In the past few months, a heated discussion animated the blogosphere of Sao Tome and Principe, on a public health problem that apparently has already been solved. Until last week, there was no water running from the taps of Ayres de Menezes Hospital, but its director now assures that the issue has been taken care of.
From the beginning of 2010, bloggers have discussed the serious lack of water in the main hospital of Sao Tome, though the supply problems date back more than five years.
In February, Ricardo Bianchi, a Portuguese doctor working in a mission at the hospital, wrote in blog Joãozinho Leve-leve about the state of the health sector in Sao Tome, and particularly about the daily life of medical practitioners.
From his point of view, the lack of water represents one of the main hindrances to medical practice, which leads him to fear that in some situations, he would not be able to avoid a tragic ending, due to scarce resources, as he explains:
Os distintivos a assinalarem estes projectos de cooperação estão por toda a parte, mas a utilização de forma sustentada dos recursos tecnológicos existentes torna-se muito difícil quando as falhas de energia são constantes e o hospital não dispõe, actualmente, de água corrente. Resultado: enfermarias sobre-lotadas, quentes e mal ventiladas associadas a múltiplas restrições na realização de exames auxiliares de diagnóstico. Uma realidade muito diferente daquela a que nos habituámos nas Faculdades de Medicina e nos hospitais do nosso país [Portugal]!
Three months later, Américo, another doctor from Portuguese Aid starting a mission, reported his first impressions in the same blog:
As limitações de espaço e a desadequação das estruturas são evidentes, e não são estranhas aos profissionais que nela trabalham e que tentam diariamente fazer o melhor com aquilo que existe. Uma das maiores dificuldades é sem dúvida a falta de água corrente no hospital o que dificulta a higiene dos doentes e dos profissionais e impõe ainda maiores limites ao tipo de exames disponíveis.
The discussion was taken to a different level back in May, when Humbah Aguiar, a Saotomean citizen in the diaspora, spread an appeal through a video he made available on Youtube, titled In STP The rich steal water from the Hospital and the people just watch!!!!!??:
No Principal hospital de S.tomé não há água porque a população rica do país extraviou para suas casas.
São-tomenses façam alguma coisa, manifestem saiam a rua….
Esta minha revolta é apenas um desabafo….
Santomeans do something, demonstrate out in the streets…
This revolt of mine is just me letting it out …
In the video, Aguiar shows his revolt after having read a news story about a child for whom it was not possible to find water at Ayres de Menezes even for drug intake. The article stressed a previous denunciation concerning water diverted from the hospital to an elite housing area nearby – the Campo de Milho:
Sede e insanidade geral no hospital central, enquanto que há cerca de 200 metros do centro de saúde, água abundante mata sede de figuras políticas e do mundo empresarial que habitam no campo de milho. «Têm água para beber e para regar os seus jardins», desabafou um dos utentes do banco de urgência.
A água que irriga as residências de luxo do campo de milho, foi canalizada exclusivamente para o hospital central. Os poderosos que vivem no bairro de elite vizinho ao hospital, vandalizaram a canalização e levaram a água para as suas casas, para o seu bem-estar, para o seu deleite.
Thirst and general insanity in the central hospital, while about 200 meters from the health center, plenty of water quenches the thirst of political figures and business men living in the Campo de Milho. “They have water for drinking and watering their gardens,” blurted one of the patients at the emergency ward.
The water that irrigates the luxury homes of the Campo de Milho was exclusively piped to the central hospital. The powerful people living in the elite neighborhood nearby the hospital, vandalized the pipe and took the water to their homes, to their well-being, to their delight.
The video triggered a discussion that quickly spread to other online social forums, such as São Tomé Blog group on Facebook and Canal Santola. Fifteen days later the video had had over 1500 views and the reactions of netcitizens began to multiply through the different platforms. At that time, the news website Téla Nón published an article in which the Director of the Hospital asserted that the problem was solved in 80-90% of the facilities. Reportedly, the hospital was making use of the pipes from an abandoned building nearby. A few days later the same news was shown to be false:
O Hospital Central Ayres de Menezes, continua sem acesso a água canalizada. Como tem acontecido nos últimos meses, é a corporação dos bombeiros que tem levado alguns metros cúbicos de água para o centro de saúde de referência do país.
Such statements just sparked the ongoing online discussion with a new focus: the quality of the water provided by firefighters. The Minister of Health of Sao Tome and Principe, Arlindo Carvalho, had earlier presented his concerns about the potential emergence of a spate of contaminations in the hospital, taking into account the difficulties that the patients were having fulfilling basic needs, such as their own personal hygiene. Dozens of comments later, on last August 13th, the Director of Hospital Ayres de Menezes, José Luis, stated that “the water is running in the taps of the Hospital” sparingly, though the process for resolving the problem was not clarified, neither the consequences for those responsible for the water diversion to Campo de Milho.