Walk-in interviews for various posts in the Ministry of Health (MoH) turned ugly yesterday as desperate job seekers jostled to make their way at some venues and left 118 injured in the ensuing stampede.
During an exercise that exposed the levels of unemployment in the country, desperate job seekers travelled to their respective district centres nationwide to try their luck.
MoH is seeking to employ 2 000 cadres nationwide for posts such as hospital ward clerks, catering assistants, laundry assistants, disease control and surveillance assistants, rehabilitation assistants and health surveillance assistants (HSAs) to beef up personnel to fight the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
However, the situation turned nasty at Katoto Secondary School in Mzuzu where the job seekers jostled to make their way in with some seen jumping over the fence.
In the course of the stampede, 118 of the job seekers sustained various degrees of injuries and were rushed to Mzuzu Central Hospital for treatment.
Mzuzu Central Hospital spokesperson Dr. Arnold Kayira said the facility received over 80 patients at its emergency centre, but many of them were treated as outpatients.
He said: “Some will have to go to the theatre to have their wounds worked on while others require X-ray. So, we have a few, about 20 who may be admitted just for secondary review. But many are stable.”
In a separate interview, MoH chief of health services Dr. Charles Mwansambo regretted the situation and admitted that the ministry underestimated the number of people who would be looking for employment.
He said: “There was an underestimate on the people who would come. Next time it should be the normal procedure where you advertise and shortlist.
“For the various cadres, we are looking for up to 2 000 people and in this case, it was for every district council to hold the interviews with the thinking that they would not be enough people to scramble.”
Mwansambo said the ministry was yet to get details from other centres, but confirmed that 118 got injured in Mzuzu.
At College of Medicine Sports Complex, venue of the walk-in interviews in Blantyre, the situation was normal before people started scrambling for forms to get access to the interview rooms.
The situation got out of hand to the extent that police had to use tear gas to manage the crowd. However, there were no casualties.
The process in Blantyre was slow such that by 3pm, it had not yet started to the disappointment of the job seekers, some of whom had arrived at the venue as early as 6am, braving the chilly weather.
In an interview, Mavuto Sitima, who works at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), said he opted to join the job seekers as he has been working as a hospital attendant for 20 years without promotion.
On her part, Brenda Katungwe, a woman with physical disability, said she was disappointed that officials never assisted her in getting the forms.
In Lilongwe, there were also chaotic scenes at Kamuzu College of Nursing campus—the venue of the interviews—as candidates pushed to be the first to enter the interview rooms.
Enosi Kausiwa, from Mitundu area in Lilongwe Rural, who has been job hunting for five years, said he was disappointed with the anarchy that characterised the interviews.
“I initially had hope that my opportune time had come when I saw the advert inviting suitable candidates for these interviews. But I have failed to even collect a form for registration for the interview,” said the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) holder.
In an interview on the sidelines of the chaos in Mzuzu, one of the job seekers, Albert Ngolombe, a Bunda College of Agriculture graduate in Food Science and Technology and was applying for the post of disease control and surveillance assistant, said the venue was filled by 8.30am. He said officials were nowhere to be seen at the appointed time to start the interview; hence, the impatient candidates forced their way in.
Spotchecks in Zomba, Mangochi and Nkhotakota revealed that while there was fracas in the morning due to delays to open access to the venues, the processes went on smoothly during the day.
Meanwhile, MoH has come under fire from various stakeholders, including Society of Medical Doctors (SMD) and Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU), over the handling of the recruitment exercise.
In a telephone interview, SMD president Victor Mithi asked the ministry to suspend the exercise.
He said: “As a professional body, we work hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Health but we were surprised that they went ahead without consulting us.
“Looking at the rate of unemployment in the country, this was a predictable situation. Worse still, no precautionary measures of Covid-19 were even followed.”
Mithi said they will engage the ministry on the matter to map the way forward.
On his part, Physicians Assistants Union of Malawi (Paum) chairperson Dr. Solomon Chomba, who also helped the patients at Mzuzu Central Hospital, wondered why government failed to employ crowd control measures amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said: “This negligence has put the lives of most innocent Malawi youths at the risk of getting infected with Covid-19 which could have been avoided if proper measures were incorporated in this interview. This is a bad day and a shame to our country.”
MCTU secretary general Denis Kalekeni also condemned the manner in which the interviews were being held.
He said: “The manner in which Ministry of Health is conducting the so-called interviews is unprofessional and unacceptable as it puts the lives of the job seekers not only at risk of being injured or losing lives, but also contracting the coronavirus which the same Ministry of Health is purportedly leading in preventing its spread.”
Youth-Decide Campaign team leader Charles Kajoloweka said the situation also denied vulnerable groups such as young persons with disability and young women an opportunity to be employed.
MoH spokesperson Joshua Malango said 2 000 front-line health workers were already recruited and that the new interviews are specifically for 2 000 more support staff.
President Peter Mutharika said the health workers will be recruited as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Malawi is also getting support from The Global Fund grant.
The HSAs offer primary healthcare as they provide promotive and preventive health care through door-to-door visitations, village and mobile clinics.
MoH has an estimated 23 188 workforce against 42 309 established positions, representing a vacancy rate of 45 percent.