Ministry gags District Health Officers


The Ministry of Health has threatened to take disciplinary action on any officer who speaks to the media other than Public Relations Officers (PROs).

The ministry has further cautioned its PROs, scattered in various districts across the country, to talk to the media only after liaising with the national PRO.

This warning is contained in a memo titled, ‘Reminder on communication with the media’ written by the ministry’s Principal Secretary MacPhail Magwira on October 19 2015. The memo is addressed to all hospital directors, District Health Officers (DHOs) and copied to zonal health officers.


“It has been noted with concern that some heads of health facilities in the country are unilaterally holding interviews with the media, both electronic and print, on various issues, including the financial situation in the health sector without the involvement or collaboration with the Public Relations Officer at National Level (Ministry of Health Headquarters).

“That has resulted in giving contradictory information to the general public which at times has caused unnecessary panic and anxiety,” reads the memo.

It adds: “It is for this reason that I am writing to remind you all that in the spirit of uniformity in information given to the general public, you or your Public Relations Officers must at all times liaise with the ministry’s Public Relations Officer before going to the media with any information. It should be mentioned that any head of institution or officer, who will act to the contrary, will be subjected to a disciplinary action.


“Please ensure that the contents of this reminder letter are circulated widely within your institution or district.”

Meanwhile, Media Institute of Southern Africa Malawi (Misa Malawi) Chairperson Thom Khanje described the ministry’s gagging of its spokespersons as retrogressive in the wake of advocacy to have access to information legislation. Khanje said the ministry already did a good job by introducing spokespersons at district hospitals and gagging them was like discrediting itself.

“They should find a better way of improving their communication. Perhaps they should learn from the Malawi Police Service which has PROs at district level and they are operating very well. Otherwise, the ministry is defeating decentralisation if it demands that their PROs should always liaise with the National PRO on health issues,” said Khanje.

National Secretary for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), Chris Chisoni, said gagging the PROs is not in tandem with freedom of expression. He said those that speak to the media only help the public to appreciate the problems the health sector is facing.

He said the ministry may have realised that what the PROs say is only causing more fire than bringing solutions to the ailing health sector.

But Chisoni said some of the challenges in the health sector are a result of putting priorities upside down, citing the culture of sharing allowances instead of buying essentials.

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