2 Jul 2021

Fiji hospital staff and patients without food

11:14 am on 2 July 2021

Staff and patients at Fiji's main healthcare facility in the capital Suva, the Colonial War Memorial Hospital were without food for most of yesterday as Covid-19 infections crept into the facility's kitchen.

Fiji health authorities yesterday announced another record high daily infections with 431 new confirmed cases of the virus and two deaths in the 24 hours until 8am on Thursday.

Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva

Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva Photo: Doctors Assisting in South Pacific Islands

RNZ Pacific spoke to staff and patients at the hospital who said there were no meals for most of the day across the 500-bed hospital.

When asked if it was true that staff and patients did not get meals, Fiji's health secretary Dr James Fong said "yes, the kitchen reopened at 11am after a decontamination process".

It is understood that two staff in the hospital kitchen tested positive on Wednesday night and the kitchen could not operate to serve breakfast and lunch hour meals.

Fiji's public health infrastructure in its central eastern division has struggled to cope under the weight of increasing cases after a cluster began at the hospital at the start of June.

Viti Levu, the main island, is home to approximately 600,000 people, over half of whom live in the central eastern division where the current Delta variant outbreak is concentrated.

Permanent Secretary for Health, Dr James Fong

Permanent Secretary for Health, Dr James Fong Photo: Fiji govt

Maternity services strained

Over the weekend, June (surname withheld), a young Suva mother, took to social media to air frustration at the conditions and delays over food services at the Makoi Maternity Hospital in Nasinu where covid-positive moms and infants are being isolated.

June said the two of them were discharged from CWMH two weeks after the outbreak was detected there.

Several days after being at home, her newborn developed a fever. Following a visit to the local maternal child health clinic, the two of them were taken to CWMH before eventually being transferred to the Makoi Maternity Hospital where they've stayed since.

"Staying here is not easy. All I do is cry because I just gave birth and all I want to do is be at home and have someone take care of me and my baby," she said.

"I'm in pain every day because my stitch hurts and every cough triggers it. I never had this cough until I got here. We don't eat well, we don't sleep well. I wake up in the middle of the night and I look to the other bed and there's another mom sitting up trying to put a baby to sleep and falling off to sleep halfway.

"All you hear at night is them asking their babies to sleep because these mothers are symptomatic as well. There's no medication and there's no treatment for us, you know, at least antibiotics or something," June said.

"I'm lucky I had uploaded that video because now I have people reaching out wanting to donate stuff.

"We're hungry. We're tired. We wash our clothes here and there's no hot water and with the c-section you know you can't bathe in cold water but we have to compromise, we wash our clothes with cold water, we bathe our babies with cold water."

After June posted on social media that the covid-positive mothers in her ward were still waiting for breakfast at 2.30pm, members of the public responded, and the International Women's Association bought laundry machines and provided supplies for patients at the hospital.

Security officers man a checkpoint at a junction in the Fijian capital Suva.

Security officers man a checkpoint at a junction in the Fijian capital Suva. Photo: AFP or licensors

Dr Fong admitted the Makoi Maternity facility was overcrowded and told the press on Wednesday night that transportation had become an issue as government drivers too were vulnerable.

"We have deployed some more tents outside and we've actually put more beds in the clinic area. We have got a few teams on site that will help us to create that space.

"As regards to the mobilisation of meals, we did have trouble with some of the transport as you know that one of the people who are vulnerable to the virus are our drivers. Because they drive all over the place they are very vulnerable to exposure. So we end up with no drivers for sometimes, which means that sometimes the meals are delayed in its transportation."

Dr Fong said the Ministry of Health had reassigned drivers to come in from other parts of the ministry to support the delivery of food and support to patients who are accommodated outside of CWMH.

Meanwhile staff on shift at the hospital who are accommodated at motels in the central business district are also being catered for by the CWMH kitchen.