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People paying for ambulance, mortuary services

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Reports have emerged that patients and guardians are asked to pay for some services at Karonga and Chitipa district hospitals, which are meant to be free according to government’s health policy.

In Chitipa, people are asked to pay for their own fuel if they are to use ambulance services when there is a referral case while in Karonga, concerns have been raised over the money which people pay in order to access mortuary services when bereaved.

Chairperson for the Health Advisory Committee in Chitipa, Sydney Simwaka, said due to costs that people have to incur to access such essential services, a majority of them have resorted to traditional healers and doctors due to proximity.

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“Patients die along the way due to these challenges. An ambulance takes too long to arrive, sometimes it doesn’t come at all. We would have loved if health centres such as Wenya, Nthalire and Kapenda were provided with ambulances,” Simwaka said.

None of the nine health centres in Chitipa has a resident ambulance, thus denying people of the district the right to access medical attention in time.

Commenting on the Karonga case, Chairperson for Lupembe Area Development Committee (ADC) Vincent Kayuni wondered why mortuary services at the KDH have overtime become costly for the locals.

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But District Health Officers (DHO) for the districts, Ted Bandawe and Pheneous Mfune, refuted the accusations, saying they both have not received any formal complaints on the issues raised.

“I have heard of one scenario in Misuku where our ambulance had issues on the way due to the difficult terrain and the passengers came in to help somehow, otherwise it is not true that people give us money for fuel or anything in order to be ferried to the hospital,” said Bandawe.

His counterpart, Mfune, also said he was not aware of the situation, and was quick to say that as a hospital, they no longer provide embalming services.

“All these are rumours. We hear them too but no one has brought forth incriminating evidence against any of our officers. There are a number of reasons this could be happening,” he said.

But Health Officer for the Northern Zone, Owen Musopole, justified the developments in the two districts that due to resource constraints, the Ministry of Health has deliberately limited ambulance services to maternity cases only, hence some of the challenges being faced in Chitipa and elsewhere in the region.

“Due to the rising cost of chemicals for embalming dead bodies, government resolved to suspend provision of the service. It is believed that some mortuary attendants rendering the service do it on their account, hence the charges,” Musopole said.

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