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MOMBASA SHARK ATTACK: MEDIA RESPONSIBILITY AND MEDICAL CARE

Bull Shark

It was the horrific, tragic and terrifying reality so brilliantly depicted in fictional form by the 1976 classic spine-chilling film Jaws. Last weekend bystanders on Mama Ngina public beach in Mombasa heard the screams of a young man who had been swimming nearby. His thrashing panic was the result of an attack by a Bull shark, an attack that left his right leg all but ripped off. Some of the brave bystanders rushed into the water and pulled the young man to the shore. The shark attack victim (his name is unknown) was rushed to the Coast Provincial General Hospital where sadly he died some three hours later.

Media reports of this awful incident and the events themselves that led up to the young man’s death, are somewhat confused (The Star, for example, said he was ‘believed to be less than 25-years-old’, while other reports place his age at 16 or 17 years-old) but of what we do know, both give rise to serious concerns and questions that need answers.

First, let us consider the role of the media in this instance.

The attack was reported on page 11 of The Star last Monday (19th September). Under the headline ‘Man dies after attack by shark at Mama Ngina drive’ was a large colour photograph accredited to an Elkana Jacob of the unfortunate victim laying on a hospital bed, his face covered by an oxygen mask, his outstretched left arm connected to numerous tubes. Wires connected to his body were linked into a nearby monitor. Virtually the same scene was shown on NTV.

Consider this. The young man would have suffered a massive loss of blood and he would have been suffering too from severe shock as (hopefully, but see below) medical staff at the Coast Provincial General Hospital battled to save his life: so what was a photographer doing being allowed entry to the patient’s bedside in such circumstances to take a flash photograph, quite possibly adding to the shock?

The photographer concerned, The Star and the hospital should answer this question.

Second, let us consider the young man’s treatment following the attack.

Consider this. The loss of blood and severe shock from which the victim would have been suffering required urgent treatment. Every second wasted increased the likelihood of death. It was a Mombasa-based blog site that raised two of the most pertinent questions.

“WHY was the boy taken all the way to COAST GENERAL HOSPITAL”, asked Mombasa 411, “over 5 kilometres away through midday TRAFFIC  and not the nearest hospitals WITHIN 1 KILOMETRE OF Mama Ngina Drive, Pandya Hospital, Mombasa Hospital or Aga Khan? And, “Why DID THE Coast Provincial Hospital leave the patient [allegedly] lying awaiting treatment at the emergency wing of the hospital for OVER 20 minutes?”

Again, both questions require answers.

OUT OF FIRE, THROUGH DARKNESS, INTO THE LIGHT?

The repercussions arising from, and the debate sparked by the Sinai fire disaster, the recent incidents of multiple deaths from drinking illicit brews, carnage on our roads and the continuing spate of ‘lynchings’, continues.

Take yesterday’s Standard newspaper for example. Page 4 saw a report that the 164 families of the victims of the Sinai tragedy would each receive Sh70,000 to cover funeral expenses. Page 11 carried a report that Transport Licensing Board chairman Hassan ole Kamaro was blaming ‘road safety enforcement agencies’ for, ‘frustrating the fight against road carnage by engaging in corruption’. The Standard’s next page, under the headline ‘Crisis meeting as Central buries its dead’, reported that President Kibaki had directed the Central Provincial Security Committee to ‘crack down on illegal brews’. On one more page and the Standard’s headline ran, ‘Leaders alarmed by lynchings in Kirinyaga’ above a story that politicians, the provincial administration and local police had convened a ‘crisis meeting’.

The Standard’s editorial headline, ‘Act to prevent tragedy rather than reacting’ summed up the paper’s position on the recent tragedies.

Perhaps, thought this Forum correspondent, things were changing but then came page 8 of today’s Standard. ‘Nine die as tanker bursts into flame as villagers scramble to siphon fuel in yet another fire tragedy’, was the sub-headline to the report from Busende village in the Busia District.

THE LIKONI FERRIES: A DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN

The Forum, however, will take up The Standard’s challenge and ‘act to prevent’ rather than wait to react to yet another disaster.

A few yards from where the young man was mauled by a shark in Mombasa last weekend the two Likoni ferries ply their trade to and fro across the Likoni Channel. Yet again the press reported recently (‘Major scare as ferry rams docked ship’, Daily Nation, Friday September 16) that one of the ferries had been involved in a mishap, this time just ramming a docked ship and narrowly missing colliding with another one when the coxswain of the MV Kwale ‘lost control of the vessel and it started to drift into deep waters’.

Only last week an overloaded ferry capsized near Zanzibar resulting in over 200 deaths. Anyone who has ever travelled on the Likoni ferries, even though the old ones have in recent times been replaced, knows that they are regularly overloaded as they cross a busy shipping channel. One collision, or one near-collision followed by panic among the passengers, could lead to a terrible disaster costing hundreds of lives.

To prevent at least one disaster, the Forum says, enforce the regulations on the number of passengers and loaded vehicles the Likoni ferries can carry, and at long last build a bridge over the treacherous crossing.

President Kenyatta declared winner.

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