Patients diagnosed with kidney failure in Blantyre and surrounding districts risk being sent to an early grave following the decision by Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) to close the Dialysis Unit at the health facility.
The unit is to be closed from today following failure by the Ministry of Health to settle bills for the supply of materials to the unit.
According to information we have gathered, Fresenius Medical Care South Africa Private Limited stopped supplying materials for the operation of the Dialysis Unit at QECH.
The materials include blood line, bicarbonate, needles and diasal.
This has resulted in 18 patients being referred to Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in Lilongwe.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, wife to one of the patients who has been referred to KCH told The Daily Times that this is not the first time that the Dialysis Unit has been closed at QECH
“My husband was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2010; he started getting dialysis treatment in 2012. At that time, there were few patients and the situation was not all that dire. But things got worse in 2015 when the hospital experienced a similar challenge with my husband and all other patients being referred to KCH,’’ she said.
QECH Hospital Administrator Dr Themba Mhango, while being noncommittal on the closure of the unit, said payments for the materials are made by the Ministry of Health and hospitals are just recipients.
He said they receive three-month supplies and when they run out of stock, they inform their superiors and refer patients to KCH.
Confirming the development, Minister of Health P e t e r Kumpalume attributed the situation to challenges in tracking the payment made by the Malawi Government in the account of Fresenius Medical Care South Africa Private Limited.
“The story is true, the company cannot track our payment in their account but, over the months, we have made payments of nearly K500,000,000. We made a request last week to see if there can be a possibility of airlifting the materials into the country. But if the worst comes to the worst, the ministry will cover the transportation cost for all the patients that have been referred to KCH,’’ Kumpalume said.
Kidney Association Chairperson Samuel Kumwanje said the country’s public hospitals lack the capacity to handle disease cases, further describing the situation as disheartening.
“At Mzuzu Central Hospital, they have no dialysis machine and patients are referred to KCH and now hearing the news that they are shutting down the one at QECH due to the non-payment of bills just rubs salt on the wound.
“At KCH, there are 66 patients with kidney problems that are awaiting treatment, add 18 to that list from Blantyre, what about those from Mzuzu and other parts of the country? It’s a gloomy picture, isn’t it?” he said.
Kumwanje said it is essential to have both the units in Blantyre and Lilongwe running as most people cannot afford the service in private hospitals.
“It will cost you K65,000 to K80,000 every four hours on the dialysis machine if you are a kidney patient at a private hospital,” Kumwanje said.
Health rights watchdog the Malawi Health Equity Network has called for the allocation of 15 percent of the national budget to the health sector to address challenges the sector is grappling with.
Approximately, 30 people are diagnosed with kidney problems every six months in the country according to the Kidney Association.