Listen to Heal

At a hospital to have my aching leg checked, the doctor whose office I was in asked how much I had paid for my admission card.

I was taken aback by the question, with the words coming out of my mouth fumbled. The elderly doctor then leaves the room abruptly, with me at his heels, and talks to the woman at the front desk.

After some back and forth, I am informed by the front desk woman to pay more. I was confused and scared – it was not about the money but the reason why I needed to pay more. Although the woman went on to explain that I needed to have extra medical work done, she promised it was not surgery.

I followed the doctor with a determination not to be probed with medical knives or needles. Even after asking multiple times, the doctor never explained why I had to pay extra, and in the end, my leg pain was cured without the need for surgery, injections or pills.

The communication between doctors and patients in public private hospitals need to improve and the care that is given must be upgraded. Not every story ends the way mine does; there are many occurrences where a walking patient leaves hospitals in a body bag. The alarm bells have rung long ago on our healthcare system.

On my third year in college, one of the internships we were mandated to take was at a public hospital. I, along with my fellow social work practitioners, was assigned to Black Lion Hospital. My time there was the type of experience necessary for anyone living in Ethiopia.

The doctors and nurses were overworked and the facilities could not cope with the demand. The doctors would hand out pills to the gratefully receiving hands of the patients. When asked more questions, even though there were some who were responsive, most were disinclined to even listen.

In one instance, a doctor even turned away a patient who was being “difficult”. The patient was convinced the more blood that was taken from her for samples, the more she felt like she was running out.

Most of us have heard of horror stories related to medical mishaps. Now and then, there is a terrifying incident that leads to injury or death that the media gives intense focus and then drops the issue after the general public loses interest. The matter at hand is seldom addressed though.

I have good and bad stories when it comes to the Ethiopian healthcare system, but the bad outweighs the positive. It should be a worry that there is not a tangible improvement to the health sector.

The understaffing of the public hospitals has meant few doctors and health professionals catering to too many patients. The fact that highly skilled individuals are leaving the country due to better pay overseas has not helped either.

We need to incentivise healthcare professionals to stay and work in Ethiopia. Doctors, who spend years learning the craft are demanded to serve more years, often in rural cities. Although it is essential to recognise that the there is a need for medical practitioners in the countryside, it is justified to think that these types of arrangements can lower the morale of the staff, leading to defective practices.

I would like to think that there is a way for our doctors to feel valued. While the focus has long been to expand the number of health centres and hospitals, that of medical colleges also need to be taken into consideration. Demand and supply must not be as out of whack. Practitioners also need to be made accountable for malpractices to create a cycle of excellence.

Creating a level of understanding between patients and doctors is crucial. The difficulty of practising in the field must be addressed. To this end, there are those that share their stories on social media sites, and give us a glimpse of the health sector from the perspective of doctors. One Facebook page that has been gaining quick support for sharing the untold stories of young Ethiopian doctors is “Hakim.”

It helps to understand the strenuous and necessary service doctors give. It also shows why it is the one field where malpractice hurts the most.

By Hanna Haile
Hanna Haile ( is an Ethiopian writer, researcher and social worker who uses her writing to promote social and gender equality, identity and women’s rights. She is one of the organisers of Poetic Saturday at Fendika Cultural Centre where she performs spoken word poetry every first Saturday of the month.

Published on May 26,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 943]



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