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How hospitals are coping with power, fuel shortages

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By Mandy Pondani

Malawi is reeling in the double trouble of unreliable power and erratic fuel supply.

So how are hospitals navigating the problem?

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With loadshedding lasting more than eight hours and with power outages sometimes coming an announced, health facilities are being forced to dig deeper into their coffers for the purchase of diesel – which is in short supply — to run their backup generators.

Hospital Director for Mzuzu Central Hospital Frank Sinyiza told The Sunday Times that the hospital is badly affected when there are national shutdowns or prolonged routine power cuts.

He said during prolonged blackouts, the fuel consumption for the generators at the hospital goes up, effectively eating into their allocation for other operations such as running vehicles at the hospital.

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Sinyiza said the recent fuel crisis has piled particular pressure on the facility.

“We have two generators and each of them consumes 25 litres in an hour so whenever there is an outage, we are talking of 50 litres per hour.

“When the blackouts are extended it means we use a lot of fuel. The good thing however is that filling stations also prioritise us now that the country is facing fuel crisis,” he said.

Sinyiza said their diesel budget per month hovers around K4 million but this varies according to the changes in the cumulative duration of the blackouts.

Saulos Nyirenda who heads Zomba Central Hospital said the facility is connected to Escom’s essential power line.

But he said power cuts have life threatening consequences and thus stressed on the need for efficient power backup.

“You have patients who are on oxygen and it does not always come from cylinders; it has to come from concentrators that depend on power.

“You have patients who are being operated on and if you have long power cuts, you lose lives,” Nyirenda said.

For fear of having to rely on backup generators alone, there are some sections of the hospital that have been connected to solar power. This, he said, has enabled the hospital to circumvent the ravages of power outages.

An official from Karonga District Hospital said they usually experience unannounced blackouts.

“Imagine electricity going off in the middle of a procedure, and of late it has been very difficult to source fuel for the backup generators,” said the source.

The official said at some point, they experienced power interruption for three consecutive days.

He further said due to resource constraints, they ration the supply of the backup power.

Director for Kamuzu Central Hospital Jonathan Ngoma said they always ensure that they have backup power on standby in case of any electricity supply interruptions.

“First of all, Escom prioritises us. When there is a blackout, it means the worse has come to the worst, but we always make sure that we have backup power in all service areas,” Ngoma said.

Executive Director for the Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) George Jobe challenged government to address problems in the health sector, especially those at primary health care level, for Malawi to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

He said authorities should appreciate that the power problems that Malawi is experiencing have a health face to them.

“Our hospitals need power for most of the systems; x-rays need power, vaccines’ refrigeration needs electricity; there is also need to sterilize the various equipment and in the event of power outages, we rely on generators.

“This calls for the facilities to have reliable generators which need fuel, and now with the fuel crisis, that’s a very big concern,” he said.

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