I need help to find a fitting description of Hoima regional referral hospital. Every time I’m about to get one, the word, “funeral” seems to replace “referral” and I can’t help it but cry. On July 4, at around 4:00am, my wife reported to this hospital, presumably the ‘best’ public one in the area. We were excited not just because of a new life that she was about to bring forth but two, because we were expecting twins.

The first twin came out in hardly six minutes, despite the nurse on duty not being cooperative, at first. Complications came with the second one. When contacted, the doctor who was to be on duty, said he was in Kibaale district, many miles away. Yet, at this level, the complication required a doctor’s intervention. One of the nurses who was around said her duty at the hospital was only to record the details of births and deaths of newborns and mothers.

With every passing second, the possibility of losing the mother or the child or both seemed close. Even though it was a whole two hours later, there was some relief with the arrival of Dr Kasujja Kitunzi, a consultant gynaecologist, who was got from her rest. The doctor, who did all that she could, had been on duty only a few hours earlier. As efforts was being made to get my wife to the theatre, the second twin arrived, tired and weak.

Oxygen was administered onto the baby, but at around 10:00am, it was removed. After contacting various doctors and nurses, they seemed surprised that the baby had been left to die, just like that! I was told that out of oxygen, it would not survive for long.

With the help of some friends, we contacted the Hospital Medical Superintendent, Dr Francis Mulwanyi, who took us through the hospital’s many problems as he tried to comfort us. I reluctantly listened to him because these are the kind of stories I have heard for long.

The doctor that the superitendent called said he was looking after his sick wife. Dr Mulwanyi then ordered him to link us to an intern. The intern, one Godson, who said had seen the baby in the morning later told me that he was surprised that it was still alive. He returned it onto the oxygen machine. That was at 5:00pm!

Godson told me that much as it had been predicted that the child would die shortly after birth because of brain damage, our lovely Edna Siima passed away about 21 hours after birth.

On oxygen, the baby was put in an obsolete wooden basket-like bed, in an open area, with high temperatures amidst wailing women. The noise from the ‘oxygen machine’ sounded like it was from a generator. I will never cease to marvel about this referral hospital. Perhaps these are the wonders of the times.

More disgusting is that the dead as a result of labour complications are placed in the veranda, at the entrance. That is what welcomes an expectant mother on arrival, perhaps signalling to her, her likely destiny. Until this time, I didn’t know that some people instead get surprised when one delivers successfully from Hoima referral hospital.

The night we lost Edna Siima revealed alot. I witnessed a nurse working like a robot in an over-crowded maternity ward, screaming expectant mothers, dying babies and mothers, emergency arrivals, blood transfusions, embalming dead bodies, putting patients on drip. At 5:00am, I saw cleaners force mothers, some of who had just delivered to vacate the corridors to go out to the chilly verandas and tree sheds with their newborns.

In circumstances like this we rush to blame the hospital staff. Sometimes, like in this case, we could be right, but for the more than a decade that I have been writing about the health sector, as a journalist, I conclude that the problem is sometimes beyond their control even when there is a will.

I have turned down many calls from friends and lawyers to take legal action for the death of our baby, because it can’t change the health system of this country. Concerned Ugandans want a functional healthcare system. At the risk of being misinterpreted, I can boldly say there is no political will to have this so. Our baby is one of the thousands that are dying without benefiting anything from the taxes they pay even before birth!