not want to be identified, told IRIN. "A few hours later, she was transferred to the University Hospital Centre in Brazzaville; we later learnt that she died on arrival."

The illegal sale of medical supplies by some of the corrupt health officials is also a problem. "Although there are pharmacies in the hospitals or nearby, they tell you to buy the medicines from them [the officials]," a patient in one of the hospitals told IRIN.

"It is sad that while some [health officials] are disciplined in their work, others are involved in corruption," Jean Ndinga, a gynaecologist at CHT, said. "It is our responsibility to accept and treat all patients fairly."

A concerted effort is needed to fight corruption in the health sector, a programme assistant with the Congolese human rights group, L'Observatoire Congolais des droits de l'Homme (OCDH), Nina Cynthia Kiyindou, said.

"Public authorities should ensure that everyone has access to care, especially the impoverished," Kiyindou said.

In 2007, a watchdog to tackle corruption was created but according to civil society activists, its work "is not yet apparent".

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
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