At a time when the country’s central hospitals are experiencing critical challenges such as financial resources and frequent breakdown of equipment, The Nation has learnt that government is denying people access to breast cancer detection equipment and computerised tomography (CT) scan.
The equipment has not been installed for five years.
Ministry of Health (MoH) has admitted there is negligence in the maintenance and use of hospital equipment and that this is worsened by lack of funds and inadequate qualified personnel to carry out maintenance works in all the country’s hospitals.
The Nation has learnt that the Indian government donated four mammogram machines in 2012 which were allocated to the country’s central hospitals—Queen Elizabeth in Blantyre, Zomba, Kamuzu in Lilongwe and Mzuzu.
But two years later, the machines are not available for use at the central hospitals and any Malawian woman requiring services of a mammography—breast cancer detection—has to pay over K25 000 at a private diagnostic facility.
The reason for denying ordinary Malawians the chance to get timely diagnostic testing to detect breast cancer on time is that there are no rooms to house the machines.
MoH spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe confirmed in an interview last week that the machines have been idle since 2012 because they needed special rooms to accommodate them.
He said: “There has been a delay in commissioning the machines because at the time of the donations the rooms to house these machines were not ready to accommodate the machines as the rooms had to meet the manufacturer’s requirements as well as international radiation protection regulations.”
It is only this month that an engineer from India came and completed the first phase of the installation of the machines.
However, the same cannot be said of the CT scan machine which was donated to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in 2010.
A CT scan machine is used to determine the cause of a stroke or to assess serious head injuries, but can also be used to detect abnormalities such as tumours.
Just like the mammogram machines at all the central hospitals, MoH has not finished construction of a room to house the machine, five years down the line.
In the meantime, people seeking CT scan services in the Southern Region have to make use of a machine at a private hospital and a private diagnostics facility at a cost many ordinary Malawians cannot afford.
Apart from delaying to install life-saving machines, maintenance of the machines has been erratic.
At Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH), the government’s failure to renew a service contract with a provider has resulted in the breakdown of X-ray machine film processors for over a year.
Chikumbe confirmed that the ministry delayed in renewing a contract with Lomaen Medical (Pty) Ltd of South Africa.
The challenges with maintaining hospital equipment comes in because the maintenance budget is controlled at the Ministry of Health headquarters.
But Chikumbe says the hospitals also have small maintenance budgets which can be used to pay for minor services of both equipment and infrastructure.
However, KCH hospital director Jonathan Ngoma told The Nation recently that most of the hospital equipment has not been serviced since they were installed.
The ministry says apart from inadequate spare parts and procurement of cheap equipment, the ministry finds it difficult to stock all spare parts because there are too many brands of equipment.
But in the absence of a funding to standardise and buy all necessary equipment for the country’s hospitals, donations continue to pour in but the hospitals don’t know what to do with them.
MazikoMatemba, a health rights activist, expressed concern at the procurement processes of medical equipment, saying it is a sign that policies and guidelines are not being followed to the letter.
“If our hospital mammogram, CT scan and a simple KCH X-ray machine are not in use, where are people assisted? This is against the tenets of right to health and life which has to be respected all the time,” he said.