A sigh of relief is the predominant feeling for most patients in public hospitals. The year 2015 is gone with its tears and sorrows.
There were deaths that could have been avoided if patients in public institutions were provided with adequate food and quality healthcare services.
But that could not be.
It was a year to forget for patients who took up other roles of searching food, sometimes begging for alms, just to make sure that the body has enough energy to withstand medication.
For those in the Northern Region, it was a double tragedy. Patients, especially those suffering from cancer, had to seek for specialist medication in private institutions in Blantyre where they had to travel at least two times a month.
George Ngwata, who escaped death by a flicker, is a personification of what it means to live in a region that has no private specialist hospital.
“Death came knocking due to cancer. But no hospital in the Northern Region could treat my condition due to lack of specialists. It was a work of miracle that I survived,” he said.
Ngwata travelled 14 times to and from Blantyre in nine months for treatment that is not available at the Northern Region referral hospital-Mzuzu Central Hospital (MCH).
In the process, he spent over K2.1 million (about $3 235) for treatment at Blantyre Adventist Hospital. Ngwata might have survived the condition, medically known as lymphoma-a cancer of the lymphatic system, but others did not just make it.
In February 2015, Malawi lost a veteran broadcaster Joyce Ng’oma to pancreatic cancer.
Her daughter, Mbachi, says she was forced to remain in Blantyre against her wish to settle in Mzuzu.
“My dream is to settle in Mzuzu. We had a dilemma. Being as her main guardian I couldn’t leave her alone in Blantyre nor take her to Mzuzu. The risks were high considering that there was no cancer care specialist or facilities in Mzuzu,” she says.
Such heart lending cases are a clear example of government’s malaise in providing adequate finances and human resources for health.
Communities in Mzuzu, however, did not sit idle. They mobilised resources to come up with a community owned specialist hospital, Wezi Medical Centre which envisages to be administered as a public-private hospital when completed.
The hospital wants to compliment efforts by the MCH which is grappling with a high vacancy rate of specialist health providers. The referral hospital has about three or four specialists instead of the required 30.
Wezi Medical Centre founder Dr Douglas Lungu said lack of complimentary specialist services in the region has seen people die with conditions that would have been treated.
“This is a very big problem for the Northern Region. We need a private hospital in Mzuzu to support those who can afford to pay and reduce dependency on government services,” he said.
The community targeted to raise K40 million (about $61 620) for the construction of a foundation as funds for structures are earmarked to be provided by an undisclosed donor.
“If constructed, the facility is expected to offer a wide range of secondary services ranging from antenatal services to general clinical care.
“We will also provide specialist services in general surgery, trauma, obstetrics and gynaecology and other specialities,” says Lungu who once served as director of clinical services and chief surgical specialist at MCH.
The challenges in health financing and human resources for health also made big news in various secondary healthcare providers across the region and some parts of the country.
District hospitals in Rumphi, Mzimba, Nkhata Bay and Karonga were the most affected as some patients were reduced into beggars whereas others resorted to taking medication on an empty stomach.
Some of the hospitals, such as Nkhata Bay, suspended outreach programmes to its rural health centres due to lack of funding. The suspension paralysed various services, especially family planning uptake in hard-to-reach areas of Usisya, Ruarwe, Khondowe, among others.
But the Ministry of Health (MoH) was optimistic that such issues will be of the past following its undertakings in reforming the health sector.
MoH director of policy observed that the National Budget is under extreme pressure from other equally competing demands. He said the ministry is undertaking reforms in establishing a health fund to compliment the National Budget in offering quality and effective health services to everyone. n