Government should employ adequate health personnel if the country is to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as outlined in national policies, health experts have said.
Speaking during a graduation in Mzuzu on Friday, St John of God College of Health Sciences principal Flemmings Nkhandwe said the 60 percent vacancy rate in the Ministry of Health (MoH) contributes to poor quality of patient and client care.
He said the World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that each country needs at least 4.45 workers per 1 000 people to realise UHC, but Malawi has only 0.5 health workers per 1 000 people, which is far below the threshold.
“It is unfortunate that government, through ministries of Health and Local Government [and Rural Development], is not adequately absorbing the graduates that we are producing in training colleges. And yet these are well-trained and skilled nurses and doctors,” he said.
On his part, St John of God Hospital Services chief executive officer Charles Masulani said government should employ more health personnel if its policies are to translate into reality.
He cited the Health Sector Strategic Plan for 2017-2022, which outlines how the country can achieve UHC, equitable and affordable quality healthcare to improve patients’ health status while promoting patient satisfaction.
Said Masulani: “It is our hope that the Ministry of Health will, therefore, consider recruiting these graduates to fill the huge vacancy rate that is in our public health facilities.”
Asked what it would take for government to cover the high vacancy rate without straining the budget, former chair of the Parliamentary Caucus on Health Juliana Lunguzi, who is a public health specialist and a State registered nurse by profession, observed that the country’s production sector is not vibrant enough to generate enough money to run the national budget.
“It is not that the country does not have enough trained and skilled personnel. The country doesn’t have money. This is because our production sector is almost non-existent.
“Whatever we are getting is just for consumption. But it is production that increases the GDP [Gross Domestic Product]. Ours is way too small to contribute to the national budget. That’s why we can’t recruit,” she said.
Lunguzi said the country’s appetite for loans is also contributing to the challenge, arguing that “we can’t finance our budget with loans”.
“It’s the production sector that finances the budget. But how many companies are closing down or downsizing? It means is that our production sector is not vibrant enough to have money to run our budget,” she argued.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango asked for a questionnaire to which he had not responded as we went to press.
But in a previous interview, he said with decentralisation, recruitment of health workers into various district hospitals is now the responsibility of the Local Government Service Commission.
“However, MoH is engaging the Local Government Service Commission to fast-track recruitment,” he said.
Local Government Service Commission executive secretary Juvensius Kumpata also told The Nation that the commission is in the process of recruiting several health workers.