Coalition alleges discrimination of elderly people in healthcare provision

As Malawi commemorated World Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Day on Tuesday, the Citizens Coalition against Discrimination in Health Provision alleged that “elderly people, particularly in rural areas, are being turned away from health facilities because of their advanced age.”

Malawi formally commemorated UHC day on Tuesday, 14 December, 2021, with events at Capital Hotel in Lilongwe organized by the Universal Health Coverage Coalition in Malawi.

This year’s theme is: Leave no one’s health behind: Invest in health systems for all.

Maganizo Mazeze

But in a statement dated 13 December, 2021, the Citizens Coalition against Discrimination in Health Provision alleges that “elderly patients are being told not to waste medicines for the youth, which makes them stay home and nurse their illnesses there till they die”.

The coalition has since called upon Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN), Universal Health Coverage Coalition and Parliamentary Committee on Health to “immediately investigate the extent of this malpractice and abuse of the right to life of the elderly and publicly publish a report on their findings”.

The statement, titled: Stop health provision and insurance discrimination against elderly now, is signed by the coalition’s leadership, Dr. Levi Zeleza Manda and Maganizo Mazeze, who are National Coordinator and Spokesperson, respectively.

“We, the members of the Citizens Coalition against Discrimination in Health Provision wish to urge Malawian health authorities to take the Leave No One’s Health Behind theme beyond rhetoric and jingoism. In Malawi, health-care provision practice is steadily becoming discriminatory against elderly persons.

As a country governed by laws and a bill of rights, we must fight to rid Malawi of practices meant to undermine the right to health of any person or group of persons and leave no one’s health behind,” the statement reads in part.

The coalition cites sections 16 and 20 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, that make illegal any forms of discrimination against any persons on any grounds.

It notes that Malawi operates a health system that provides free medical care to all, funded through annual parliamentary appropriations, taxpayers and donor support—hence no one should be discriminated against.

“Apart from breaching section 16 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi and deliberately compromising the health chances and right to life of the elderly, this maltreatment of the elderly in health-care provision runs against the Hippocratic Oath physicians and the nurses pledge and undertake on entry into their health profession,” further reads the statement.

The statement adds that, in Malawi, those who can afford health insurance do so as individuals or groups. However, individuals aged above 55 “are denied health insurance as individuals, even if they can afford to pay”.

It says, in some cases, those refused health insurance are advised to buy funeral insurance instead, implying that they do not deserve to live.

“We consider the above policies in health insurance provision to be discriminatory and in conflict with the provisions of section 20 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi and a threat to the right to life of the elderly,” says the statement.

Apart from asking human rights institutions and health authorities to investigate the alleged discrimination of the elderly in health provision, the coalition has also asked the media to “immediately start using their public affairs and social accountability mandates to assist in gathering more anecdotes of elderly patients being turned away from health facilities on account of their age and use the anecdotes to produce radio and TV documentaries and newspaper features”.

The coalition further calls upon the Malawi Government to urgently cause a revision of the policies governing health insurance provision in Malawi so that such policies conform to section 20 (2) of the Constitution.

“A specific clause should be inserted in the revised policy clearly and unequivocally stating that discriminating against anyone in health insurance provision is criminal and punishable by law.

We also call upon the Malawi Government to ensure that in all its budgets, the health sector receives not less than 5% as per the Abuja Declaration of 2001. This will ensure that no health center in Malawi is understocked with essential drugs.

We also appeal to the general public to come forward if they have stories of elderly people being rudely turned away from health facilities or if they personally were ever denied insurance by providers on account of their age. Please contact the coalition and join the campaign to rid Malawi of discrimination in healthcare provision,” concludes the statement.

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