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Another bad year in health

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Pilrerage f the medicines in the country’s health facilities was a cause of worry especially donors who fund billions of kwacha to the sector, and recently the donors threatened to indefinitely suspend its malaria treatment drugs support if the ‘wide spread ‘theft of drugs meant for free distribution continues.

The concerns by the donors could perhaps be understood considering that for example the US and Global fund provide about 95 percent of malaria drugs available in the country.

According to US Ambassador to Malawi Virginia Palmer, her government would like to see drug thieves being arrested and fired if they fail to properly account for the medicines and not being ‘transferred’ to another area where they would just continue with the plunder.

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Well, government insists that something is being done to curb the malpractice, and according to Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume, his ministry intends to intensify supervision. The amended Pharmacies and Poisons Bill which awaits Parliament’s nod is also expected to do some magic as penalties meted out on drug thieves will be stiffened.

Antiretroviral (ARVs) have also not been spared in the drug theft. It was quite shocking to learn that the life prolonging drugs are being smuggled to South Africa where they are being sold right on the streets. An investigation published by our sister paper, Malawi News, brought to light the sad development.

Kumpalume also confessed that the country is losing K5 billion every year as a result of theft of drugs, and if this is not alarming then what is-disheartening is that the health workers who are behind the syndicate sell the drugs at only K2, 000 and the ARVs are resold in the rainbow nation at R150 (K6,000). It is quite worrying that some health workers can be so greedy as to gamble with other people lives just to pocket a few kwachas.

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Hungry patients

All these have been happening at a time when funding to the health sector has dwindled this year and most district hospitals are going through tough times as they are unable to provide patients with three meals per day.

In Rumphi and Dedza district hospitals, demonstrations successfully took place this year as some concerned citizens and disgruntled workers protested over government’s failure to provide food to patients as well as better packages for the workers.

For example Salima District Health Office gets K26 million monthly funding but the funding this year was cut down by half to about K13 million before it was reduced further to K6 million.

The situation was the same at Queens Elizabeth Central Hospital, Mchinji District Hospital and Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) among other facilities where ambulances were reportedly grounded because of inadequate funds to buy fuel.

Health Secretary, MacPhail Magwira said, in an interview, the situation was only temporary as some development partners had indicated that they would come to rescue government before end of the year.

Tossing medical graduates

Medical doctors in the country also within the year threatened to stage country-wide demonstrations because of failure by government to recruit recently graduated 51 medical doctors.

“Malawi has a specialist vacancy rate of 83 percent after the 2015 head count and the recently graduated medical doctors, whom the government is ignoring could have added to the number of those medical doctors to undergo specialist training in various fields,” read a statement released on the fate of the new doctors.

As if this was not enough, some nurses and technicians who were employed by ministry of health within the year and weeks later fired also dragged government to court for contravening the employment act.

Government ‘withdrew offer letters’ of 339 of these new graduates citing financial constraints and the nurses through National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives (NONM) did not take the move by government lying down but also threatened to down tools.

The issue is currently in the courts and the nurses recently rebuffed government proposal to lift an injunction the group obtained against a decision by government to withdraw the offer letters.

But President of NONM Dorothy Ngoma told The Daily Times at the time the issue had just emerged, that it was disheartening and frustrating was that the government wanted the health workers to be interviewed again.

“The health practitioners continue languishing at home and government continues to play games. Recently, they made a commitment to employ the nurses but it was only word of mouth just to silence us. We know this administration is not serious and that is why we have applied an extra gear by filing summons. How do you interview someone you have already employed,” queried Ngoma.

The good news is that, government has indicated that it intends to use part of the recently signed US$378 million (K215 billion) grant from Global Fund as salaries for the nurses.

Muting voices of reason

In the midst of all the mess, the Ministry of Health gagged all DHOs saying they should only talk to the media only after liaising with the national Public Relations Officer.

The memo which was authored by Magwira, threatened to discipline any officer who speaks to the press without the blessings of Capital Hill.

We cannot count how many people have died in our hospitals, deaths which could have been avoided if government did things right. But one case of a five-month-old baby David John whose left arm was amputated because of some negligence by a health worker at KCH, stands out.

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