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My Take on Maseru District Hospital’s Disability Access Oversights

15 April 2024 by Pascalinah Kabi

 Est Read Time: 4 min(s) 2 sec(s)

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I am one of the Lesotho journalists who covered the official tour of the Maseru District Hospital led by the parliament’s Social Cluster Portfolio Committee on April 12, 2024.

With its sponsorship from China, this hospital boasts a 200-bed capacity and features world-class medical equipment. If services are delivered ethically, efficiently, and empathetically to the people of Lesotho, this hospital could be a transformative force in the country’s healthcare landscape.

One of the standout features for me is the modern medical equipment installed in various sections of the hospital, including maternal wards, oncology, and the operating theatre. In the theatre, local doctors can virtually consult with experienced doctors from other countries in real time while operating on a patient.

This telemedicine feature is revolutionary for a country that historically lacks medical specialists and often relies on South African doctors for specialised care, both in diagnosis and surgery.

Another feature that caught my attention is the wall-mounted screens that display a patient’s name, queue number, and the consulting room they are assigned to for their appointment.

Additionally, I am impressed by the hospital’s forward-thinking approach with a dedicated building block for children and adolescents. This ensures that young individuals can access sexual and reproductive health services in a supportive environment, free from judgment from conservative adults. Overall, the hospital’s infrastructure and medical facilities are undeniably state-of-the-art.  

Returning to the beginning of the tour, we kicked off with Mokhothu Makhalanyane, the chairperson of the Social Cluster Portfolio Committee, setting the stage by outlining its purpose. The event was attended by committee members, hospital medical superintendent Dr. Mabatho Masupha, Ministry of Health staff, on-site contractors, and media practitioners.

Following Makhalanyane’s remarks, we began the tour at the two-storey Administration block, located to the right just after the main entrance of the hospital. To access the upper level and rooftop, suitable for social gatherings, we had to use one of two staircases. One staircase is immediately to the right after the main entrance, while the other is on the far-left side of the building.

Exiting the rooftop and second floor, I was alarmed to discover that both areas are only accessible via staircases. This building, which houses offices for hospital staff, lacks elevators and ramps, making the second floor and rooftop inaccessible for wheelchair users and those using crutches.

I shared this concern with one of my media colleagues, and we briefly discussed this oversight. While some might argue that the media thrives on negativity or controversy, this issue is a genuine concern.

My concern grew further upon discovering that the two-storey Training and Dormitory block also lacks an elevator or ramp. According to Dr. Mabatho Masupha, the medical superintendent of Maseru District Hospital, the second floor of this block is reserved for intern doctors.

For individuals using wheelchairs or crutches, accessing the second floor of both the Administration and Training and Dormitory blocks is a significant challenge. This is particularly concerning given that the building’s design and construction occurred after Lesotho had adopted international treaties promoting inclusiveness for the disabled.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Lesotho’s government has agreed to follow, aims to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and freedoms as everyone else. It’s all about treating everyone with respect and dignity.

One important part of the CRPD, called Article 2, talks about “universal design.” This means constructing things like buildings and playgrounds so that everyone can use them easily, without needing special changes or designs.

It’s like having a ramp next to stairs so that everyone, including people in wheelchairs, can get to the same place without any problems. This means countries need to make sure that people with disabilities can use special tools or devices to help them out when needed.

The lack of elevators or ramps in these two building blocks of the Maseru District Hospital goes against the principles of this Convention. In the past, people with disabilities were often hidden away to protect them from discrimination. But now, they are breaking barriers and aiming high in their careers, including becoming medical doctors.

I worry about what would happen if a person with a disability from the rural Mokhotlong district joins Maseru District Hospital and needs accommodation in the Training and Dormitory block, especially when the second floor is reserved exclusively for intern doctors.

What will happen if a disabled person is invited to an employment interview on the second floor of the Administration block, or works there, and there’s a hospital social event on the rooftop? What happens when a wheelchair user needs to visit a staff member in the Administration block, but their office is on the second floor?

While I’d like to think that this oversight was unintentional by those who designed and built these blocks, more consideration should have been given to making them accessible for wheelchair and crutch users, just like other blocks in the hospital area.

In the emergency section, I noticed two lifts, one of which is spacious enough to accommodate a wheelchair. I also saw signage indicating a toilet designed for persons with disabilities, and there was a designated parking spot reserved for people with disabilities.

As a signatory to international treaties promoting disability inclusion, Lesotho must take proactive steps to prioritise the needs of disabled individuals and dismantle barriers that hinder them from realising their full potential. Ensuring that everyone, regardless of ability, can access healthcare and employment opportunities without obstacles is crucial.

Pascalinah Kabi is the author and managing editor of Uncensored News. She is also a freelance investigative journalist whose work is deeply rooted in social justice journalism.

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