The 23 June presidential election hysteria was subsiding when Doreen Vincent left Zomba Central Hospital where her husband had been admitted for three good months.
When the victim of a motorcycle accident who had broken some bones got referred to the Eastern Region’s largest health facility, doctors from Phalombe Health Centre assured him he would be operated on in a matter of days.
“But days turned into weeks and weeks into months,” says Vincent from Nandolo Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kaduya in Phalombe.
“At Zomba Central Hospital, we found that there were several problems. Many people were on the queue waiting to be operated on. Then sometimes, machines in the operation theatre broke down. It was a difficult period for my husband who was in terrible pain.”
Vincent recalls that she tried to employ every effort in the books to have her husband assisted as soon as possible but to no avail.
Doctors would only assist those whose turn in relation to their positions in the stretched backlog had arrived.
“It was painful to imagine that a few kilometres from our house, a hospital had taken shape but we could not seek medical attention there because it had not yet been opened,” Vincent says about the new Phalombe District Hospital which is set to be handed over to the government before this year expires.
The new facility—situated off the Phalombe-Chiringa Road after Migowi Trading Centre—is expected to ease congestion at Phalombe Health Centre which rarely meets some of the most basic health needs of those it is supposed to serve.
The millions of kwacha that government spends when it refers patients to Holy Family Hospital, which is better equipped than the health centre, will be channelled to other interventions, authorities say.
And while she does not wish another ailment or mishap shakes any of her family members again, Vincent hopes that once Phalombe District Hospital finally opens, locals in villages surrounding the modern facility will easily be having their health and medical needs met.
“We will no longer be going to Zomba Central Hospital for advanced medical services. During meetings convened by our chiefs on the progress of the new hospital and how we can help in caring for it, we have learnt that it will in fact be assisting people even from outside the district,” Vincent says.
She anticipates that the news that the facility will soon be handed over to the government will turn into reality so that her husband will no longer be travelling to Zomba some 75 kilometres away for regular check-ups.
Sitting on the veranda of her raw-brick house whose grass thatch is falling apart, Vincent says her husband’s misadventure reminded her about how important a referral hospital can be in a country where health services are falling apart at the seams in more than a few lower facilities.
“The referral to Zomba Hospital taught us important lessons about why we must be extra careful about keeping ourselves healthy. But sometimes, fate has its own ways,” she says.
In Jeke, a village adjacent to Vincent’s, 57-year-old Violet Mvonye also wishes the new Phalombe District Hospital got operational as soon as possible to meet the needs of locals in areas surrounding the facility.
The gradual progress on the $22.7-million facility—which had remained a dream for 12 years or so—has always excited Mvonye who eventually got confident that something would rise from a vast expanse which T/A Kaduya had provided.
Several other households in Jeke Village cannot wait for the day the facility, whose construction had first been formally announced with an allocation in the 2005 national budget, will have its beds and treatment rooms finally open to patients and others.
“I have seen several young people walking or cycling to the site. That has always increased my confidence that something is happening there. In fact, from this side, you can clearly see that we have a full new hospital in our area,” Mvonye says.
To her and other locals in the western border district, everything about the facility seems to be finally in place. The outlook pushes them to such conclusions.
But the project’s manager, Mohandas Pillai, insists that the contractor–Alghanim and Plem Construction who are in a joint venture—will only hand over the facility to the government next month when every work they were hired to carry out has been done.
“A few things will be done to complete the project. We are working on fitting medical equipment where necessary. In a few days, water and electricity will be connected,” Pillai says.
He is assertive that by the time the Ministry of Health officially takes over the facility, the contractor will have accomplished what was required of them.
“This is a full hospital with several departments. Apart from that, there are 75 houses for hospital workers with 10 of them having servants’ quarters. There are also streets around the hospital for easy access in terms of vehicles,” Pillai says.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango says the hospital, once finally handed over to the government, will allow people of Phalombe to have advanced level of care within their reach.
“Access to quality health care is a prerequisite to socio-economic and human capital development. The Ministry of Health looks forward to serving the people there so that no one is left behind in accessing health care,” Malango says.
And for Vincent, Mvonye and others in the district, the handing over of the hospital to the government which is expected to happen next month should be accompanied with the provision of staff to work there.
Says Mvonye: “Now that they are saying the hospital is almost ready for use, we hope that we will not hear that workers are not available. We have to start benefiting from services at that beautiful facility right away.”
Alick Ponje is a features writer at The Times Group. He graduated from the University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in literature in English. He believes that quality reporting is critical in bringing positive change in communities. Alick is the Southern Africa Development Community journalist of the year (2020) in the television category. Follow him on Twitter @aponje