The country’s healthcare system is silently slipping into a coma following government’s decision to halve funding to district health offices this month.
The crippling funding woes might be a sign of a hugely underplayed economic collapse facing the country, but it leaves critical patients in far-flung health centres with a greater likelihood of dying of curable conditions.
Mzimba North district health officer (DHO) Dr Khumbo Shumba has become the latest health worker to sound an SOS as underfunding worsens service delivery in 21 centres under its mandate.
The sight of a row of ambulances literally gathering dust due to disuse at Mzuzu Health Centre in Mpale Township confirms the tragedy prevailing in the healthcare sector, especially the sub-district with an approved allocation of K99 million this year.
Five ambulances, four utility vehicles and numerous motorcycles have been grounded for slightly over two weeks due to lack of fuel as Treasury only released about K4.3 million for Mzimba North, which received K8.7 million last month.
In an interview on Thursday, Shumba said: “We are facing a lot of challenges and we would like to request well-wishers to come to our rescue. Besides lack of fuel, which is the major problem, we have no funds for servicing the fleet which is due for maintenance.”
The life-saving facility on life-support machines sums up the side-effects of Treasury’s decision to trim the annual budget by K20 million—from K119 million last year.
Health workers say the district deserves twice the allocation to function properly.
The funding gaps plunge rural health centres, including Manolo, where up to two critical patients need a 110km ambulance trip to Mzuzu Central Hospital daily, onto deeper uncertainties when it comes to handling referral cases.
Besides transportation of patients, the ambulance situation has also compromised health outreach programmes.
The situation is also true about Mzimba South.
According to Mzimba South DHO, Dr Alinafe Mbewe, Mzimba District Hospital, which receives patients from 31 centres, has stopped providing meals to in-patients and limited ambulances to “cases of life or death”.
Zone manager for the North, Dr Owen Msopole, confirmed this is a widespread problem.
Ironically, Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume expressed ignorance of the funding cuts pushing health workers into desperate measures. n