Although Malawi leader President Bingu wa Mutharika insisted that the zero-deficit budget is working when he inaugurated the 43rd session of Parliament last week, Weekend Nation visits to some hospitals throughout the country have revealed that all is not well.
According to our investigation, most hospitals Malawi have no basic drugs, a situation which is leading to unnecessary deaths.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has said it is regrettable if lives are being lost due to shortage of essential drugs and that such a situation would be investigated to find solutions.
The shortage of the drugs comes against an estimated budget allocation of K26 766 463 907 (about $160 million) to the Ministry of Health in the year 2011-2012 national budget.
Drugs which were procured by donors under the K54 billion (about $323 million) joint Development Partner Emergency Drug Procurement Project and expected to last the country for three months, are reportedly already finished in some health centres just two or three weeks after receiving them.
A doctor at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre confided in Weekend Nation that it was pathetic to see patients dying because some drugs are not available.
Our investigations show that the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s referral hospitals, QECH, Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) and Mzuzu Central Hospital, as of Tuesday this week did not have antibiotic drugs which can be used for diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis. These include Erythromycin, Ceftriaxon, Augumentin, Carbamezapin for epilepsy and mental disorders among others.
“It is very pathetic that we are seeing people die knowing that if we had drugs, we could have done something. The situation is bad because we do not have essential drugs,” said the doctor.
A visit to Chileka Health Centre in Blantyre revealed that some of the drugs not available at the centre include penicillin and magnesium.
An old lady who could not remember her age, but could be in her 70s was given paracetamol, but said she had a heart condition.
A source at the health centre said: “We do not have penicillin and magnesium. We received a small consignment of several drugs from Unicef last week and it will be finished by this week.”
The Unicef supplies improved the situation at the centre because most of the drugs from government were finished, according to the source.
Another visit to Chilomoni Health Centre unearthed a lot of problems.
At Limbe Health Centre, John Martin, a father of three, said he had to travel with his wife from Nkolokoti Health Centre to Limbe Health Centre because his two children had malaria and pneumonia respectively.
“Every time we go to Nkolokoti, we are told there are no drugs. My children fell ill this morning and we came here as early as 7am and until now [1.30 pm], we have not yet received treatment. My wife is still in the queue,” said Martin.
A snap survey around Mzuzu two government hospitals however showed that many outpatients were just being given painkillers.
Asked if Mzuzu Central Hospital was experiencing a drug shortage problem, chief hospital administrator Sifo Nyasulu said he could not comment and said only a Ministry of Health spokesperson could give such information.
However, some insiders said the hospital does not have some essential drugs.
At Katoto Dispensary, some patients were told to go and buy their own drugs.
Stafford Ngulube, whose daughter was battling diarrhoea and cough and was admitted to the dispensary was told to go and buy the medicine for his daughter since the hospital did not have.
Several nurses at KCH on Thursday said although the drug situation has improved at the hospital as compared to last year, some drugs are still unavailable at the major referral hospital.
“The situation has improved a bit. At least Panado is available but some drugs, especially antibiotics are still in short supply,” said the nurse who spoke on condition of anonymity.
KCH director Noordeen Alide said they have delayed to pay locum allowances to medical staff at the hospital because they did not get their monthly funding from Treasury on time.
“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not because of the zero-deficit budget, but somewhere around December last year, the electronic system at the Accountant General stopped working.
“They were changing signatures in the system and come January, the hospital was still having some money in the system uncleared. The rule is that between fundings, you must clear the money that is in the system for that month,” said Alide.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Henry Chimbali on Tuesday said government expects the drug situation to improve and that any shortages or low supplies were a concern.
Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN) executive director Martha Kwataine said the thinking of development partners who procured drugs is that health centres save vulnerable people in rural areas.