Vice-President Saulos Chilima has come to the rescue of the ailing Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (Qech) Neurosurgeon Project Unit by donating K1 million yesterday.
The VP’s donation followed an appeal for help by neurosurgeon Patrick Kamalo on the lack of a CT Scan and MRI machines at the country’s main referral hospital, a situation the doctor described as a crisis.
In an interview yesterday, the doctor said he lost one patient in his ward while nine others were still waiting to undergo scanning.
While he could not specify when the Computerised Tomography (CT) malfunctioned, Kamalo said the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) stopped working two weeks ago due to a problem with its air conditioning.
Qech had been referring patients to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital for scanning but, according to Kamalo, the referral hospital’s account at Mwaiwathu has since been closed due to accumulation of unpaid bills.
The neurosurgeon sounded an SOS, urging well-wishers to donate towards the purchase of the CT Scan and MRI machines to help the stranded patients.
He said: “Now I am stuck with patients whose survival depends on whether they will get a scan or not. Some of these are road accident victims, others are children. A few patients have been paying for themselves but obviously most can’t. Any help to save these lives will be appreciated.”
But later yesterday, Kamalo issued a letter of thanks, acknowledging Chilima’s quick response to his appeal for support for the Neurosurgeon Unit.
Reads the letter in part: “The Neurosurgery Unit at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital would like to thank you the Right Honourable Vice-President for the timely response to the social media appeal aimed at raising funds to facilitate urgent CT brain scans at Mwaiwathu Private Hospital for patients with different brain conditions who have been waiting for brain scans in our unit…
“With your contribution of K1 million, we will be able to scan all nine patients who are currently waiting in our unit, and we will have reserve to scan one more emergency patient…”
The letter dated December 5 2018, is addressed to the Office of the Vice-President and copied to Qech director Dr Gonani.
According to Kamalo, a plain CT brain scan costs about K81 000 at Mwaiwathu “while some need one which costs about K129 000”.
He said: “Officially, there is no working MRI at Queens. It expired its utility time on 31st May 2018. So although it was functioning, it was decommissioned so we can’t rely on it.”
Qech hospital administrator Themba Mhango said following the breakdown of the scans, the hospital is now relying on digital X-rays which are not as effective as the CT or MRI scans.
He said since 2008, Qech has sent about 11 000 patients to undergo MRI at Mwaiwathu Hospital but could not give the actual amount that the latter is owed.
Said Mhango: “There is a service level agreement between Mwaiwathu Hospital and the Ministry of Health that central hospitals can refer patients there for continued medical care. MoH had agreed to pay medical bills for all referred patients from government facilities.”
He said the arrangement was made because currently there is no public hospital with a functioning CT and MRI machines in the country.
Mhango clarified that the bills at Mwaiwathu Private Hospital accumulate from all central hospitals.
“But Qech has to continue providing patient care within the resources that we have, in essence, we are lying on digital X-rays,” explained Mhango.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango said the ministry is aware of the problem and is working to fix it.
He said: “The ministry is working tirelessly with its partners to fix the problem and also ensure that Qech has its own brand new MRI and CT scans. The procurement process is at an advanced stage.
“In the meantime, we are working tirelessly to have the air conditioner [for the MRI scan] fixed.”
Health rights activist Maziko Matemba in an interview yesterday described the development as unfortunate, calling on government to act swiftly to avoid further loss of lives.