Ministry of Health (MoH) has suspended 28 of its personnel from various public health facilities nationwide for various misconducts, including rape and theft of drugs.
The move comes barely two months after The Nation revealed that the ministry in December last year sent on forced leave 63 workers and put them under probe on suspicion that they embezzled funds from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC).
According to documents The Nation has seen, those suspended range from Grade I to Grade P and worked from various district health offices (DHOs).
A memo dated January 29 2016, addressed to Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume from the ministry’s human resource management officer Alex Makananje, reads: “I have the honour, sir, to submit a list of outstanding theft cases in the Ministry of Health as per our discussions of yesterday, 28th January 2016. In summary, 26 are theft cases and two are rape cases.”
Confirming the development in an interview yesterday, Kumpalume said the suspensions were in the best interest of the country and aimed at improving quality of health care services.
“I don’t think the ministry is inventing anything new in all this. It is standard procedure in the civil service. Actually, the regulations here stipulate that suspects deserve suspension without pay until proven innocent. As such, it is a no brainer for some sectors of the public to cry foul over those implicated now. If you ask me, this was a risk worth taking, and we will not relent,” he said.
He explained that while the move could reduce the already low numbers of medical practitioners in the public health system, the decision was necessary to send strong signals that government is serious about stopping fraud and unethical behaviour.
“Yes, the move could bring several implications to the country’s health service delivery, including reduced or no services in some health facilities owing to the suspensions. But we are talking of thousands of lives here in over 10 hospitals; all due to the greed of some few individuals. It may be two or three people doing this, but the consequences are just too much to ignore. Many innocent people would suffer. We needed to act, and we [have taken action]. In my opinion, this was a lesser evil and I back the ministry all the way.”
The documents containing names of the suspended workers have finer details of the cases in question, including identities and duty stations of those implicated, who include a principal secretary from the ministry headquarters and four other senior accounts officers at two of the major referral health facilities in the country.
The rest are medical assistants, security guards, laundry attendants, pharmacy technicians and hospital [ward] attendants.
The documents also attested to the fact that all those implicated have been indicted, with their cases already filed in court for prosecutions.
The two rape suspects are a medical assistant and a health surveillance assistant (HSA), both of whom worked for a DHO in the Southern Region.
While the medical assistant is being accused of defiling a 16-year-old girl who went for medical attention, the latter is said to have fondled private parts of a pregnant woman who had gone for antenatal counselling.
The ministry’s tough stance comes on the backdrop of threats by donors to pull out aid towards the health sector if government did not act against increasing fraud, especially involving drugs. Kumpalume is on record as having said last year, that on average, a third of the government drug budget is stolen every year. The ministry’s drug budget currently stands at K17 billion ($23.1 million).
When The Nation first broke news of last December’s disciplinary measures against the 63 MoH workers, United States Ambassador to Malawi Virginia Palmer—whose government supports 90 percent of the budget for malaria drugs in the country—demanded that the culprits be held accountable for their actions.