Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume has warned district health offices (DHOs) against abuse of ambulances at hospitals.
The minister issued the warning on Friday after receiving 15 ambulances from the government of the United States of America (USA) which will be deployed to five districts.
The donation has come through the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health programme run by US Agency for International Development (USAid) in Malawi and comprises 15 motor vehicle ambulances, 162 bicycle ambulances and eight motorcycle ambulances.
Speaking at the handover ceremony in Lilongwe where a selected number of the DHOs were present, Kumpalume said he was aware that some ambulances are used to ferry goods and transport workers to social places instead of the core duty of referrals from health centres to district hospitals.
He said he would continue to monitor the fuel expenditure of ambulances and other utility vehicles at district hospitals to see whether they correspond to the trips and referrals made in each month.
“There are a lot of inefficiencies in the way resources are used at district health offices. Ambulances should be for patients and not other uses. In 2016, we are not going to look at these issues kindly,” said Kumpalume.
The minister also asked DHOs to revise their budgets and find additional resources for the running of the new ambulances as the costs were not factored in the 2015/16 budget.
He attributed a poor referral system due to lack of reliable transport in hard-to-reach areas as one factor contributing to high maternal and child mortality.
US Embassy charge d’affaires Michael Gonzales said while Malawi had made significant progress in reducing maternal and child mortality over the years, deaths of women from pregnancy-related complications and deaths of babies from infections were still occurring.
He said with additional ambulances, mothers and babies would receive the care they needed faster.
The ambulances have been distributed to Lilongwe Rural, Balaka, Machinga, Mangochi and Nsanje.