Medical Council of Malawi declared medical facilities at Kamuzu Palace “substandard” four months before president Bingu wa Mutharika collapsed and died on April 5 2012.
MCM registrar Abel Kawonga said in an interview Tuesday the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) ignored advice to replace obsolete medical equipment at the palace and Kamuzu Barracks after the council’s assessment showed that they were not fit to handle emergencies.
“In November 2011, we conducted an inspection of health facilities at [Kamuzu Palace] and Kamuzu Barracks and found that the facilities were substandard. Both facilities had obsolete equipment and we recommended that the equipment should be replaced.
“We recommended to government that the facilities be upgraded immediately,” Kawonga said.
He said the recommendations were submitted to the office of former chief secretary to government Bright Msaka, Mutharika’s personal physician Dr. Dan Namarika and Kamuzu Barracks, “but the authorities did not act on them”.
He said the council included Kamuzu Barracks in its recommendations because the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) medical facility is nearest to Kamuzu Palace.
“If the military medical facility was well equipped, the president could have been taken there because the distance is very short from State House. We also recommended the military facility because there is more discipline at the barracks. If he was taken to the barracks, we wouldn’t have had the rumour-mongering. Everything could have been done officially,” Kawonga said.
He said the council was optimistic government would now see the need to improve medical facilities at the two sites, saying there was enough time for government to implement the council’s recommendations before Mutharika’s death.
Asked whether Mutharika’s life would have been saved if the recommendations were fully implemented, Kawonga said: “You can never tell. Maybe it would have been difficult, but it’s better not to be taken unawares.”
‘I discussed recommendations with authorities’
In an interview on Thursday, Namarika admitted receiving the recommendations from the council, saying he discussed the same with authorities at Kamuzu Palace.
“When I got the recommendations, I discussed them with other people. What you should know is that [Kamuzu Palace] has its own way of doing things,” Namarika said.
He could not elaborate, saying he was restrained by oath.
“I would want to preserve the dignity of State House.”
“There are some sensitive issues which I don’t have to discuss in the media, especially those related to the environment of the President. Should we become so unprofessional to forget that we took an oath?”
When he appeared before the Commission of Inquiry into the death of Mutharika, Namarika is said to have told the commission that Mutharika had up-to-standard medical facilities.
Reads part of the report: “It was in evidence during the inquiry that the late President had adequate medical equipment to cater for any eventuality of a medical emergency. This equipment did not belong to government as it was personally bought by the President in Germany during one of his visits to that country.
“The personal physician explained to the commission that he personally guided the President on what to buy and the President paid for it with his own money. This equipment was always in the custody of the President’s personal physician and he took it with him everywhere he went with the President.”
Presidential press secretary Steven Nhlane said no one in State House management is aware that MCM made recommendations to State House to improve medical facilities.
“Perhaps the former presidential physician was approached, but the same was not communicated to management. State House has made efforts to improve medical facilities for its staff and this is an ongoing project,” he said.
MDF spokesperson Captain Frank Kayanula said according to their standards, all facilities at Kamuzu Barracks military health facility are up to date to handle any emergencies.
“We have not had any problems with Kamuzu Barracks medical facilities. It’s Cobbe Barracks [in Zomba] which had problems with its medical facilities and not Kamuzu Barracks,” said Kayanula.
However, the commission’s report has also recommended that government should construct a presidential medical facility at Kamuzu Barracks, saying the facility should be equipped with top-of-the-range medical equipment dedicated to handle the President’s illness and death just like in other countries.
Ministry of Health public relations officer Henry Chimbali on Thursday referred Weekend Nation to OPC for comment on why government ignored MCM recommendations to improve medical facilities at Kamuzu Palace and Kamuzu Barracks.
However, both the new Chief Secretary to Government Hawa Ndilowe and her deputy Willie Samute could not be reached on Thursday. OPC’s principal secretary for administration Clement Chinthu Phiri was said to be in meetings.
Meanwhile, Namarika is expected to appear before the council’s disciplinary committee to answer disciplinary charges on negligence on the manner in which he handled Mutharika after he collapsed at State House.