As Malawians celebrated Christmas on Monday, four children admitted to Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) breathed their last because of a blackout which rendered ventilator oxygen machines useless.
Although hospital officials declined to confirm the deaths on record, people who were in hospital at the time, including Member of Parliament for Kasungu West Alex Major, described the sense of panic that set in as parents and guardians tried to save the lives of children who were gasping for dear life.
This was immediately after the power went off and rendered the machines useless
“When power went off, it was terrible because many children were on oxygen. Within the period that we were in the ward, [which is about an hour], we witnessed the death of four children. At that time, we heard that there was a fault with the generators, or something like that, but it took time before power returned,” Major said.
According to Major, he was with a relation who was also on a ventilator that tragic Monday.
Fortunately, he said, the patient they went to check on was about to be moved to the normal children’s ward, and was lucky to be alive.
Guardians The Daily Times interviewed— most of them were close to the Highly Dependent Unit (HDU) — said power went off around 5pm for an hour.
Another eyewitness, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, within the hour of the power outage, reports went viral within the ward that three children in the unit had died.
“First, we heard some people crying. We then discovered that two children had died. Later, we also heard another [child] crying and that was before we had power back. We don’t know if it was because of the blackout but it was within the time the hospital had no power [that the children died] and, obviously, those on oxygen rely on electricity supply,” she said.
Another guardian from Area 36 confirmed the reports, but said she could not find out more as the hospital was in total darkness.
“We had almost an hour of blackout. We don’t know what happened because, later, we just saw electricity [supply] restored. I don’t know what is happening here. I also experienced the blackout last week when I had my child on oxygen. Fortunately, he survived,” she said.
Efforts to verify the deaths from hospital officials proved futile the whole day yesterday.
However, some nurses on duty confirmed the sad development but did not want to speak on record for fear of reprisals.
“Since the electricity blackouts started, many parents, especially poor mothers, have lost infants and children. It’s not very surprising now,” said a guardian who is taking care of a husband who has been in hospital for over two months.
But KCH Director, Jonathan Ngoma, in an interview, expressed ignorance on the matter and said, in most cases, the hospital has standby generators that are used when power goes off.
“If they died, it should be because of something else. We have generators everywhere, at ICU [Intensive Care Units], HDUs there are standby generators that are serviced and fuelled. I have not heard anything regarding any electrical fault,” Ngoma said.
Last month, Dorothy Ngoma, National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives President, revealed that power outages have led to deaths of a number of infants in incubators. She could, however, not share the numbers of children dying every day in hospitals because of power outages.
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