Veronica Gondwe, 16, from Kashata Village, Traditional Authority Kilupula in Karonga has been sick for a while. Her mother, Maggie, is not sure about taking her to the hospital, but the last time she went to the hospital, there was no medicine.
But since she does not believe in traditional medicine, she has to act quickly on her daughter or she will lose her. So she leaves for Kaporo Health Centre in the district.
This time around, Maggie and her daughter are lucky because after waiting for a few minutes, they get treatment.
“This is good. In the past, we were told that there were no drugs at the hospital and that if we needed some, we should buy from pharmacies. This was unfair to some of us who could not afford,” Maggie says.
Charles Mhone, a clinical officer at the health centre, says drugs are now in stock at the hospital since donors started providing medical supplies to Malawi last year when the shortage of drugs reached a critical situation.
The governments of United Kingdom, Norway and Germany gave the Malawi Government a grant of $33 million for the procurement of essential medicines and supplies.
“Of course, we used to have drug shortages, but with the donation of the medical kits, the situation has improved as many drugs are supplied on time,” says Mhone.
United Nations Children‘s Fund (Unicef) is procuring the medical kits for government and Christian Hospitals Association of Malawi (Cham) health centres. United States of America for International Development (USAid), through JSI Deliver, is involved in distribution.
“The assistance was provided in response to a request from the Government of Malawi for support to address widespread shortages of essential drugs in health centres and to ensure that the downward trend in morbidity and mortality among children and pregnant women is maintained.
“The project is also intended to prevent the health gains Malawi has made in recent years from being undermined by the unavailability of essential medicines and supplies in its primary healthcare facilities,” said one statement which announced the distribution of drugs to various hospitals.
Some of the essential drugs that are supplied include Panado, Bactrim and malarial tablets. Kaporo Health Centre is, however, relieved with the supply.
“Since we started getting the emergency kits, we have never sent a patient home due to shortage of drugs. And we are happy with the steady and reliable supply because drugs come in time,” said Mhone.
Despite the development, there is a concern about theft of drugs. Some pharmacists have been caught with stolen drugs and this has been cause for worry among donors and Malawians.
Mhone said the hospital has put in place safety and control measures, and that the community is involved.
“There is a Health Centre Advisory Committee which is informed the moment drugs arrive,” he said.
Oliver Msowoya, a member of the advisory committee, admitted that his committee knows whatever is happening concerning drugs.
“When the drugs arrive, hospital officials inform us. There is transparency,” said Msowoya, who admitted that the system has brought confidence among people in the hospital’s catchment area.
The story is the same at several hospitals journalists visited during a recent media tour organised by ministries of Information and Health, with assistance from Unicef.
The visited health facilities included Karonga District Hospital and Nyungwe Health Centre in Karonga; Rumphi District Hospital, Lura and Mhuju health centres in Rumphi and Nkhata Bay District Hospital and Chintheche Rural Hospital in Nkhata Bay.
Grayson Kumwenda, a clinical officer at Chintheche Health Centre said he wishes there were some change in the quantity of some drugs supplied.
“The only problem with medical kits is that the same types of drugs are supplied monthly. There are some drugs that are needed most, but come in small quantities, while others are not needed much, but we get the same amount every month. I wish there were some change,” he said.
Newton Sichali, officer-in-charge for Mhuju Health Centre suggested to donors to include pill packs in the kits.
“The medicines might be good, but we lack pill packs. The drugs then become contaminated,” said Sichali.
Milca Chimbanga, communication for development programme coordinator in the Ministry of Information said the media tour was organised to help the media appreciate the impact of medical kits after the recent drug shortages in some hospitals across the country.
There is one general concern though—the medical kits programme winds up in June.
“We pray that government finds a way to ensure the supply of drugs continues because it is painful for us to lose patients to treatable diseases,” said Grayson Kumwenda of Chintheche rural hospital.