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