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Phalombe District Hospital: An old, tired lie

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TOURED PROJECT SITE—Chilima (centre)

February 14, a day dedicated to love world over, evokes sad memories in Mercy Mtamphwa of Ganeti Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kaduya, in the Southern Region district of Phalombe.

This is because the 56-year-old lost her nephew on Valentine’s Day and, although over five years have elapsed since that incident, she cannot come over the regrettable events of that day.

“My nephew was admitted to Holy Family Mission Hospital, where the professional healthcare professionals there found, upon assessment of the patient, that he had to be referred to Zomba General Hospital for further treatment.

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“As you know, we do not have a fully fledged public district hospital in Phalombe District. As such, some patients are referred to Zomba General Hospital, and not Phalombe District Hospital. On the day in question, my nephew was referred to Zomba General Hospital but there were protracted delays to ferry him from Holy Family Mission Hospital to Zomba.

“My nephew was diagnosed with malaria by healthcare personnel at Migowi health facility, who referred him to Phalombe Health Centre from where he was referred to the mission hospital, from where he was further referred to Zomba. We spent two more days at Holy Family Mission Hospital because, we were told, one of the internal rules there is that they do not take one patient to Zomba,” Mtamphwa said.

Being short of cash, she and family members could not mobilise enough resources to hire a tax, which would take the patient to the old capital.

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The only option was to wait, wait and wait until more referral cases could be identified.

Wait she did but, as it turned out, she was waiting for death to claim the beloved nephew and not the ambulance.

“It was on the third day of waiting when the unthinkable happened. My nephew’s condition deteriorated, such that he died in the wee hours of the third day.

“If I had money to hire a tax for my nephew, we certainly would not have lost him,” Mtamphwa lamented.

She is not alone; countless others also wonder about what could have been had they moved fast enough to save lives of loved ones.

Ireen Chome, from the sub-T/A Phweremwe in the district, lost her husband who, after timely arriving at Phalombe Health Centre, was referred to Zomba General Hospital.

“He died on transit to Zomba General Hospital,” she said.

“If we had a functional Phalombe District Hospital, he, surely, could not have died,” she added.

The 76 kilometres one has to cover on a vehicle from Holy Family Mission Hospital to Zomba General Hospital does not help matters.

“It is sad that we, the people of Phalombe, continue to lose countless lives due to the distance to Zomba. The government’s promise to open Phalombe District Hospital has become a tired lie now. What is delaying the opening of the hospital?” she queried.

Phalombe Central Constituency Member of Parliament George Million is equally concerned by delays to open Phalombe District Hospital.

After speaking on district public fora, he took his lamentations to Parliament before lawmakers passed the 2022-23 National Budget end March.

“It is disheartening that the Ministry of Health intends to open the hospital around October this year, instead of opening it immediately so that people can heave a sigh of relief. People have suffered for a long time, they have craved a district hospital for far too long,” he indicated.

According to Million, people who are expected to use the facility do not care whether the official handover happens in 2025 as long as it starts operating now.

Phalombe Director of Health and Social Services Sam Sibakwe said, once the hospital is opened, it would be offering other services that Holy Family Mission Hospital does not offer.

He said the hospital does not offer crucial services such as out-patient diagnostic and dental services.

This is in line with the Service Level Agreement which public healthcare officials signed with Christian Health Association of Malawi hospitals in the district.

“Once the district hospital is opened, all these services will be available and people’s lives would be saved since the hospital has been built at the centre of the district and the distance from health centres to the facility will be shortened,” Sibakwe said.

He, however, said there was a need to increase the number of staff, saying, as at now, they are failing to open new hospitals because they have a shortfall of support staff.

“As at now, we have few staff members because other posts are still vacant. Support staff such as cleaners are also very important,” the director said.

In May last year, State Vice President Saulos Chilima promised, when he inspected Phalombe District Hospital, that Treasury would release K2.5 billion to finalise everything on the project.

Chilima assured people that the hospital would be opened in November.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe said the facility would take some time before opening as the government was yet to procure non-medical equipment.

“Government is devoted to ensuring that Phalombe District Hospital is operational but we need to procure non-medical equipment, which is critical for the provision of quality medical care,” Chikumbe said.

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