The continued misunderstanding between the Ministry of Health (MoH) and Medical Consultants Africa Limited (MCA) a supplier of two CT scanners that government procured for Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in Lilongwe and Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (Qech) in Blantyre has forced the ministry to opt for procurement of new CT scanners.
In May 2012, MCA won a government tender to supply two CT machines at a total sum of $1 737 547 (about K1.2 billion). The Ministry of Health paid the supplier for the two machines but only installed one for KCH and the supplier kept the other in its warehouse waiting for construction of a housing room at Qech.
There have also been challenges with fixing the KCH scanner whenever it develops a fault as the supplier, who is also responsible for its maintenance, has not been forthcoming. MCA accuses the ministry of not paying maintenance charges.
As the situation reached a deadlock, patients in Lilongwe are accessing such services at private hospitals such as African Bible College while those in Blantyre are being referred to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.
According to MoH Spokesperson Joshua Malango, procurement of new scanner and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) for Qech is at an advanced staged.
“Another one will be bought for KCH and Mzuzu Central Hospital to enable patients receive necessary treatment within the public hospitals,” he said.
Qech has never had a Computerized Tomography (CT) but relied on the MRI machine whose utility time expired on May 31 2018. It however, stopped functioning last November due to a problem with its air conditioning.
The situation reached crisis levels last December when patients were being sent back from Mwaiwathu Private Hospital due to accumulation of unpaid bills leading to death of a patient who required comprehensive scanning to undergo surgery.
Vice president Saulos Chilima had to bail out the nine patients that were on the waiting list with a donation of K1 million to undergo scanning at Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.
But Malango said the ministry has since paid off the accumulated bills at the private hospital so that Qech continues referring patients there for scanning, “however, as a lasting solution, the ministry has just opted to look for a new supplier”.
In a previous interview, Qech hospital administrator Themba Mhango said in some cases, the hospital relies on digital X-rays which are not as effective as the CT or MRI scans.
Since 2008, Qech has sent over 11 000 patients to undergo scanning at Mwaiwathu Hospital where a plain CT brain scan costs about K81 000 while some patients need one which costs about K129 000. In Lilongwe, patients who can afford are paying about K150 000 for scanning services at private clinics.
Mhango said the ministry has promised his office that the machines will be installed and commissioned in the next eight weeks.
“At the moment, patients are being sent to Mwaiwathu Private hospital,” he confirmed.
However, a top official in the Ministry of Health who did not want to be named, faulted MCA for not having the welfare of poor Malawians at heart by bringing in charges which they did not agree on hence the misunderstandings.
“When construction works on a housing room for the Qech CT scanner was completed, we asked the supplier to take it to Blantyre for installation and commissioning and he started demanding transportation and storage fees of up to three years. This was not in the agreement and it is hard to convince the treasury to release such an amount without justification,” said the source.
He also disclosed that MCA chief executive officer Jonathan Bisnowaty has since taken the ministry, through the Attorney General, to court seeking for a redress on the matter in regard to payment of the accumulated bills.
Last month, Bisnowaty said he had decided to sell the machine meant for Qech to private health facilities to recover up to K250 million as service charges for the machine they already installed and has been servicing at KCH and for storage charges for the one that has been lying in their warehouse.
This was after he gave the ministry up to November 30 2017 to secure a room and enable the company to install the machine.