Heavily choked with a financial crisis, Salima District Health Office (DHO) is asking patients and bereaved families using health services in the district to dig deep into their pockets and buy own fuel for ambulance services.
The officials made the stunning revelation at Kanongola Full Primary School in traditional authority (T/A) Mwanza on Sunday where the National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) Trust held an interface meeting between officials from five government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and residents to review the effectiveness of service charters the two parties to enhance improvement in public service delivery.
The participants took advantage of the meeting to ask officials from the DHO to explain why bereaved families are being asked to pay for ambulance service to ferry bodies of their departed loved ones back to their respective homes.
A concerned elderly participant complained: “This has seen many expectant women delivering their way back to the village without care and support of skilled birth attendant.”
“In such scenarios, chiefs impose penalties. So, the question is: Where should we take our pregnant women for us to access skilled birth attendant service and escape the wrath of the chiefs?” she asked with a matter-of-fact tone.
The seemingly angry elderly woman said that the suspension [of the service] has brought a lot of suffering among the people, with some patients dying before making it to the hospital because management stopped providing ambulance service to the sick.
Additionally, the suspension has also paralysed safe motherhood initiatives in the district. And where expectant mothers have made it to the maternity ward at night, they are turned away.
Salima DHO human resources officer Ephraim Manthepa disclosed that his office had indeed suspended ambulance services over financial woes.
Manthepa also confirmed that where the sick are in need of the service, the DHO asks patients and/or guardians to buy their own fuel to facilitate transportation to and from the hospital.
“Management made that decision because of the numerous financial problems we are facing as a hospital. Currently, ambulance service is only available to expectant women,” he said.
His response left the crowd unimpressed, with others disputing outright his on the availability of the ambulance service to expectant women.
A medical assistant at Makiyoni Health Centre, Jacob Ngwira, confessed that the facility turns away expectant women because of shortage of staff.
Ngwira blamed the problem on government, which tends to come up with policies such as that on safe motherhood, which compels expectant women to deliver at the nearest health facility, but without providing adequate financial and human resources to complement these efforts.
“We are seriously understaffed and usually overworked. This forces us to work more than the recommended hours per day. Hence, we turn away expectant women where we feel fatigue will compromise our service delivery,” he explained.
But his explanation angered T/A Mwanza who threatened she would facilitate transfers of ‘lazy and ineffective personnel’ in the district.
“I must confess I never knew this was happening in my area. It’s my first time to hear that expectant women are being turned away and I commend my subjects for being bold to reveal this maladministration. If this persists, please let me know. I will ask government to transfer health workers who are not willing to render their services,” said Mwanza.
But Ministry of Health Principal Secretary (PS) Dr Dan Namarika said the ministry was not aware of the development when contacted for a comment.
NICE Trust board chairperson Susan Kaunda said she was impressed with the level of engagement the service charter has brought about between government entities and the people in the district.
Kaunda disclosed that constant interactions between duty-bearers and end users of the public services (citizens) play a critical role in bridging the communication gap, leading to improved quality of such services.
The five MDAs, which undertook to implement service charter in Salima, include Ministries of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Education, Health, Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare and Malawi Police Service.
NICE Trust has since expressed intention to extend and expand the undertaking of service charters to all MDAs and in all the districts.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :