When an ambulance shows up at Idiwa Health Center, it’s quite the event. Currently there are only 4 ambulances serving a population of 318,000 people. Here’s an example of how that works (or rather, doesn’t work):
Three patients with fractures have been waiting at this remote health center for the last couple days. With one ambulance out fetching a patient from several hours away, and two others being repaired, that leaves only one available ambulance. To complicate matters, due to the Ugandan doctors being out on strike for higher pay and better working conditions, there’s only one physician at the district hospital seeing patients. That means any patients who arrive there after noon will not be seen, or even admitted to the hospital.
So when the one anxiously-awaited ambulance arrived at clinic this morning, a crowd immediately formed, each patient hoping to be among the lucky few granted access. Only the fractures were allowed on board, since the short-staffed hospital is not accepting “cold cases” (anything that’s not an emergency). I breathed a sigh of relief to see at least a few of the patients make their way to the hospital. Unfortunately, they never made it there.
Halfway to the hospital, the ambulance driver got a call for a more serious emergency and literally stopped where he was and left the fracture patients on the side of the road to wait . He went to pick up the more critical patient, dropped him off at the hospital, and by the time he came back... it was after noon and too late to deliver the fracture patients. So they loaded back up on the ambulance, turned around,and came right back where they started.
Tomorrow morning I’ll find them sitting in the shade of a large tree in the health center compound, waiting with saintlike patience for the ambulance to return again.