Robbers have been terrorising Daeyang Luke Hospital in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, hitting it five times in nine months, Nation on Sunday has learnt.
As a result, thousands of patients who depend on the hospital could be left in the lurch following a threat by the institution’s management to close it owing to security breakdown.
The hospital, which employs about 350 people and provides healthcare services to over 500 people daily, is considering pulling out of the country after suffering five armed robberies in the past nine months.
As a result of the security breakdown, some expatriates who were working at the hospital have already begun leaving the country, the hospital has said.
Sources at the hospital say the robbers have stolen about K5 million (about $12 820) meant for procurement of drugs and other essential supplies and construction projects that Koreans –who run the hospital—have embarked on.
A hospital spokesperson, who declined to be identified, said three people were seriously injured during the fifth robbery when heavily armed robbers attacked the health facility despite having two armed police officers on guard.
“There [were] major injuries to the body, mainly head, which resulted in loss of massive blood. Moreover, these patients are now suffering through severe PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].
“Frightened by such horrid attacks, some of Daeyang’s foreign staff members have already left Malawi, including an American paediatrician and other members are preparing to leave Malawi,” said the spokesperson.
Apart from the hospital, the Koreans also run a nursing college, mother and child healthcare services as well as an HIV and Aids prevention initiative funded by the Korea International Cooperation Agency, Mseche Health Centre and 11 outreach posts in rural areas.
Among other areas, the hospital specialises in kidney haemodialysis, infectious diseases, paediatrics, radiology, general surgery and orthopaedics.
The spokesperson said apart from building Medical, Agricultural and Information Technology College, the hospital was expecting a specialised dental team from the United States and another specialised ophthalmology team to launch a blindness prevention project with surgical equipment from Korea in June.
“However, all of these projects have been temporarily stopped due to security issues.
“Our foreign staff members are taking this very seriously and if our future security is not guaranteed, we have no other choice but to leave this country.
“Moreover, we were in the process of launching new medical projects starting immediately from this April, but all have been temporarily stopped because security cannot be guaranteed to our staff members at this point,” he said.
The hospital has engaged the ministries of Health, Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs as well as the Malawi Police Service to improve the security situation.
Asked if the management suspects some insiders to be part of the conspiracy to rob the hospital, the spokesperson said the staff were trusted family members to the health facility although in recent times suspicions have arisen about some of them.
“We have never doubted our local hospital staff. We have complete trust in our hospital staff members, but recently we had an anonymous tip that one of our staff members has been involved in these attacks. Police are now investigating to see if this accusation is true,” he said.
On its part, the hospital has built a brick wall strengthened with an electrical fence around the premises, fixed with alarms to detect any abnormal movements.
The institution has also strengthened the patrol system which now involves armed police and hospital watchmen.
“Police are completely engaged and supporting us to find these robbers. A suspected robber was caught in the first robbery, but he was set loose on the ground of lack of evidence. Since then, there have been recurring robberies and two watchmen, who were convicted for being involved with the fourth robbery, were sentenced to prison,” he said.
Malawi’s Minister of Health Catherine Gotani Hara on Wednesday said security at the hospital is a concern to government and serious actions have been taken to ensure that the robberies do not happen again.
Gotani Hara said the ministry was informed about the last attack and learnt of previous incidents during a meeting she convened involving Inspector General of Police Lot Dzonzi, officials from her ministry and Foreign Affairs as well as the hospital management.
“We have held a series of meetings and we have assured them of maximum security at their premises. In fact, the Inspector General of Police deployed police officers free of charge to be guarding the premises 24/7,” said Gotani Hara.
National Police deputy public relations officer Kelvin Maigwa confirmed the robberies at the hospital, saying the law enforcers are now providing 24-hour security services at the facility.
“I can hereby confirm that the stated hospital has really been a victim of robberies where a large amount of money intended for drugs procurement was stolen. Some people [including workers at the hospital] have been arrested in connection [with the robberies] while investigations are in progress,” said Maigwa.
To close or not
If the institution closes, people such as Bamusi Chagomba, 52, will feel the pinch.
Chagomba, who lives in Area 24 in the city, developed a strange wound underneath his right foot in May 2012.
He said he waited for the wound to heal, but it did not and last November he went to Kamuzu Central Hospital where doctors promised to help but never did.
By then, he had begun suspecting that he might have cancer, so he braved his unemployed status and left his Area 24 house to seek help at Daeyang.
“The staff here are friendly and the service is quick. They charged me K8 500 to operate on me which I think is not that expensive,” said Chagomba.
Asked what he would do if the hospital closed, Chagomba said he had no idea.
“Stop the robberies now. These people come from outside Malawi to help us, not to make profits. Go steal elsewhere not here,” he charged.