TUNISIA: JHR trainee highlights the deteriorating state of public healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic

On June 15, 2021, Kashfmedia published an article by JHR trainee Kawthar Alcheibi, in which she highlighted the dire condition of the public hospitals in the governate of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. After her article was published, a government minister visited the hospital to take note of the grievances of the doctor interviewed for the story. The doctor spoke openly about the failure of the government in ensuring the health rights of the public.

Read the original article here (in Arabic) and the translation below.

In Sidi Bouzid, the Ministry of Health ignores the catastrophic conditions of local hospitals while COVID-19 spreads at a fast pace

Kawthar Alcheibi

A report issued by the Regional Department of Health in the governorate of Sidi Bouzid described the epidemiological situation as “very dangerous” and “very critical”, as the rate of daily positive cases exceeded 44 percent — more than the national average estimated at 24 percent of daily positive cases. In addition, all hospitals in the governorate have exceeded their capacity, considering the difficulty of treating critical cases at university hospitals outside of the governorate, and the difficulty of supplying medical oxygen — which clearly shows the absence of a public health policy to support regional hospitals.

On Tuesday, June 15, 2021, the governorate of Sidi Bouzid recorded two deaths and 121 new COVID-19 cases, according to Bashir Saidi, Director of Basic Health in the Regional Department of Health in Sidi Bouzid, bringing the total number of infections in the governorate to 11,359 confirmed cases, including 334 deaths and 10,232 recoveries.

15 new cases were admitted on Monday in the governorate’s hospitals, bringing the total number of hospitalised patients to 83 cases, including 58 cases in the regional hospital, six cases in the local hospital in Bir Al-Hafi, nine cases in Al-Reqab Hospital, five cases in Sidi Ali Ben Aoun, and five cases in Meknassi.

Challenges of the health sector in Sidi Bouzid during the spread of COVID-19 include the limited capacity to carry out laboratory analysis compared to the needed samples, the limited recovery beds, and the expense of PPE and sterilization materials that is negatively impacting hospital budgets.

Adel Al-Saidi, the director of the regional hospital in Sidi Bouzid, confirmed that the hospital’s capacity has been exceeded, noting that the number of cases is increasing daily, and the hospital is only able to accommodate 55 patients. The rest of the patients are directed to health institutions in neighboring governorates, although the process of transferring patients to neighboring governorates is also difficult, given that the pressure includes all cities.

For his part, Anis Gamoudi, nephrology and urology specialist at the regional hospital in Sidi Bouzid, said that the health situation in Sidi Bouzid is very difficult, as the region did not have the capabilities to resist a pandemic with this spread and strength from the very start. He noted that Sidi Bouzid is currently in the fourth wave of the spread of the virus, and clarified that while the news of patients dying in the streets is false, the pandemic has actually defeated health institutions, despite the help of civil society, due to the deficient health and social infrastructure.

Gamoudi also described the health situation in Sidi Bouzid as “catastrophic” in terms of the spread of infections among health workers, while the hospital administration did not make the necessary preparations to provide the infrastructure and financial resources to help them. In addition, the donations made during the first wave were lost, and the infrastructure is worn out by the epidemic, as the elevator does not work and there are no doctors specializing in radiology and imaging. The number of beds is also insufficient and not organized to provide services to a state of about 600,000 residents. 

Abdel Sattar Hafzouni, the Secretary General of the Health Agents Syndicate in Sidi Bouzid, also described the health situation in Sidi Bouzid as “catastrophic” due to several factors, the most important of which is the severe lack of necessary equipment, despite the union’s numerous requests from the Ministry to address the various deficiencies in hospitals and support the health sector in Sidi Bouzid.

He also pointed out that in light of the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and the number of deaths, the health sector in Sidi Bouzid must be supported financially and in terms of equipment and medical supplies.

Al-Hafzouni stressed that health workers are making all their efforts and the Syndicate is educating them to provide health services to their families and relatives in the governorate, demanding them not to fail to provide first aid to every patient.

The condition of public hospitals in the governorate of Sidi Bouzid was already below par, but COVID-19 has exacerbated the crisis and demonstrated the weakness of the Ministry of Health’s policy in management and reform, which is supposed to be directed mainly to marginalized communities.


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