Hospitals are places of hope where patients renew their relationship with life. By their nature, hospitals are places where people have to be cured of diseases but in many cases, scores of public hospitals have turned into places where people go not to get treated but to contract diseases.
In fact, poor sanitation, according to health experts, causes 25 percent of deaths in all hospitals in Malawi.
In August last year, for example, Medical Council of Malawi came close to closing Dowa District Hospital for poor sanitation.
The hospital did not have any functional toilets, hence posing a serious threat to lives of patients and guardians.
But you would be wrong to think that this cannot happen at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), the biggest referral hospital in the country. Apparently, it is worse there.
Toilet and bathroom drainage channels, especially for Paediatric Orthopedics and Oncology wards at QECH, are blocked and expose filth that guardians and patients endure daily when they want to take a bath or relieve themselves.
In the bathroom, the dirty water – perhaps infested with all types of germs – is almost knee deep to most of the children, making it almost impossible for the children admitted to these wards to take a bath.
In the toilets, faecal matters hardly get through but the children and their guardians are being forced to use the facilities as there is no alternative.
One of the guardians of a child admitted to Paediatric Orthopedics Ward we will call Chikumbutso says lives her son and her are in danger.
She says she cannot take her 12-year-old son to the toilets in their current state and instead her son uses a plate as a toilet.
“The situation is pathetic. We are at a very risk of contracting hygiene-related diseases. I cannot bring my child here ad it is not only me. Most of the children here are using plates as toilets and we are emptying them into the toilets so that at least our children are safe,” she says.
Most of the children, especially in the Paediatric Orthopedics Ward, have broken arms and legs and they cannot walk to the toilets or bathrooms by themselves.
If they are to visit the toilets or bathrooms, therefore, it is their guardians mostly who carry them on their backs to the potential house of diseases that the toilets and bathrooms are.
Another guardian we will call Janet says she has been in the ward for almost a month but the situation in the toilets has been like that.
“It’s almost a month since I came. But even then, I found the toilets like that. Fellow guardians I found here say they too found the toilets and bathrooms like that since they came. We are suffering and we don’t know whether the Minister of Health is aware of this,” she says
Sources within the hospital say the blockages have been reported to the Maintenance Department several times but to no avail.
The sources say the toilets and bathrooms were declared beyond maintenance and it is not known when or if they will be maintained.
“It is not that the management does not know about this. We have reported the blockages several times and they maintenance people have been inspecting the toilets and the bathrooms but nothing has happened. We are told that they are actually beyond maintenance,” they say.
Health Rights Education Programme Executive Director Maziko Matemba calls on government to wake up and treat the problem as matter of urgency.
“It is unacceptable for any health facility to run without proper hygiene. The Minister of Health should deal with the problem as matter of urgency. The Medical Council of Malawi should inspect the wards and act accordingly because they have all the powers according to the law,” Matemba says.
But while people are suffering like this at QECH, massive looting of public funds continues at the Ministry of Health which runs the facility.
Audit report of 2015/2016 financial year says about K1 billion was blown on dubious allowances alone at the ministry.
The report says K265 million was paid out in allowances to officers which were not bona fide servants, K399 million was paid out to people that cannot be traced whereas K61 million was paid out to undeserving staff.
Perhaps one wonders what such amounts can do to the sanitation problems at QECH.
But speaking during the commemoration of World Toilet Day on November 18 in Blantyre, Head of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in the Ministry of Health Mawumsamatha Kafanikhale said there is a close relationship between poor sanitaion and diseases and deaths in the country.
He said 50 percent of people admited to public hospitals suffer from diseases connected to poor sanitation while up to 25 percent of all deaths are due to poor sanitation.
“So you can see that it is impotrtat that people observe proper hygiene practices so that they do not fall sick and die,” he said.
It is, therefore, dishaertening that people are being subjected to poor sanition right at the country’s biggest referal hospital that is QECH.
But Minister of Health Atupele Muluzi says he is aware of the poor sanitation at QECH.
Muluzi says officials at his ministry are on the ground fiding ways of dealing with the situation saying most of the problem is to do with the hospital administration.
“There is a close relation betweeen poor sanitaion and diesesas and we are taking sanitaion very very seriously,” he says.
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