By Patience Lunda:
The Ministry of Health has advised hospitals to stop demanding police reports before treating injured patients.
A memo— which Secretary for Health Charles Mwansambo has signed and copied to the Attorney General, Inspector General of Police and the Medical Council of Malawi— indicates that the requirement can endanger the lives of people in need of urgent medical assistance.
“Every sick or injured person is entitled to access to healthcare regardless of the circumstances that lead to the injury or sickness, hence discrimination of persons in any form is prohibited. It is worth noting that the right to access a medical practitioner or healthcare is a right of every person, even persons against whom criminal allegations lie or convicts. It is also in keeping with the Hippocratic Oath that obliges medical practitioners to help all sick /injured people without any discrimination.
“Also noteworthy is that even in situations where there is an obligation to report to the police like in cases of road accidents, the law does not require that the person reports or obtains a police report first before accessing medical attention. The law simply gives the person who is duty-bound to report to police [a chance to do so] within a maximum period of 48 hours,” he said.
Malawi Police Service deputy public relations officer Harry Namwaza said there is a need for the ministry to work hand-in-hand with the police so that they can be tipped on any suspicious cases for follow-up.
“The objective of the arrangement [that people involved in road accidents or suspected criminal activities seek a police report first] is for police to have records of people involved in road accidents and criminal activities.
“So, it’s just a matter of having a well-coordinated means of communication between police and health practitioners,” he said.
Meanwhile, Malawi Health Equity Network Executive Director George Jobe has hailed the move, saying the requirement has been depriving people of their right to access healthcare services.
Jobe urged the government to publicise the circular so that people should be able to report if they are denied access to healthcare services after the directive has been made.
“We commend the ministry because the move will help in saving lives of people who are assaulted or involved in accidents. We want people to report [to health authorities] when medical practitioners demand police reports before they are assisted,” he said.