Off the wall of Taweni Gondwe Xaba: Malawi deaths which could be prevented

My late step mum, Peliyawezi NyaChipeta Gondwe, was allergic to Quinine (anti-malarial medication). Although this was clearly stated on her chart, a medical assistant at the Mchinji Hospital, in his own wisdom, decided to administer this to her “because this is the medication we use to treat malaria.” So she died. My father was a wreck.

Almost six years later, her one and only child, my little sister Faith Juliet Gondwe, caught pneumonia in the freezing Mzuzu hills. The nurse at Mzuzu Central Hospital told her to “stop complaining like a baby, the pain killers will work just now” and (mis)diagnosed asthma based on the shortness of breath.

A medical assistant nearby suggested an x-ray… but the equipment in radiology was not working. So Faith was sent home with an inhaler instead of an anti-biotic. Several times they returned to the hospital as she was still in excruciating pain. They kept sending her home. On the fourth night she died in my father’s arms. Need I find a descriptor for Dad’s state of mind?

Yesterday afternoon, Dad fetched his younger brother, Douglas, from our village and took him to Mzuzu Central hospital (no options after hours in Mzuzu). His legs were swollen and he hadn’t been eating so he was very weak. In the emergency room, the nurse told the doctor she couldn’t fetch the oxygen machine as she was still busy eating. She would put the drip in when she was done. Uncle was still alert at this time. But the Doctor was alone and the ER was full so he asked Dad to take Uncle D to the ward where there were more hands on deck. By the time he got there, he barely registered a pulse. While the doctor rushed to get oxygen, Uncle asked Dad to take him to the bathroom but once there he couldn’t get out of the wheelchair or respond. Another one died in dad’s arms. Out of nine siblings, he now has only two left.

A few years ago a friend’s mum had severe constipation. The staff at the expensive private hospital (Blantyre Adventist Hospital) managed to perforate her colon doing a simple enema. She died from the resulting complications.

The worst part of this is that my stories are not unique. I have many many friends who can speak of having witnessed or suffered similar tragedies.

As if to put the cherry on top of this grotesque inedible cake of life in the Warm Heart of Africa, Kamuzu Central Hospital even managed to lose us a sitting Head of State, Dr Bingu Wa Mutharika – the most shocking of our nation’s losses. This is not a system in trouble. This is a system that has collapsed. Until we acknowledge this reality, we will continue to put a band-aid on the situation when deep surgery is what is really needed. Who else must die to convince us of this?

Needless and avoidable deaths are the order of the day. Facebook posts are full of such statuses. Citizens in the rural areas have to travel for miles just to get to a health centre or clinic. Sometimes one wonders why they bother because, in many areas, the hospital is just a building, nothing more. Our hospitals are plagued by blackouts, water shortages, staff shortages, medication shortages, malfunctioning equipment, specialist shortages etc. District Health Officers are drowning under the pressure of providing basic meals to patients, let alone treatment. Nurses and medical assistants are overworked and underpaid… and, in many cases, undertrained.

Every time my parents mention that they have a headache, my blood pressure rises. I panic. I start to think how quickly we can evacuate them to SA for treatment in case it gets serious. But why should we depend on the functioning systems of other nations???

Is this it? Is this what we have been reduced to? Dying like flies? Yes we may wear the disgraceful label of being the poorest country in the world… but does this have to be synonymous with poverty of initiative? Are we Malawians really going to resign ourselves to this fate? When do we say enough of our family members have died for ridiculous reasons and start demanding some answers from our leaders? When do we start demanding a clear plan of action? Do we need a fancy stadium or functional hospitals? What are our parliamentarians debating in the house? Are we aware? What is the status on recovering some of the stolen cash gate funds? Is this being prioritised? Shouldn’t we be inundating our MPs with letters of demand regarding the healthcare facilities in each of our districts? Can we not get organised as citizens??? Are we aware of the power we have? Do we even know or accept that they are employed by us and must deliver not only on their promises but to our aspirations too?

Next time you vote, think of the local clinic or healthcare centre that your family in the village have to depend on for their survival. Human life is cheap in Malawi. The wealthy get to escape to hospitals outside the country while the poor, the mass of voters, have to accept crumbs… paracetamol for cancer being the worst I know of. Not to start a revolution or anything… but the rural poor need to be informed, educated and empowered to become more demanding of government to deliver quality healthcare for all. There is need to demonstrate the direct link between the realities that people live and the votes they cast.

Death is the final end of us all. I accept that. I even embrace it. But there IS such a thing as dying BEFORE your time where negligence and malpractice are concerned. The number of Malawians dying before their time is too damn high. It is abnormal and we call it fate. It is malpractice and we call it witchcraft. It is unacceptable and we call it the will of God. These are lies from the very pit of hell. We need to wake up. Or we will die in our “sleep.”

  • This was posted on Taweni Gondwe Xaba’s Facebook wall
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26 thoughts on “Off the wall of Taweni Gondwe Xaba: Malawi deaths which could be prevented”

  1. keps says:

    we have well developed standards in medical field in malawi, easy to follow yet we do not. the patient also has a role to play in medicine, presenting early to health facilities, clear state their problems, follow their past health as well, keep health documents at hand. not only blame the medics, if untrained blame the colleges.

  2. Manuel says:

    I hope one day Malawians wl begin to look at WHAT not WHO is wrong? That’s the only time we’ll start looking 4 realistic solutions

  3. Member says:

    I lost a cousin at a certain private hospital in Blantyre after the nurses administered some medication following instructions they got from the doctor though phone. The doctor does not work after sun set Friday through Saturday due to religious beliefs. However nurses phone him for consultations. The medication was wrong and the patient complained immediately after taking it through a drip. Soon she died. Doctors are really sacred in Malawi. They go Scot free after professional negligence.

  4. Kwazulu says:

    Well written. Congrats!! By the way, is thus the Taweni Gondwe who was at Euthini Sec School? Wow!!

  5. Lusungu Luweme says:

    Life is really cheap in Malawi.If you clock 30 then say thank God.We have a lifespan of a dog in Malawi.I was away for sometime and I just happen to visit my village and whenever I asked about most my playmates during primary school days,most were gone in their early 30s.Is this normal despite having the issue of hiv these days?Most of them were sent to early graves because of lack of facilities in our hospitals,no drugs,understaffing and other myriad problems.The healthy system is totally in shambles and sometimes you could also wonder the role of the health minister because she seemed she never of any problems affecting our hospitals.Malawi has totally gone to dogs.Its politics throughout the year but not developmental one.That’s my country I know.

  6. mzungu grey says:

    Most of these deaths are court cases. If pne , just one doctor of medical assistant is successfully sued and put behind bars others will learn to be more careful and diligent! Its not fair!




  8. francis mkandawire says:

    Nyc story bro,my mom died last yr when the doctors failed to diagnose her at Karonga District Hospital for several times,just diabetes u can imagine brotheren

  9. joj says:

    some of your cases are clear examples of medical negligence and should have been reported to the Malawi medical council if such a body exists. There is no excuse for giving an allergen to a person who is allergic to it.

  10. Kanthu Ako!! says:

    Mine is a serious question.

    How does one find out if they are allergic to a particular medication?

  11. Kennedy says:

    I feel sorry for you ma bro,losing family members like flies is really painful,let God punish the ones responsible for the loss,God be with you ma bruh

  12. Dwambazi says:

    Malawians are totally responsible for the sorry situation we have found ourselves in. For too long we accepted business as usual. The biggest problem I have with our culture is that we hero worship leaders who WE as a people voted into power, we start giving them titles as Ngwazi, Chitsulo cha Njaji, Chilelawalanda, Your excellency, Honourable so and so, the unfortunate part is they then believe that they are the Messiahs of today, and they start acting such.They become untouchables because WE have elevated them to that status. Malawians we deserve better, we voted them into power we have the power to take them down. Lets organize!!!!! Dzuka Malawi Dzuka nkale unayamba kugona!. I hope this song will be a catalyst for change!

  13. redeemed says:

    Perhaps it’s high time our leaders are compelled to swallow their own poison. It is said tough times call for tough action. Implement constitutional law that prohibits public servants from utilizing private facilities. From their children’s education to their healthy needs. In so doing they will have a taste of there own medicine. From my perspective no opposition party is capable of turning things around as they keep harping on the current government’s effort.

  14. amboba says:

    your story reminds of several members of my family that have died because of the buffoonery, incompitence and utter uselessness of malawis health care professionals.

    nothing will ever change as long as the few lucky malawians continue to go to south africa and india for treatment, leaving the other 14,000,000 to endure our mediocre health service.

    the funny part is, the stolen money that these select few people enjoy is taxed from very same poor people being killed in our hospitals every day. who will you tax when we’re all dead???

  15. amboba says:

    your story reminds of several members of my family that have died because of the buffoonery, incompitence and utter uselessness of malawis health care professionals.

    nothing will ever change as long as the few lucky malawians continue to go to south africa and india for treatment, leaving the other 14,000,000 to endure our mediocre health service.

    the funny part is, the stolen money that these select few people enjoy is taxed from very same poor people being killed in our hospitals every day. who will you tax when we’re all dead?

  16. I Feel so sad, it is pathetic but life is first, I thought.

  17. Souja says:

    Nothing works perfect in Malawi except Sex…

  18. mwana mulopwana says:

    That’s very true indeed and I agree with you , actually I said this before , most of our districts hospitals are death traps, despite of the fact that they are some short falls due to the govt but 70-80% is mainly due to negligence by hospital staff.

    I lost one granny at Mchinji hospital just because the clinical officer was trying to test some test and medication, while I was about to evacuate her to a central hospital in Lilongwe or Blantyre, we lost her

    I was also about to lose another precious sibling who was involved in another terrible accident, one of the staff said in presence of my sister that the man is going to die and they should not waste to give out drips of blood, its better to loose one person and that the new Ambulance which the govt bought are meant to ferry staff and not sick people, It took us through great prayers that it pleased the Almighty God that he managed to get an Angel in a form of another doctor who came and asked few questions to my sister and then allocated the new ambulance and a proactive driver who drove Mchinji to Lilongwe within a space of 30 mins, all the specialist were alerted and went directly into the theatre for operation.
    I still owe a lot to this Angel and as of now I am tracing this doctor and driver just to say thank you.

  19. Nyabhingi says:

    A friend of mines uncle died after a successful operation in London. It was soon found that the doctors forgot a pair of scissors in his stomach. These can happen anywhere man, Malawians have lost hope indeed am man working hard just to spread negativity.

  20. hoza john. says:

    Livingstonia synod in disarry.

  21. Aaron Mwala says:

    Totally agree and share your frustration but you can say the same about schools, roads, water, you name it they are all poor. The reality is these services need resources contributed by a sizeable proportion of a population for it to work. Unfortunately 95% of us have never and will never contribute anything to make these services available or improve, in our situation the highest users of these services. Every one person in malawi is supporting 9 others a situation that is simply unsustainable. Does someone really need 10 children when they cannot even look after themselves. We have a lot of soul searching before we simply put the blame on the system that is failing us all.

  22. Pitala pa ulendo says:

    It is very sad that our poor country is being burned by greedy and heartless politicians.
    Since the advent of multi-party democracy in Malawi, everything has retrogressed ie education, health, infrastructure, security, just to mention a few. Instead we have replaced it with unlawful self enrichment, political murders of individuals who either try to bring sanity to our nation or know some crime that political crooks and thugs have committed. We used to have the Public Affairs Committee that was the real voice of the voiceless but is now replaced with power and money hungry individuals who exchange their consciousness with money dished out by the political thuggery to look the other way while they kill the poor citizenry. Just look at the infighting in CCAP church and Muslim Association. And in the end we all whine that life is unbearable yet together we can rise and say “NO MORE, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.”

    Wake up Malawi wake up!!

  23. jokujoku says:

    Spiritually God’s time is final as you have indeed expressed. If God Almighty said that, we shall ALL kiss the ground then that negligence made by the hospital staff is the ONLY way for one to die otherwise if you dont die then its not your day. Remember we are all waiting at a bus stand and never know when will it arrive for one to board! !!!

  24. MaiMai says:

    Next is Peter to die of lack of medicine. Kaya iyeyo will go to RSA as who? Daniel 2?

  25. truth says:

    Well written. We’ve become banana Republic.

  26. khobwe says:

    So sad and painful. Malawi, do something please! For how long are we going to rely on SA and after all those receiving treatment there are well to do. What about us the pple in the village?


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