Monday, October 13, 2014

Robin Fallay Calls for Closure of Historic Segbwema Nixon Memorial Hospital

Nixon Memorial Hospital Segbwema
Administrative Building
Before the civil war in Sierra Leone Nixon Memorial Hospital in Segbwema, which was opened in the 1930s was the best hospital in Eastern Sierra Leone. The Methodist Mission run hospital had medical and surgical units and a training school for State Enrolled Community Health Nurses (SECHN). It was later the home of the sophisticated CDC sponsored, Lassa Fever Research Project. Nixon hospital also had an eye clinic, a leprosy ward and a tuberculosis treatment facility.

In the 80s when I was in Segbwema, Dr. Austin Demby, who is now a virologist with the American Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was the director of the Lassa Fever Research Project located in the hospital. 

A lot of the best science students who graduated from university in that area before the Sierra Leone civil war found jobs at the Lassa Fever research lab. Nixon was such an excellent hospital that it treated patients from as far away as Mali and Liberia. I remember our family playing host to many of our relatives from Liberia. 
Nixon Surgical Center After the War

Along with many of my compatriots from Segbwema, we were all born in the maternity ward of the sprawling Nixon Memorial hospital.  I can safely say that we received the best health care available those days. I can still remember my immunization card which was marked with all my developmental milestones and vaccinations, as the Nixon Memorial Hospital staff meticulously kept very detailed hospital records in those days. The Principal of our school them the late Rev. Kenneth P. G. Conteh was the first child born in Nixon Hospital.

In the 1970s and 80s, Nixon provided both the economic and social life of Segbwema. Good looking and smartly dressed nursing students came from all over the country, brightening up the social landscape of the old railway town. With the closure of the railway in the 70s, Nixon became Segbwema's top employer and contributed immensely to the economy of the town. The Lassa Fever had the most high paying jobs in the area and provided their employees with motor bikes and vehicles. In those days, the Nixon Memorial hospital and the two secondary schools, Wesley and Holy Ghost, were the life force of Segbwema.

Elizabeth Faley Conteh
Trustee Friends of Nixon
Then came the war. Lassa Fever was relocated to Kenema because of the instability in Segbwema and some of the best doctors in the hospital, including Dr. Jennifer Gibson and Aniru Conteh, left the hospital. Armed militias later vandalized many of the hospitals facilities and structures. At the end of the war, Nixon was a mass of dilapidated equipment and derelict buildings. 

Sarjo A Kamara
Trustee Friends of Nixon
After the war Nixon Memorial hospital lay in ruins. Derelict buildings dotted the hospital landscape and health workers had more or less abandoned the hospital. However, due to the help of organizations like the Sierra Leone Methodist Church, the Friends of Nixon, a UK based charity which has two Segbwema indigenes, Sarjo Aziz Kàmara and Élizabeth Conteh (Fallay) as trustees , and the government of Sierra Leone, the hospital was slowly getting back in operation, though a far from the heydays of the 70s and 80s

The struggle to rebuild Nixon Memorial Hospital after the war is carefully cataloged in great details by Michael and Joey, a family of health care missionaries who worked in the hospital from 2007 to 2014. Michael was the hospital administrator and Joey was a midwifery teacher at the nursing school. To know more about Nixon at this time, visit Michael and Joey blog at
Hospital Lab after the War

Currently, Nixon Memorial hospital is in a bad shape. The government of the late President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah complemented the work of Nixon Hospital by helping with drug supplies and subventions to upkeep its activities. However, with the change in government in 2007, public priorities shifted and Nixon was no longer a priority as the new government decided to rather invest in a national "free health care" system. Drud suppliers and subventions to the hospital were stopped. AlsoThe Lassa Fever facilities which were relocated to Kenema during the war still remained in Kenema. Currently there is only one medical doctor in the hospital and a handful of nurses. However the hospital had seen a major face lift during the mid 2000s. 
Hon Abu Jajua Current PM

Determining the way forward for Nixon Hospital has become a war of words between two ambitious young Segbwema politicians in what is slowly becoming a proxy fight between country's ruling All People's Congress (APC) party and the main opposition Sierra Leone People Party (SLPP). During the first term of President Ernest Bai koroma, Robin Faley was the opposition SLPP MP for Kailahun Constituency 7 within which Segbwema is located. In 2012 to avoid prosecution over allegations of electoral malpractice, Robin Faley defected to the ruling APC, received that party's symbol and was defeated by his cousin the current MP Abu Jajua who ran on the SLPP ticket.  A fellow who is quite politically savvy, Robin soon made inroads into an APC party that was keen to have a strong foothold in the east of the country. He is currently APC's Deputy National Publicity Secretary.
Robin Farley APC National
Publicity Secretary II

Robin Faley made headlines immediately before the Ebola outbreak by being one of the champions of a campaign to change the country's constitution to allow President Koroma to go for another term, claiming that there was no better person to run the country than their generous political patron. For his efforts Robin was elevated to the top of the party's electoral hierarchy by President Koroma. 

About two weeks ago Robin Farlay went to Segbwema and had a tete-a-tete with the paramount chief, almost convincing him that due to the poor condition of the hospital, the government should take over the complete management of the hospital.These deliberations of course did not include his political rival, the current MP Abu Jajua. Robin Faley has also called for the government to close the hospital down while deciding the way forward as he claims that the hospital with its lack of staff is now more of a danger to the area's public health than a benefit.

Constituency 7 MP Abu Jajua felt slighted and angered by the calls by Robin for the closure of the hospital, which he thought was a move motivated more for political reasons than for public health considerations. Hon Abu Jajua went on radio condemning Robin Farlay's moves to which Robin responded by saying that he was calling for the hospital to be closed to protect the citizens of the area. 

Most citizen's of the locality are however angered by Robin's calls to close down the historic hospital, even if it is just on a temporary basis. A student organization calling itself the Brains of Segbwema stated that their desire was for the government to collaborate with the Methodist Mission in running the hospital, but were definitely against the government taking over the hospital. They suggested that the government could help the hospital by resuming subventions, helping with the deployment of medical personnel, helping with the recruitment of staff for the hospital and helping the nursing students seek employment upon graduation. They believe that the day to day affairs of the hospital should however be left in the hands of private entities.

My own opinion as a social advocate falls along similar lines as those of the members of the Brains of Segbwema. In the first place, the stated policy of this government has been efficiency through privatization. President Koroma believes in running government institutions like businesses. Taking a private hospital, even a struggling one and making it a government run hospital does not give one much hope. Just take a look at the government hospitals around Sierra Leone, even in the big urban towns. Were it not for the war, Nixon was way ahead of many of these hospitals. There is no record of efficient government hospital management in Sierra Leone worth emulating and Nixon would be better served by a private management whose operation is overseen by all major stakeholders, including the Sierra Leone Government.

On the proposal to lock down the hospital, Robin Fallay should definitely be more innovative. Now that we have established contact with Cuba and China, can't he use his influence with the President to see if an arrangement would be made to send two or more of these skilled Clinicians to serve the hospital in the eventuality of another Ebola outbreak. Or does he want to close down the hospital, to be later opened in great fanfare for political posturing. Until the authorities in Sierra Leone and individuals learn that at this moment petty politics should be put on the back burner, the fight against Ebola will continue to be tough.

Over the past week Hon.Abu Jajua  called a joint meeting of the relevant chiefdom stakeholders regarding the hospital.  The meeting involved the Paramount Chief and his council of elders, the current Nixon Management and some prominent Segbwema descendants. They all agreed to impress on government the need to reinstate the subventions and drug supplies to the hospital that were stopped in 2008. They were also informe that the Friends of Nixon would have substantially increased assistance to the hospital, but the Ebola crisis had led to a stall in their proposed activities. The Methodist Mission also remains committed to the hosptal Most Segbwema descendants are amazed that Robin Faley should be championing calls to close down Nixon for whatever reason at this time. 

Would a historical hospital like Segbwema be buried in the quagmire of political grandstanding? Only time will decide.
Report Compiled by
The Segbwema Blogger

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