Surgeries are erratic at Malawi’s major referral hospital, Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), leading to an average number of 20 patients in a month missing surgical treatment.
More than five patients were declared inoperable in the last four months having missed operations due to lack of cidex and gauze which are critical for a surgical operation.
QECH chief hospital administrator, Themba Mhango, confirmed the erratic supply of cidex solution and gauze during the past four months, but he could not give the exact number of affected patients.
“In general, there have been erratic medical supplies, including gauze and cidex solution for the obvious reason that Central Medical Stores Trust did not have the said items in stock during the period in question.
“We managed to source cidex solution from private suppliers after realising the one we had in stock had expired,” said Mhango in an interview two weeks ago.
A surgeon at QECH confided last month that for the past four months, surgeries have been erratic such that surgeons and patients hardly know whether an operation would take place as scheduled.
The doctor said an operation is not possible without gauze, which controls bleeding and cidex which is used for sterilising equipment.
“Surgical operations that suffer include breast cancer, co-genital abnormalities in children, emergencies, bowel obstructions, bone fractures and injuries in emergencies. There was a time we did not clean patients’ wounds for two consecutive days due to lack of gauze,” he said.
The doctor said on average, the hospital has 40 surgical cases in a month.
“Over five patients were declared inoperable some months ago because their conditions turned worse after missing operations…This hospital is the centre of excellence in Malawi. If things fail here, where do people go?
“To make matters worse, the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where we refer patients after surgery has no space and the equipment there is mostly not working,” the doctor said.
He said management has on several occasions raised an alarm to the Ministry of Health to no avail.
“The attitude of the big people at the ministry is like that of politicians. They think of themselves first instead of thinking about patients,” the doctor said.
But Mhango said the hospital has not experienced a significant divergence in the number of patients undergoing surgical operations.
“For the past two years, our theatre operations decline in the months of January and December because of the festive season and all elective operations are suspended and attention is paid to emergencies or rather life- threatening conditions.
“This should not be misinterpreted as it is a theatre management decision to give priority to emergencies while able bodied patients who can walk in for an operation are re-booked to another date when the theatres operate in full capacity,” he said.
Mhango also confirmed the shortage of insulin for diabetes patients and the failure by patients from theatres to use the ICU due to inadequate space.
He said: “Shortage of insulin for diabetic patients had been a national logistical problem…Management is aware of the inadequate space in the ICU, and in our Hospital Strategic Plan 2012 -2016, we intended to extend the building from the central level for capital investments.”