Last week, part of a ceiling board collapsed on mothers at a labour ward at Aromo Health Centre III in Lira District, prompting the authorities to shut down the maternity ward.
The ward, constructed with support from Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR), has never been rehabilitated since its establishment in 2007.
That fateful Wednesday night, Ms Esther Ajok, a resident of Oketkwer Village in Aromo Sub-county, was already on the delivery bed eagerly waiting to bring her second child into the world.
No sooner had the midwife moved out to pick up a plastic basin than the ceiling board collapsed, narrowly missing Ms Ajok.
“I heard the ceiling board crack from above, and the debris started falling on me. I immediately fell down and crawled towards the door,” she told Daily Monitor after the incident.
Indeed, Ms Ajok was just lucky. The broken ceiling board then hit the delivery bed she was lying on.
She was immediately transferred to Lira Regional Referral Hospital, about 30 kilometres away – where she gave birth to a baby boy.
Ms Betty Akello, an enrolled midwife at Aromo Health Centre, said the doctor had already dressed up to attend to the patients when the ceiling board collapsed.
“All patients hid under their beds fearing that the whole building could collapse on them,” she said on Monday.
“And very early in the morning, we had to disperse everybody and lock the maternity ward,” she added.
Currently, all the mothers going to deliver at Aromo Health Centre III are being referred to Ogur Health Centre IV, about 12 kilometres away from the government health centre.
“I have been here directing them [expectant mothers] where to go because I cannot assist them,” she said.
Mr Robert Odongo, a member of Aromo Health Unit Management Committee, acknowledged that their health centre does not offer quality services.
“First and foremost, members of the community are stealing property because the facility is not fenced. Secondly, we also don’t have an outpatient department,” he said.
Mr David Elich Okello, the Aromo Sub-county chairperson, said in 2017, the sub-county allocated Shs16 million towards the renovation of their maternity ward.
The district leaders reportedly gave the contract to some company to renovate the facility but the work was not completed.
“We have been facing a lot of challenges and we have been reporting them to other higher authorities but no action is being taken,” Mr Okello said on Monday.
“As I talk now, we don’t have anywhere to admit women who are coming for delivery. Expectant mothers are now being referred to Ogur Health Centre IV, which is very far from here,” he added.
The challenges being experienced at Aromo Health Centre III almost cut across the entire Lango sub-region.
In Apac District, Apoi Health Centre III in Akokoro Sub-county was recently temporarily shut down following a misunderstanding between health workers and the patients.
Health workers have reportedly laid down their tools after some members of the community allegedly threatened to harm them.
Trouble started when a member of the community, who was reportedly armed with machete, went to the health facility and threatened to cut health workers. The angry father accused the health workers of refusing to attend to his sick child, who was suffering from malaria.
Mr Joel Ewany, the officer-in-charge of the health centre, said they decided to close the facility on June 15 since health workers were living in fear following that disturbing episode.
“That man came with his son then he said he had brought a patient. We were in a staff meeting and I told him to sit and wait but he disappeared, only to return after a short while with a machete (panga),” Mr Ewany said.
“I then pleaded with him, his son was tested and was found to be having malaria. We gave him antimalarial and he later disappeared.”
Mr Ewany said Apoi Health Centre III is unsecured. “Some of our staff who reside in grass-thatched houses became so scared that day,” he said.
However, members of the community accused the health workers at the facility of laziness. They also said the service providers lack the willingness to serve the vulnerable community.
Mr Isaac Otim, a resident of Onyany Village in Apoi Parish, said he recently went to the health facility but he was not attended to.
“It was at around 11am but there was no health worker at the facility. I followed them to the staff quarters and I found a nurse cooking. She told me to go back and wait but when she came, she told me there was no medicine,” he said.
Mr Alfred Ogwang, another resident, said he lost a child last year after health workers at the facility delayed to attend to his expectant wife.
“I took my wife to deliver at the health centre but we spent three days without being attended to,” he said.
“I then took her to Akokoro Health Centre III, where she was attended to immediately we arrived. She delivered but unfortunately, the baby died shortly,” he added.
Dr Mathew Emer, the Apac District health officer, said they held a meeting last week with the aggrieved health workers at Apoi Health Centre in an attempt to iron out the issue.
I heard the ceiling board crack from above, and the debris started falling on me. I immediately fell down and crawled towards the door,” Ms Esther Ajok, survivor.