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Mhen recommends dialogue in Bowe Health Centre dispute

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Lack of coordination between government ministries and communities is a ticking time bomb that is putting at risk millions of lives as is the case at Bowe in Dowa where a health facility was closed after a mob destroyed a house and motor vehicle of Ministry of Health’s nurse, Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) warns.

The mob was accusing the nurse, Chriford Semu, of refusing to attend to a pregnant woman who eventually died from complications

The death of the woman led to over 300 community members from Senior Group Village Head Malala and Senior Group Village Head Malayina demonstrate against and attack the nurse and loot and destroy his property worth millions of kwacha at the facility.

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A report by Mhen, which investigated the incident which took place on November 18 2019, warns that the mistrust between civil servants and communities in which they work is responsible for the lawlessness that took place at Bowe.

“Bowe Police Unit was afraid to come to the scene because of the degree of the demonstration and that there was a rumour that the police would be the next target of the demonstrators. Mponela Police was called to intervene, and came when the situation had subsidised a little. They dispersed the demonstrators with tear gas. They evacuated the nurse and his family through the police vehicle,” reads the Mhen report in part.

The report added that there was a rumour that there would be other series of demonstrations against Bowe Police Unit, Bowe Agriculture Office, Bowe Admarc, Bowe Secondary School and Bowe Primary School.

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According to Mhen, the chiefs reported that this was not the first time for the nurse to behave that way.

“Two chiefs testified how they nearly lost their loved ones when they reported to the facility at night and the nurse did not wake up to attend to them. One chief testified that his loved one died because he reported late to Mponela Hospital and Dowa District Hospital because he had waited for long for Mr Semu but in vain.

“It was also reported that Mr Semu was charging K500 women who delivered babies upon their discharge. There was a general feeling that Mr Semu did not care for the sick. Health Centre Management Committee had issued warnings to him six times,” the report reads.

Mhen findings also indicate that the chiefs had information that Mr Semu came to Bowe Health Centre after being chased from another health facility in the district because of similar behaviour.

Meanwhile, Mhen has said it will be interested to ensure necessary action is done on the nurse by Ministry of Health and legally instituted regulatory bodies such as Nurses and Midwives Council of Malawi.

Mhen Executive Director George Jobe, who was part of the investigations, said Mhen and Dowa District Health Office sensitised the gathering to rights and responsibilities of both community members and health workers.

“It was emphasised the woman who lost her life had a right to receive health care and a right to life while, at the same time, health workers have a right to work in a conducive and safe environment. Therefore, demonstrations and attacks on health workers should not happen but reliance should be on instituted bodies such as Health Centre Management Committees to do conflict resolutions,” Jobe said.

However, officials from National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi (Nonm) has said the accused nursing officer was not negligent as alleged by the communities at Bowe and have since asked all health workers to leave the facility.

Nonm Executive director Shouts Simeza told the media that all the remaining health workers were told to abandon what he called a dangerous post.

“The allegations that the nurse was negligent in his duties are not true. The nurse attended to the pregnant woman before she was referred to Ntchisi District Hospital,” Simeza said.

Mhen, which is against the decision by Nonm of asking workers to abandon the health centre, has called on the DHO to open Bowe Health Centre as soon as possible, “without waiting for completion of the maintenance works on the damaged house, as community members were suffering, especially those on ART, maternity cases and malaria patients”.

The country is experiencing a rise in cases where communities are taking the law into their own hands attacking police stations, health facilities and other government institutions.

Wednesday, for example, there were two running battles between police and some irate residents of Nkhamenya and Mtambalala villages in Kasungu.

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