Rumphi was a hive of activity on Tuesday when about 2 000 concerned citizens marched and petitioned government to ensure that patients in public hospitals are given food to complement their prescription drugs.
The protesters, wearing black attire, demanded an immediate end to the healthcare crisis that has seen patients in public hospitals not being given food in what leader of opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera termed an “involuntary starvation programme”.
The march started at Bumba around 9am, nearly two hours before the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) assembled a parallel procession to donate 100 bags of maize and 20 of beans to Rumphi District Hospital.
The demonstrators, backed by Rumphi District Civil Society Network, were irked by the suspension of kitchen services at the district hospital on October 13 — the worst-case scenario since July when delayed funding pushed the health facility to cut back from three meals a day to just one.
The demonstrators said they want President Peter Mutharika to prove that he really delivers what he promises, as he stated when he visited Mhuju in the district in March and promised to safeguard people from effects of the worst food shortage in history.
“Quoting His Excellency Professor Peter Mutharika’s speech that he does not want anyone to die of hunger in this country this year, we find the present situation being lacking in the fulfilling of the vision of the high office,” reads a petition network chairperson Eunice Banda presented to Rumphi District Council.
The marchers, who chanted bakumanya vyose mba Peter (only Peter [Mutharika] knows what’s happening), carried placards that read: “patients are dying in hospital” and “failing to provide food to patients is denying them the right to food”.
According to Rumphi hospital administrator Yohane Bilesi, the worst hit include the migrant poor with no relatives in sight as well as expectant women who leave their homes with inadequate food supplies not knowing when they will give birth.
Bilesi was speaking when he received food from DPP enthusiasts which Rumphi Central aspirant member Parliament Charles Mhango said was donated by himself and Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education Jappie Mhango.
The maize was sourced from Rumphi Admarc where scores of Malawians affected by prevailing food scarcity had earlier been spotted leaving empty-handed, saying they had been told there was no grain in stock.
Charles Mhango denied the donation was a desperate attempt to calm the rising unrest, saying: “It is just a coincidence we are presenting the foodstuffs while some people are demonstrating. This is purely out of our generosity, in Tumbuka we call it chiulavi, and love of the hospital.”
When Nation on Sunday broke the story about deepening unrest in Rumphi, presidential adviser on non-governmental organisations affairs Mavuto Bamusi sped to Rumphi and met members of the civil society network at National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust offices where they refused to bulge.
According to the petition, slightly over 208 700 people in Rumphi rely on one ambulance despite the government prescribed ration of one vehicle for no more than 50 000 people.
Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume attributed the problems to massive leakages and debts in hospitals as well as district council’s failure to prioritise patients’ lives.
The 300-bed hospital, whose funding dropped from K18 million ($30,660.7) per month in May to K9 million ($15,330.3) presently, owes suppliers over K2 million ($3,406.74) having paid back about K600 000 ($1,022.02) this month, the hospital administrator said.
The protestors have given the president 14 days to start closing the numerous gaps affecting delivery of quality health services for all. n