There were five tiny babies packed like sardines in an incubator on the left-hand corner of the ward. Baffled by the narrow container in which such innocent creature are placed, I mumbled right to the nurse pointing to three empty incubators on the adjacent corner of the room, asking her why they are not used. Can’t you put a baby in each instead of crowding them into one incubator? Oh no, sir, the nurse responded: “those are not good.” This is the only one we have here that is in good condition. These babies need heat just as if in their mothers’ womb, and they are alright in this one, she added.
This is the general wardroom for pre-mature babies in the Maternity Center at Donka Hospital in Conakry. In the incubator where the five babies are packed, baby number 4 is my brother’s. His wife was rushed here yesterday after an acute pain that struck her. I was led into the room by a sister-in-law who accompanied her to the center. It was 8 a.m., breakfast time. The nurse was feeding baby number 3 when I entered. She took out our baby from the vase and laid it on a bed just nearby in the corner and started to feed it with milk from a plastic cup with a plastic teaspoon. I moved closer to watch; I suddenly realized that the nurse is feeding the babies with the same spoon out of the same container. I asked my sister-in-law if they did not bring their own paraphernalia for our baby. She said that they didn’t. The nurse looked untidy and ignorant of her job. When I asked my sister-in-law, how they spent the night, she said: it was dreadful. Babies cried throughout the night, some even died pointing to a little corpse on the adjacent corner. That is the third one since we came in last night, she said.
From there I moved on to the doctors’ room where I met one who introduced himself as Dr. Bacarr Balde. Dr. Balde is a young man in his late 20s, about 5.7 feet tall, with dark complexion and a very tired look. Doctors in this section are always busy you know, he told me. Cases of pre-maturity, malnutrition, meningitis and other illness are pouring in like the currents of water falls in the mountains. And as I stood there pondering what to ask him, a woman came in with a crying child on her chest. This child was gravely ill, he examined the child at once and confirmed he is suffering from meningitis, and was referred to the standby nurse to prepare admission for treatment.
Doc! Calling his attention again, please, may I ask why those pre-mature babies cannot be placed in separate incubators? We have insufficient incubators, he responded angrily. In fact there is only one that functions properly, all the rest have some defect that renders them unusable. Can you imagine! Only one functioning incubator, when the rate of pre-mature deliveries is constantly increasing. We are not well-equipped to handle all cases that we are receiving. As a result, about 80 percent of pre-mature Babies die within a short time after birth. Some last for just five days. Doctors here are fighting an uphill battle. “Aren’t you able to do something instead of questioning me?” “Aren’t you a Guinean? Don’t you know Guinea?” “The government cares less for our plight in the health sector.” He stated angrily. I was dumb-stuck for a while, wondering what to say. I was saddened by the dreadful conditions awaiting our weakest babies.