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Staff shortages compound Covid-19 fight

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Gift Trapence

There is hardly any space remaining for Covid-19 patients in the country’s major hospitals, forcing them to improvise by incorporating space meant for treating equally vital ailments into Covid-19 treatment regimen.

The situation is dire in referral hospitals such as Queen Elizabeth Central (QECH), Kamuzu Central (KCH) and Mzuzu Central as well as Zomba General Hospital (ZGH), where space for Covid-19 patients is limited and rooms used by other departments are being converted into make-shift rooms for coronavirus-positive people.

To create space to accommodate Covid-19 patients at QECH, for example, management has turned to Ward 3A, which is part of the Respiratory High Dependency Unit and has 38 beds.

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The Ear Nose Throat Ward, which has 26 beds, has also been turned into a Covid-19 treatment facility while Ward 1A— which, in normal times, used to serve as a paying ward for the provision of maternity services— now has 20 beds for Covid-19 patients.

However, QECH Director Samson Mndolo insisted that the wads were not being used because of shortage of bed space; rather, he said, the problem the facility is facing is that of inadequate workforce.

Mndolo also said the hospital was getting overwhelming support in the procurement of oxygen for its patients.

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“The perception out there is that the hospital is full and people are dying. We have enough space and are creating even more space to treat people suffering from Covid-19. We are erecting four more tents, which will give us an additional 180-bed capacity,” he said.

He could, however, not be drawn to comment on how many workers the facility needed, only insisting that the biggest hospital in the Southern Region needed more boots on the ground.

“We have made a proposal to the Ministry of Health and the recruitment will be handled by the ministry itself but, as we have always said, space is not a problem but workforce.

“Again, what I can say is that, for the past few days, the number of people we are discharging is by far bigger than those we losing in the hospital. A majority of people are coming as brought-in-dead while others are coming in critically ill that they are dying even before their tests are conducted and admitted [to the hospital]. This must change. Very few people who are coming in good time are dying of Covid-19,” Mndolo said.

ZGH Director Mathias Joshua and Jonathan Ngoma of Kamuzu Central Hospital could not immediately comment on the issue.

Mzuzu Central Hospital Director Frank Sinyiza, on the other hand, said the facility was not as severely affected as people would make others believe.

Management at the hospital has turned its One Stop Centre (OSC) into a Covid-19 Ward.

However, the director said things were normal as only the OSC had been turned into a Covid-19 Ward, while OSC services were being combined with those which the Physiotherapy Department offers.

Like his QECH counterpart, Sinyiza said the prevalent problem was that of staff.

President Lazarus Chakwera, when he declared a State of Emergency on Tuesday last week, said a 200- bed field hospital would be opened in the city.

“A 200-bed field hospital is a hospital in itself. We are about 850 of us including everyone at the hospital but we need additional 300 healthcare workers and these are technical staff. We made the proposal but we will see how many the government will give us,” he said.

Last week, Chakwera unveiled a K17.5 billion strategy to guide the government’s fight against Covid-19.

The money would, among other things, be used for hiring healthcare service frontline workers and construction of new treatment units to complement overwhelmed public hospitals.

Chakwera said the government would continue supporting Christian Health Association of Malawi hospitals by giving wages to healthcare workers. He has also ordered the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 to open 77 new testing centres on top of 143 existing ones, in the next one week.

He said as one way of beefing up healthcare personnel, the government will recruit 1,380 personnel in four different categories at a cost of K1.6 billion over the next four months.

Chairperson of Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Gift Trapence, said the strategy is robust.

“We are happy that the President has finally acted on the Covid-19 measures. We, as an organisation, asked the President to act fast and he heard our call and responded. This is quite timely action to the pandemic and we are heading in the right direction,” Trapence said.

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