If district hospitals are meant to help reduce pressure on referral hospitals and help those who cannot afford paying in private hospitals, then Mchinji District Hospital must be redefined, it is surely not among them.
It has become a rendezvous for patients where they are just given referral letters to private, especially mission hospitals, in the district or Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe.
People from such remote areas in Mchinji as Mkanda, Gomani, Chimpeja and Mumba, among others, whose disposable income is very low, cannot undergo theatre operations, laboratory tests and blood transfusion at the facility because it no longer offers such services.
Those requiring laboratory tests are referred to private hospitals like St Gabriel and Kapiri Mission Hospital in the district where they pay a lot for services and transport, while those requiring surgical operations are referred to Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe.
For instance, at Kapiri Mission Hospital, it costs a patient a minimum of K500 for laboratory test, K1 200 ($2) for a bed per night and about K2 400 ($5) for transport from Mchinji boma, excluding food costs. It costs even more if patients travel to Lilongwe.
In very brief responses to a questionnaire on Tuesday, Mchinji District Health Officer, Chimwemwe Banda, confirmed the sad situation, and said the matter was reported to authorities at Ministry of Health.
“Theater operations are currently on and off because of three main reasons: intermittent and low pressure water supply: hospital autoclave unable to sterilize enough equipment against the workload and on and off electricity supply,” he said.
Banda disclosed that the hospital has no fully functional generator, a situation which poses greater risk to patients should electricity go off in the course of an operation.
He also decried the unavailability of some crucial pre-operative supplies and reagents—items used when testing blood, body fluids and tissues in the laboratory as well as injectable drugs like antibiotics.
The hospital’s Radiography—where X-ray is used to view the internal structure of a non-uniformly composed and opaque object such as the human body, has also been on and off for about three years now, and Banda said the matter was already reported to authorities.
“All these result in high operational costs, nil to low quality service delivery and pressure on other cost centres, like Kamuzu Central Hospital,” he said.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe admitted in an interview on Wednesday that the ministry was aware of the problem, saying most hospital equipment have outlived their lifespan.
Said Chikumbe; “We are aware of the problems as a ministry, not just at Mchinji hospital, but also in other districts. Most of these equipment have outlived their lifespan and government is trying to rectify the situation by procuring new equipment.
“One other thing is we want to standardise equipment in the hospitals so that we have uniform suppliers. This means hospitals will have the same kind of equipment.”
However, Chikumbe was coy on when government will procure such equipment, citing financial availability as a determining factor.
“About the equipment needed at Mchinji Hospital, that I will have to check first. But in general, as much as we would want to procure the machines, we are hampered by low funding and that holds us back,” he said.
Malawi Government is struggling to implement the so-called zero-aid budget after the majority of its traditional donors suspended direct budget aid over rampant corruption and as result severe cuts are being meted out to crucial social services, including hospitals.
Several hospitals are in a crisis, failing to buy ambulance fuel, unable to procure enough essential drugs, among other shortfalls that have exposed the extent of the crisis despite government protestations.
The Minister of Health recently addressed a press briefing to dispel fears of a crisis, but continued incidents such as the scaling down of meals will do little to instil public confidence.