Toilets, bathrooms and sluice rooms in many health centres in Mzimba have become storerooms because of water shortages.
Sluice material is disposed off outside the facilities thereby, exposing people to Hepatitis B infection especially for those that may step on the waste, according to the nurse at Engucwini Health Centre, Esther Zulu.
Infection prevention (IP) at the facilities is compromised as both the patients and hospital staff use pit latrines and hardly wash their hands thereafter.
With dry sinks in maternity wards and other wards, expectant mothers are forced to draw water two kilometres from the facility.
Communities and hospital staff and patients fight for water at the only borehole on daily basis.
Staff punctuality is also compromised as they prioritise the task of fetching water before work.
Malawi News recently visited Engucwini, Mpherembe, Luvwere and Mtwalo health centres and none of the facilities has running water but empty and dusty sinks and tanks.
Zulu minced no words about the torture she and her staff and patients endure because of water scarcity at the institution which serves 16, 740 people.
“Although you see a tank up there, there is no water. We pump water from the ground and whenever there is no electricity, it means no water for the patients, the staff and communities,” she said adding:
“Time to draw water is between 5 am 8 am. Guardians are advised to store water in buckets.
“Water is used sparingly. Our biggest concern is the maternity ward,” said Zulu.
“The toilets, sluice and shower rooms were turned into store rooms for keeping linen after they stopped functioning. The latrines in use have broken doors and cisterns.
“When I came in March this year, the facility had no water for the past four years and we nearly closed it. Then a pump was installed. But still, we cannot use it all day just to save its life span,” said Zulu adding that before the pump water was drawn from a borehole two kilometres away.
At Mpherembe Health Centre there is no good news either. A tank was fitted during construction of the facility but it has never had water. Patients, staff and communities queue for water at a borehole available on the premises.
“There is no water in all the wards including the labour ward. Sometimes, after giving birth, women take long to bathe as their guardians struggle to get water. General cleanliness at the health centre is compromised. We cannot be cleaning it every day,” said Potipher Chidambo, a nurse at the centre.
Just like at Engucwini, toilets, bathrooms and sinks are used to store things at Mpherembe.
This is a health centre with 28 baby deliveries per week on average and serves about 45, 000 people.
Mpherembe Area Development Committee Chairperson, Bruce Lungu, said all the seven health centres in Mpherembe have water problems and at Kalonga Health Centre, there is completely no water and patients and staff drink from swamps.
At Luvwere Health Centre, the facility had not been mopped for two months because of lack of water. The borehole which was sunk in 1993 broke down two months ago.
“For the past two months, we have not mopped the health centre because there is no water. You can see the blood stained floors. There is no tank or drum to store water. We are struggling.
Patients have to struggle to get water even for drinking medicine. Washing hands after treating a patient is not there. We reported the issue to the DHO but nothing is being done,” said clerical officer, McJoy Msowoya.
Senior Group Village Headman Chimdima Mhango said chiefs and the health advisory committee agreed to start contributing money to buy a water pump valve at K6,000.00 to start pumping water.
At Mtwalo Health Centre, patients, staff and communities scramble for water at a borehole located 1.5 km away.
“Water system was fitted during construction of the centre in 1992. We have two tanks there but without water. We just need a pump to get water into the tanks and flow into the wards and staff houses but that has never happened,” said Assistant Environmental Officer at the centre Chitatata Luhanga.
Mzuzu based Foundation for Child Rights (FCR), an organisation which fights for rights of children in the area, described the situation in the health centres as pathetic and unbelievable after 51 years of independence.
“We cannot be talking of water shortages in health centres after 51 years. There is no quality health care service delivery especially for children and expectant mothers. Something is wrong,” said FCR Programmes Manager, Kondwani Botha.
He called on other stakeholders to bail out the situation. Botha also called on Mzimba District Council to allocate some funds from the Local Development Fund and Constituency Development Fund to ease the water problems.
Ministry of Health zone officer for the Northern Region, Owen Musopole, described the use of buckets in maternity wing as “not very good”. He said medical staff refuses to work under such circumstances.
Musopole wondered if District Health Officers and district councils consider water in their plans as a priority.
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