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Stealing money from sick people

by Raphael Mweninguwe


Malawi’s governmental health facilities are in a crisis and some cannot even afford simple drugs like Paracetamol. Patients are asked to buy drugs from private clinics. The public money that is supposed to go to health care is syphoned off due to mismanagement and corruption.

Difficulties in Malawi’s health sector are escalating while the nation’s debt is growing. The government depends on local and foreign loans. They now amount to the equivalent of $ 3.4 billion, of which $ 1.9 billion is foreign debt. Looking at Malawi’s ailing health system, one wonders where this money is going.

“Malawi has funds to improve our health system, but the problem is that most of this money goes into some people’s pockets,” claims Alex Phiri, a father of three from Karonga district in the northern part of the country. In his eyes, the governments’ priorities are upside down, as money is spent on “useless projects or stolen”.

Karonga district hospital is a governmental health facility – and a patient’s nightmare. At this hospital, hardly any drugs are available. The equipment is not functioning.

As the Malawi News, a local newspaper, reported in February, the Machinga district hospital had no oxygen concentrators and was using substandard tubes, putting patients at risk. Machinga is where Atupele Muluzi, the health minister, is from. According to the newspaper, important referral hospitals such as Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe and Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre did not have enough beds for patients. Most had to sleep on the floor.

Amos Nyaka, the president of the Society for Medical Doctors, maintains that Malawi’s health system is “clogged at the top”. The results are “poor services, overcrowded facilities and overworked medical staff”. According to him, medical malpractices and misdiagnosis are common.

George Jobe, the executive director of the Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN), would like to see more government money invested in tackling health issues nationally. He says it is “sad that some of these loans may have gone into the pockets of unpatriotic people”. Government suppliers often demand exaggerated prices.

Government officials deny that the country’s health system has collapsed. Nonetheless, some officers admit the situation is bad. The country’s rising debt is not helping to improve matters.

Raphael Mweninguwe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.
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