When you see a beautiful building beside Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), down the Malaria Project in Blantyre, what goes in most of our minds is that the hospital is improving with beautiful structures.
Few people would know that there are expensive machines inside this well-decorated building that are not meant for the poor. More than five times, I have passed through this structure and did not know what services exactly are provided in this building.
So on this particular day, I decided to branch off to this facility and read the signpost: “Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Centre”. To my surprise, I realised that this is one of the most expensive health facilities I have ever come across in the country.
Briefly, MRI is a very highly technological machine that supersedes all scanning machines. It is used for ultrasound and CT scans, among other things. In Malawi, there is only one machine which is privately managed by the University of Malawi’s College of Medicine (CoM).
With MRI, you are assured of quality results of brain scan, chest scan and cancer, among others. Most patients who are recommended to use this facility have or are suspected to have cancer, seizures or other brain disorders or accident injuries.
When I enquired about the charges of the services that the health facility offers, I was shocked to get a quote of K200 000 (about $476). As if this were not bad enough, I was told that the Medical Aid Society of Malawi (Masm), a medical scheme which most of us subscribe to and rely on, can only cover only a percentage of the first K110 000 (about $261), which is K88 000 (about $209) if you are fortunate enough to be on VIP scheme. All these costs are being charged for services offered at a structure lying next to QECH, a government facility that offers free medical treatment. Again, next to this high-class building is a drain full of trash that stinks, but at the same time, is always surrounded by guardians of patients in the hospital, looking for a little sunshine.
Sadly, very few people can afford to pay the K200 000 for the MRI services. Mind you, this cost covers one scan, so if you need more than one, like brain and chest, prepare to pay K400 000 (about $952). No wonder, others call the MRI Centre “a facility for the rich”.
My question is, does this mean that those people in authority are not aware of this? If they are, where are our priorities?
This facility is needed by many citizens, including the poor, but why should those in high offices not prioritise on making it affordable even to the poorest of the poor. There is no justification at all that those that cannot manage to pay should be helpless. Even government were to help a few, my question would still be: How many are referred for the scan and what percentage of those get support from government?
In most cases, the hospital will refer the poor at critical stages which are usually too late to save. As a result, some people die because of delayed treatment. Sadly, to me, this type of death falls into the category of deaths caused by negligence. What are our priorities as a nation?
My opinion is that the State should prioritise the poor by securing four to five of these facilities, spread them out across the country, and provide the services at a subsidised cost of around K10 000 (about $23). With the current price, not many people can benefit from it. It would also be important that government trains personnel that can operate and read these sophisticated machines. How can the whole nation, with about 15 million people, have only five qualified operators of the machine and only one reader/interpreter?.
It could also be good for the corporate world to assist government in subsidising the cost and purchasing additional MRI scans.
Government needs to prioritise MRI, the same way it does with HIV and Aids, climate change and the Farm Input Subsidy Programme. The truth is that more Malawians need MRI services than we can imagine.
—The author likes to comment on social issues.