This was initially planned to be a temporary measure, but in June last year, free universal access to basic healthcare was extended indefinitely. The government of Ivory Coast is now studying ways to fund the health service, such as national insurance and other schemes.
Meanwhile, though the policy was well-meant, hospitals and clinics in Ivory Coast are struggling to provide services. During the post-election violence, many facilities in the west were abandoned. Health workers fled and medical equipment was stolen. Health professionals have returned to their posts and are receiving regular salary payments. However, equipment and medical supplies are in short supply.
Even though patients can now receive free consultations, they are often issued with expensive prescriptions for drugs which are only available at private pharmacies.
Before the unrest, many health centres relied on fees to pay support staff and stock up on medicines. Without these fees, some facilities and hospital wards are lacking even fundamental supplies, such as drugs for pain relief and rubber gloves.
Some items are being provided by non-governmental organisations, such as Save The Children. And the European Union continues to support health services through its ongoing funding, providing access to essential medicines as part of its humanitarian assistance.
Further help is still desperately needed though. A new report by IRIN highlights the critical shortage of blood in the west of Ivory Coast, which is leading to unnecessary deaths especially among children. In the city of Man, 86 people died at the main hospital between January and November last year, because of the lack of blood transfusions. Three-quarters of these deaths were children. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional coordinator told IRIN that the hospital was “not properly equipped to collect and store blood”. Blood supplies are critical for treating illnesses such as malaria-induced anaemia, which often strikes children. If families are unable to pay for blood to come from elsewhere, patients can be left without the number of transfusions required.
Between March and June last year, the WHO and United Nations Population Fund ran a blood donation campaign and distributed nearly 5,000 packets of blood to hospitals in the west. These have long run out, as have funds for any new campaign, leaving many doctors in Ivory Coast unable to provide the basic medical care so desperately needed by their patients.