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Hospitals struggle with accumulated debts

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Some District Health Offices (DHOs) are struggling to pay accumulated debts for goods and services they got from various suppliers to run their facilities.

This comes amid reports that some DHOs have failed to get funding from a pool of donors- Health Sector Joint Fund (HSJF) to cater for utility bills and service level agreements due to failure to submit liquidation reports.

Malawi News has established that some of the debts have existed for more than seven years and it is very unlikely that they will be able to pay for the said services due to poor funding for their monthly Other Recurrent Transactions (ORT).

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According to information we have gathered, Chiradzulu DHO has an accumulated debt of K100 million dating back to 2009; Nkhata Bay owes suppliers K91 million Nkhotakota is yet to pay K90 million while Dedza, Ntchisi, Rumphi and Mwanza have outstanding debts amounting to K70 million, K43 million, K24 million and K12 million respectively.

Machinga, Nsanje and Mzimba acknowledged to have debts also but could not disclose the figures.

Spokesperson for Chiradzulu DHO, Owen Chataika said his office has been trying to pay service providers and suppliers it owes to but it still has a debt of K100 million which has been accumulated since 2009.

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“We owe people that maintain the ambulances more money than those that provided us with foodstuffs. Almost everyone in management is new; the longest serving among us is two years old. We have just inherited the debts but we are not aware of the reasons why it accumulated like this,” he said.

Chataika admitted that the debts are compromising provision of quality services to the patients and that auditors have been pushing hospital management to pay the debts since it was ‘too much’.

Spokesperson for Dedza DHO, Anold Mdalira, said the office’s debts date back to 2013.

“We are getting according to cash flow around K20 million and debt is not factored in. We need about K50 million to operate normally since prices for goods and services have been adjusted upwards,” he said.

Nkhotakota DHO spokesperson, Samson Mfuneni also said his office is failing to service the debts because it receives very low funding which is not even enough for basic needs of the hospital operations.

He said: “We tried to service some of the debts from our ORT. But these debts are for many years.”

Health rights activist Maziko Matemba feels there has been some laxity in management of debts.

“I suspect there might be some officers who are involved in supplying goods and services and they may be inflating the prices to reach this extent. What was actually happening for the debts to accumulate like this? And mind you this figure you are talking about is just a tip of an iceberg,” he said.

Matemba said this may change once the health sector reforms are implemented as the improvements are proposing the involvement of traditional leaders and communities in financial decisions of district hospitals.

Ministry of Health spokesperson, Adrian Chikumbe said the ministry is aware that DHOs have huge debts.

But he said every DHO is tasked with ensuring that they spend according to the resources available and according to their priorities.

“They have to set their priorities according to their funds and needs and this has nothing to do with the headquarters,” he said.

There was no immediate response from the Treasury on the matter.

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