Media watchdog Misa Malawi has faulted the ministry of health’s for issuing a blanket ban to its public hospital spokespersons commenting on drug crisis in the country, saying the as retrogressive in the wake of advocacy to have access to information legislation.
The medicine scarcity has reached unprecedented levels in public hospitals.
This means journalists seeking information on the drug shortage will need to talk to the ministry headquarters in Lilongwe.
Misa Malawi) Chairperson Thom Khanje said the ministry already did a good job by introducing spokespersons at district hospitals and gagging them was like discrediting itself.
“They should find a better way of improving their communication. Perhaps they should learn from the Malawi Police Service which has PROs at district level and they are operating very well. Otherwise, the ministry is defeating decentralisation if it demands that their PROs should always liaise with the National PRO on health issues,” said Khanje.
On social-media Facebook, many condemned the gagging order.
Hastings Jimani, a Zodiak radio reporter, mocked the decision, saying he was walking from Mulanje to Capital Hill in Lilongwe just to get information about Mulanje Hospital.
The ministry is warning the spokespersons that disciplinary action would be taken against those who disregard the order.
The order – contained in a memo titled, ‘Reminder on communication with the media’ written by the ministry’s Principal Secretary MacPhail Magwira on October 19 2015 – came just hours after civil society leaders marched in peaceful protests in Liongwe to force government improve dwindling health services in public hospitals.
National Secretary for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), Chris Chisoni, also expressed disapproval with the order, saying gagging the PROs is not in tandem with freedom of expression.
Apart from drug shortages, there is critical shortage of health personnel in most hospitals yet the government withdrew appointemt letters of nearly 300 nurses, citing lack of money.
The ministry says it has decided to gag the hospital spokespersons because some of them gave out wrong information to the public that brought anxiety among people.
The country is facing a huge economic crisis that has forced President Peter Mutharika cancel an important summit in India.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :