Lives of women and babies are at risk at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital’s (Qech’s) Gogo Chatinkha Maternity Wing because of over-crowding as pregnant women scramble for services, a situation made worse by a temporary closure of Limbe Health Centre.
In Lilongwe, at Kamuzu Central Hospital, people are having to pay K2,000 to have their patients carried upstairs to wards because an elevator is not working.
Margaret Chirwa from Lilongwe said she paid some guards to carry her husband to the male ward at KCH.
“I only had K2,000 and I was compelled to pay that K2,000 as I didn’t have the energy to carry my husband upwards,” Chirwa said.
One of the guards that we talked to admitted to be in the business of carrying patients and dead bodies to and from the wards and to the mortuaries.
“All I am doing is to ease the burden that has been created by the non-functional hospital elevators and I cannot do that for free. I need at least K2,000 for the services because I have to buy anti-germs soap to clean myself after everything,” the guard said.
Qech is also struggling to treat pregnant women and babies, as there is a lot of delay to attend to emergency situations such as Caesarean Sections since its operating theatre is ever full and medical supplies are not enough.
Due to the delays, babies are either born dead (stillborn) or die in the nursery after sometime or suffer permanent brain damage which is discovered later in life. The theatre is ever busy that there is no much time to sterilise equipment and this is putting women and new born babies at risk of infections (Sepsis).
One out of every 37 children in Malawi dies in the first month of life and 80 percent of these deaths are due to prematurity, complications during birth or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, reads part of a report by the United Nations Childrens’ Fund (Unicef) titled Every Child Alive released early this year.
Due to the congestion at Qech, the facility’s 24- bed labour ward is not enough to accommodate the women in need. It has been noted that other patients are sleeping on the floor. The last few weeks, the corridors were closed and acted like a full ward.
Out of the three theatres at this wing, only one is operating against a daily average of 10 emergency situations. This has led to high rates of stillbirths and neonatal deaths.
Health workers assigned to this ward, who we have spoken to indicate that they are overwhelmed and at the same time frustrated with the system because patients are not assisted accordingly due to lack of essential medical supplies and equipment.
The congestion is also threatening lives of women with gynaecological issues and cervical cancer who also need to undergo an operation (elective procedures). They have been put on the waiting list and it is not known when they will be attended to. The facility is also hit by shortage of anaesthetists.
The Daily Times has learnt that much as the ward is always having this pressure, this situation has been perpetuated by the closure of Limbe Health Centre’s maternity wing which is under renovation. The health facility delivers 10 to 15 babies per day.
District Health Officer (DHO) for Blantyre Dr. Gift Kawalazira confirmed that the closure of Limbe Health Centre’s maternity wing early this month has had a great impact on QECH.
“We opened an extra maternity wing at Bangwe Health Centre but the women don’t want to go there. They don’t want to walk to the facility because it’s not easily accessible. But we are concerned with the congestion that this is causing at Qech,” he said, adding that Limbe Health Centre may be opened at the end of this week.
The DHO said the women are not restricted to go to Bangwe but they may also go to other primary health facilities: “this is also becoming a cost on us as we now have a standby ambulance at Qech, which is taking some women to Bangwe.”
Ministry of Health and Population spokesperson, Joshua Malango, said the government noticed that the elevator had outlived its lifespan and already released K120 million for the procurement of the new elevator.
Malango said the process of procuring the new elevator has been finalised and what remains is for it to be moved from China to Malawi, a process that may take weeks.
“But in the meantime, we have employed some porters to be carrying the patients. These porters are paid by government and not any other guardian. Guardians are not required to pay the porters,” Malango said.
Malawi’s maternal mortality is at 439 per every 100,000 live births. Neonatal mortality is at 27 per every 100,000 live births.
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