Nsanje — The health services which are supposed to be provided for free to Malawians in government's public health facilities are said to be paid for as some medical personnel at Nsanje District Health Office are allegedly demanding cash from patients, Malawi News Agency can reveal.
The development has brought fear to the people who are needy and cannot afford to pay for the services which the government of Malawi provides them for free.
Worse still, while government of Malawi is promoting safe motherhood, most of the women going to the health facility for Ultra Sound Scanning (USS) to determine the exact gestation age of the fetus are asked to pay for the service.
A woman aged 26, who went to the health facility for USS on Tuesday January 5, was asked to cough K5, 000 for the service.
"I went there for pregnancy test so that I can know the age of the pregnancy for timely antenatal care. However, to my surprise, I was told to pay K5,000 to access the service which has been for free all these years," she explained.
The woman claimed to have returned home without accessing the service at the hospital as she had no money to pay.
"I feel sorry for myself as I failed to access the service because I had no money but also looking at the policy of government in safe motherhood promotion. The services which are meant for free some medics who are not right minded are demanding money from poor people like us. This is another cash-gate at Nsanje district hospital," said the woman.
Another woman whose 2 year child got an arm fracture went to the facility to access medical attention claimed to have paid K2,000 for Plaster of Paris (POP).
"My son got a fracture and when we went to the hospital for treatment, the Orthopaedic department clinicians demanded K2,000 for the treatment. I had no option but to pay for the service and received no general receipt," she revealed.
The alleged fraud is also spreading to other rural health facilities in the district such as Ndamera where patients are said to have been going back home without accessing the services as they had no money to pay for it.
For instance, a married woman who went to Ndamera health facility to access medical services failed to do so after the medics demanded the payment of K2, 000 for the service.
"My wife had symptoms of malaria and she went to access treatment, however she was denied as she had no money to pay. The medics demanded K2, 000 for her to get treatment," said her husband.
Meanwhile the community, Area Development Committee (ADC) and Health Advisory Committee (HAC) of the Ndamera Health Centre has written the District Health Officer to transfer all the medics at the facility.
According to the Ndamera Area Development Committee Chairperson who happens also to be a member of Health Advisory Committee Samuel Kasakatira, are not happy with the way the health facility is being run.
He said the health facility has turned into a private one as only people who have money can access the services.
"Therefore, we resorted to write the District Health Officer and copied the same to the District Commissioner so that they can bring new staff. The lives of poor people are at risk as they have nowhere to access the treatment for free," said Kasakatira.
The Nsanje District Health Officer Dr. Alexander Chijuwa neither denied nor acknowledged the allegations.
Dr. Chijuwa said he cannot rule the assertions saying sometimes patients themselves initiate the practice so they get special treatment.
"Sometimes the health workers also initiate the practice. However, the bottom line is that the services ought to be provided to people are for free. Let me ask the concerned people that they should be following the right procedures for channeling their complaints for action, for instance; going through Ombudsman or contacting my office," advised Dr. Chijuwa.
On the letter from the Ndamera local leaders to the DHO, Dr. Chijuwa acknowledged the receipt however said transferring the medics from the health centre is not a solution.
"My office is arranging round table discussions with the concerned parties to iron out differences. To transfer the staff from the health facility will set a bad precedence," said the Nsanje DHO.