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Specialised treatment for poor patients

by Raphael Mweninguwe


Traffic accidents are common in Malawi, and many people get injured. A new hospital specialised in orthopaedics and neurosurgery is expected to make a difference, but serious gaps will remain.

According to the Ministry of Health, Malawi registers about an annual 6,000 road-traffic deaths, and the statics show that the situation is getting worse. Currently, an estimated 100,000 Malawians per year need treatment for road traffic injuries, but the country does not have enough doctors and hospitals.

Andrew Mwangana, a father of two, knows what this means. He was in a minibus on a long-distance trip in November last year. The minibus overturned, killing three people on the spot. Mwangana survived the accident, but he would have needed orthopaedic treatment for his injuries. He did not get the treatment. Malawi’s state-run health-care system only has two specialised neurosurgeons – one in Lilongwe, the country’s political capital city, and the other one in Blantyre, its commercial centre. Mwangana could not be checked by either of them, nor could he afford private health care

Mwangana is now out of the hospital, but his hip problem has become permanent. He considers him lucky nonetheless, pointing out that “many people remain completely disabled after an accident, mainly because they did not get adequate orthopaedic services”.

The Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in Lilongwe is the biggest referral hospital in the central region of the country. It receives about 80 patients per day who need orthopaedic services. Per year, that adds up to almost 30,000 people. However, Atupele Muluzi, the health minister, admits that KCH “can only treat about 4,000 road accidents victims each year.”

At present, construction work worth  $ 24 million is going on at the KCH. The promise is that a modern clinic will soon offer much needed free bone and nerve surgeries. The project is funded by a number of partners who include the Government of Norway, Alliance Foundation and New Zealand’s Auckland University. The new facility at KCH in Lilongwe is expected to provide orthopaedic services that, so far, many Malawians only get at a private hospital in Blantyre.

KCH director Jonathan Ngoma says the replacement of a patient’s hip costs around $ 8,000. Most patients cannot afford private treatment. Moreover, the distance between Lilongwe and Blantyre is 300 kilometres, so there are logistical challenges on top of the financial ones.

Raphael Mweninguwe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.

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