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Don’t exploit patients

THE medical profession is a very delicate discipline. That is why before doctors and nurses begin their practice, they take oaths.
The Hippocratic Oath is an oath of ethics historically taken by physicians. It is one of the most widely known of Greek medical texts. In its original form, it requires a new physician to swear, by a number of healing gods, to uphold specific ethical standards.
Nurses, on the other hand, take the Nightingale Pledge of 1935 in which they solemnly pledge before God and in the presence of the graduation assembly to pass their lives in purity and to practice their profession faithfully.
They promise to abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous, and vow not to take or knowingly administer any harmful drug.
That is how angelic the medical profession is.
This is because for medical personnel, saving lives is a calling.
Despite taking the vows consciously, it is a pity that some members of the medical profession – doctors, nurses and pharmacists-have continued doing the opposite of what they swore to do.
A perfect example is the case of two female health workers at Kasama General Hospital in Northern Province. These two have been suspended for allegedly soliciting money from patients seeking health services.
Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya said Government will not condone health workers who ask for money from patients in exchange for their services.
Medics, like all other workers, should not ask for extras for what they are employed for.
Besides, they are paid by Government to provide a service to the public. It is therefore unacceptable for medics to solicit for payment from vulnerable people in exchange for treatment.
It is contended, with little if any doubt, that some health workers also refer patients seeking medication to pharmacies which they (workers) have links with.
In some cases this is so even when such medicines are available in the public health centres where the patients were attended to.
In other instances, it is said doctors refer patients to private hospitals with the assurance that they would be attended to much faster away from the public institutions.
So we are having situations where some medical staff are creating an artificial shortage of medicines and guiding patients or their relatives to specified pharmacies. This is abuse of office and sabotage of Government’s drive to improve healthcare.
There is also the creation of a shortage of services at public hospitals and clinics so that desperate patients and relatives go to the private facilities, of course at an extra cost.
Apparently, this situation is getting out of hand. Citizens, though, seem not to notice or make appropriate complaints against this kind of corruption.
The tendency by medical personnel to solicit for payment from vulnerable patients borders on abuse of office.
Dr Chilufya said Government is sensitising people through posters at health facilities not to pay for primary healthcare services.
Sensitisation is key in efforts to reduce if not completely eradicate corruption such as abuse of authority in Government institutions
Let there be regular public education regarding the services users can and cannot pay for and the services to be paid for.
Prices for services to be paid for must be displayed and it must be made clear who this money should be paid to.
Messages should also be prominently displayed in health facilities stating that it is a crime to pay a bribe or to receive one.
Health personnel must understand, if they don’t already, that the reason the cost of accessing health services is negligible and free in a number of instances is because globally, there is a push for universal coverage. If a price is attached to health services, it then becomes available only to those that can afford.
Medical personnel should heed Dr Chilufya’s warning against falling into the temptation of asking for money from unsuspecting patients. They should not say they were not sufficiently educated and cautioned.