Timor-Leste's 'hospital for the poor' in crisis as election looms

Bairo Pite clinic calls for govt backing after funding shortage halts renowned maternity and nutrition services
Timor-Leste's 'hospital for the poor' in crisis as election looms

Doctor Daniel Murphy treats a young patient at the under threat Bairo Pite Clinic in Dili, Timor-Leste. (Photo supplied)

On the eve of Timor-Leste's May 12 general election, its poorest people are suffering a health-care crisis with the popular Bairo Pite Clinic ending maternity services and operating on life support due to a financial crisis.

Its Australian backers withdrew their support last year, disrupting the majority of important services the clinic offers to as many as 300 patients per day.

"They told me it's because they thought I was too old to continue and they wanted me to stop. I said that's not the right thing for me to do, as I have to continue providing a service for the Timorese people," clinic chief Doctor Daniel Murphy, told ucanews.com.

"When they left they took everything, including all the records, all the computers, all the fundraisers records, all the information, they took everything. So that's the beginning of it."

While preparing to close its doors altogether in the first week of May, it received a US$6,000 donation from a group of church and other backers, but American-born doctor Murphy said it was not enough to keep the clinic running for more than a week at most.

The caretaker government led by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri had declined to lend any substantial financial support, as there is a conflict "within the organization," Murphy said.

Health Minister Rui Maria de Araujo told local media that the government will continue to provide medical personnel and medicines but Murphy said it's nowhere near enough.

"For the sustainability of this clinic the government should step in. We should be part of the state budget every year because we are working for the people," Murphy said.

The Bairo Pite Clinic was founded in September 1999 by a group of people, including Murphy.

Up until it was hit by financial woes in early April, the clinic treated at least 300 patients a day, but now it only receives outpatients after shutting down its malnutrition service, maternal care and inpatient services.

The World Food Program has said that malnutrition is the biggest single health-care issue in the majority Catholic nation.

What began as a "temporary closure" on April 3, when 14 patients were transferred to a to public hospital in Dili, looks increasingly like a complete shut down now, according to clinic manager Inacio dos Santos.

Apart from doubts over Murphy continuing, the Australian donors withdrew from the board in August last year because the clinic refused their proposal to upgrade the clinic to follow Australian standards, he said.

"This offer was refused because once upgraded, people would have to pay higher prices which Timor-Leste people can't afford," according to Dos Santos.

"Monthly operational costs are around $48,000 and salaries are $28,000 per month," he revealed.

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The clinic has five doctors — four of whom are Timorese — 14 nurses and 6 volunteers.

"We need 10 doctors, don't have enough medications, we are out of supply and don't have money," according to Murphy. 

"[Currently] we are only open for consultation and do not receive inpatients or provide maternity care. So we are very sad," the doctor said. 

"We've had visits from politicians, and other people making small contributions, and we have crowd funding actively going on via the internet," he added.

"We might find some adequate funding but I don't know."

To stay fully up and running the clinic needs more than US$100,000, Murphy explained.

"That's so we can start paying debts, nurses, other staff, as well as pay for electricity, provide food for patients, and obtain medicines. If we have US$100,000 we can open up."

Local people are praying the clinic manages to survive.

"I believe God will guide us to build up this essentially humanitarian service," Maria de Lourdes Martins da Cruz, 57, one of the clinic's founders.

She hoped that national figures like Xanana Gusmao, Jose Ramos-Horta and Mari Alkatiri would offer support so that the clinic can reincarnate itself under a new management structure led by Murphy.

There's even a new name for the clinic she said — the Clinic Maun Alin Bairo Pite.

"We thank God for helping us through Doctor Murphy and his family, who have been looking for funds for the clinic," she said.

Rofino Mendes, 29, whose daughter was cured by Murphy, said it would be a big loss if the clinic was to finally shut down.

"The government must help because it contributes to the nation," Mendes said.

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