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ColumnsHitting The Nail

When are you firing the DHOs, madam minister?

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After fumbling and living in denial by defending a system that is clearly disintegrating, Minister of Health Jean Kaliani has finally admitted that there are no drugs in public hospitals.

But, taking the cue from her boss, President Peter Mutharika, she has not blamed it on erratic funding.

Rather, she has found the weakest link in the system to pounce on and it is the district health officers (DHOs) across the country.

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She even went further to send a volley of Molotov cocktail at the media, saying we are exaggerating the problem and that its extent is less than what is being portrayed.

I am not sure whether the minister says the DHOs personally steal the drugs or they are being blamed because they are in charge.

Whatever the case, the minister’s position highlights the deep malaise that is prevalent in the DPP administration. The malaise starts from the top and is marked by failure to face a problem straight in the eye and take full responsibility for it.

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The President said the other day he did not know why there is shortage of drugs because his government had provided for the same.

Secretary to the Treasury, Ronald Mangani, even released figures indicating the amount of monies his department had appropriated to the Ministry of Health for drugs.

But, in turn, the Minister of Health herself this week blamed DHOs for either pilfering the drugs themselves or allowing it to happen through general incompetence manifested in their failure to develop systems that will stop drugs from developing legs to walk away from their pharmacies.

The question she must answer is: When is she firing such DHOs if she truly believes

they are responsible for perpetuating the prevalent problem of drug shortages in hospitals across the country?

She cannot fire them because she knows what she is saying is simply not true. The DHOs cannot go into the public domain and contradict her but the truth of the matter is these DHOs are not given money to buy drugs.

In fact, one DHO confided in me that he never got a penny from Treasury during the whole month of June for drugs, which is common knowledge as we know that virtually every government department, except the State House, has suffered deep budget cuts.

In fact, I am using a wrong description. The right one is that government departments have simply suffered funding freeze as there is no money due to the DPP administration’s incompetence and virtual lack of creativity.

As for the drug shortage, the fault is not with DHOs who are innocently struggling to do their best in districts under the difficult working conditions the DPP administration is exacting on them.

The health delivery system has collapsed in the country. The tragedy is that while everybody sees this, the DPP administration chooses to look the other way and blame innocent persons.

Even the World Bank has seen how rotten the health sector supply system is, describing it the other day as disintegrated with a lot of parallel systems. Simply put, it is failing and there is no other way of describing it.

The World Bank report is not singling out the DHOs as the Minister of Health wants us to believe.

As for her accusation that media practitioners are self-serving and generally exaggerating the extent of the problem, I am not surprised at all as it is a continuation of her living in denial and apportioning blame on others instead of solving it as her job description demands.

The minister has not visited any hospital since the problem started where she could have seen for herself how Malawians are languishing in pain, waiting to die as dogs, due to lack of quality treatment in hospitals.

Instead, she has been to workshops and attending anniversary celebrations of some organisations.

Her idea of solving this problem is to blame DHOs and summon them to a meeting, I suppose to chastise them.

But then if she believes the DHOs are wholly to blame, when is she firing them?

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