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District Health Officers ground ambulances

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The reduction in budgetary allocation to public health facilities in the country has hit hard District Health Officers (DHOs), forcing them to ground fleets of ambulances due to lack of fuel.

In an interview on Tuesday, Secretary for Health Macphail Magwira disputed claims that his ministry has directed the DHOs to park the ambulances.

“It is not a directive. It is the force which they are getting from their respective district councils to do so as DCs are now in charge of the pool funds and they decide where the money should go to,” he said.

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Random interviews with almost 10 DHOs across the country, revealed that the situation remains pathetic with filling station owners refusing to extend credit facilities to the DHOs.

Only one ambulance out of eight is operational in Mulanje District, servicing 23 health establishments. This is attributed to delayed funding for the month of September.

Mulanje DHO, Dr. Khuliena Kabwera said one ambulance which is fuelled by Eastern Produce Malawi is ferrying patients on referrals to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre.

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“We need a minimum of K6 million per month to adequately run the ambulances …and cash flow for this year, we have been allocated K2.5 million per month for fuel.

“So that will be a recurring problem if Treasury funds us according to budgets available now which we can use just for a week only,” he said.

Kabwera said the budget is seen to be far from adequate as released figures for this month show that the district will be allocate K9 million instead of K14 million.

Meanwhile, non priority areas like carrying dead bodies shall remain the responsibility of the guardians according to the DHOs that we spoke to.

Blantyre DHO, Dr. Medson Matchaya, corroborated with Kabwera, saying Blantyre has suspended ambulance operations due to the situation.

“As I am talking to you right now, they are fears of nurses putting their tools down due to non-payment of locum for almost two months,” he said.

He described the situation as a total crisis in the health sector, saying the district was getting K450 million per year for operational cost, but now it has been reduced to K350 million.

Matchaya said that instead of being given K15 million for fuel, Treasury is allocating K8 million per month.

“As we speak now the figures that have been released for September have been reduced by over 60 percent. With that cash flow, there’s a very high deficiency between the amounts of money we have been funded in the operational cost of hospitals,” he said.

Dr. William Peno, DHO for Mangochi, also said some facilities are depending on donations from well-wishers.

Commenting on the issue, DHO for Kasungu, Dr. Jerome Nkhambule lamented that critical areas such as theatre, laboratory, laundry, x-ray and pharmaceutical services are affected whenever there is power outage as the hospital struggles to get fuel for generators.

“General cleanliness in the wards of all our health facilities has gone down because of inadequate cleaning materials. Motor vehicle maintenance has also been affected since we are failing to pay service suppliers,” he said.

But Magwira said the money which the DHOs used for fuel came from development partners.

“We have been discussing with other development partners and chances are that starting from next month [October] or so, they will be supporting them [DHOs] to meet the utility bills, fuel e.t.c. So that is just a temporary [problem] as we wait for the support from our development partners,” he said.

Though Magwira did not disclose the names of the donors, he expected funding to start trickling in within the next two months.

But Health activist Maziko Matemba of Health Rights and Education Programme blamed government for letting the situation to get worse.

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