Healthcare in Malawi: How Cuban style could be a solution.

If it was a movie it would be a cross between Sicko the Michael Moore documentary and a tale of how Fabrice Muamba lived to tell his story. Somewhere in there I would add in the emperor’s new clothes to emphasize the role of advisors who spend time lying to the elected officials when they need the truth the most. For this drama thriller I take you to destination Malawi. While some may argue that Malawi and United Kingdom (UK) are not the same economy wise and can’t be compared, we still have some lessons to draw from what happened and what could be done to improve Malawi’s crippled healthcare system.

On April 5th in some hospital in UK a young footballer, Fabrice Muamba took his first steps since suffering a cardiac arrest on the football field. On the same day, president Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi took his last breath after suffering from the same condition.

Several attempts to try to resuscitate him were of no use. The one thing that was to save him was nowhere to be found.

Of course, announcement of the death was not until two days later after the family, the ruling party officials had said he was incapacitated and was receiving treatment in South Africa when the rest of the world knew the hard truth, that the president had died at the state house and all the lying was a delaying tactic while they came up with a plan to take over the government.  Like all other unnecessary government bureaucracies, the DPP regime shipped the cold body of the president to South Africa where he was to “officially die”.

This meant that the cabinet had to convene to decide who the successor would be. However, there was one problem. The one person who could call such a meeting was the vice president now the president Her Excellency Joyce Mtila Banda.

As reported in an online paper, according to the doctors who attended to him upon arrival at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) the president was already dead. Some have cited the lack of adrenaline drug which could have been used to help resuscitate him which was out of stock. Whatever the case may be, it is then brings us to an issue we all should worry about especially if you live in Malawi today. I’m not saying this to scare anyone but it is something we all should be asking ourselves, what if it was me.

While Malawi was mourning the death of the president, Muamba was recovering from his cardiac arrest attack. The case of Muamba is an exceptional one and we should accredit the fast and effective medical systems of the West compared to our meager hospitals. Part of the blame for poor services we find in such hospitals could be attributed to Africa’s brain drain. Most of the healthcare professionals would rather seek employment in the West than stay at home but then who can blame them when the working conditions are poor and so is the pay? The fact is, most African governments do not procure all the basic necessary medical equipment for the health care professionals to use on their duties.

After asking around, it was evident the president’s medical expenses were covered by state funds and so are the ministers. Members of parliament are covered under a medical plan run by the Medical Aid Society of Malawi (MASM) with the state providing for subsidies. In other words, state funds are used to cover their medical expenses of course in varying degrees. What was also interesting was that there is a “funny” committee at the Ministry of Health called the Referral Committee. Its primary duties are to refer patients abroad. With the high corruption levels in the country it is common sense as to who gets referred to go abroad when they need to seek further medical attention. The average person like you and I would be the last ones on that list which tends to favor the political circles and their next of kin of course at the cost of tax payers money.

Why bring this up, you may ask. Simple! If we, as a country are to seriously make any changes to the healthcare system in Malawi then these are some of the topics we have to touch on. We need the right staff, necessary supplies and facilities that can accommodate and fulfill the patient’s needs. The goodwill factor has to be there too but somehow it is something we Africans lack.

Let’s use Cuba as a model. Some of you may have guessed where this is going from the mention of the documentary Sicko above. Theirs is an ambitious healthcare system that came from a mandate for health and education that brought about the changes that most countries now see and admire. What changed?

At first, in the sixties, they pulled most of their resources to recruit more doctors, train more healthcare staff, set up more rural hospitals and established clinics. In the seventies came the phase where they set up more general hospitals and pharmaceutical production plants. By the eighties they began to merit the attention of the World Health Organization. Though Cuba went through an economic crisis in the nineties, it managed to survive due to prioritizing healthcare as a necessity in the country. Supplies were evenly distributed according to who needed them the most.  Educational status of the people who knew about hygiene, dedication of the healthcare professionals and other factors were instrumental in keeping the healthcare afloat.

Though Malawi’s economy may not be able to sustain such a huge program like the one above we can try to improve what we have already in place. First of all we do have Malawi College of Medicine and the Kamuzu College of Nursing. What is needed to entice them to stay on in Malawi would be good working environments plus pay. Currently most graduates add-on to the figures of the professionals that end up in UK or other countries offering good pay.

Secondly, there is great need to improve the facilities in terms of supplies and equipment. Imagine how frustrated you would be if you were the attending physician and a patient came in with a condition that you knew was easy to heal but don’t have the necessary tools to help them with. Doctors take oaths to save lives but when the job does not make that a reality they leave opting for greener pastures where their trade would be highly appreciated.

Thirdly, the money to fund such projects is a lot so to help out keeping the costs low or reasonable we need to invest in educating the poor as far as health and hygiene is concerned. Some of the problems we face today can be minimized if we have healthy people. In Kamuzu Banda’s time we used to have Sukulu za Kwacha geared at teaching the adults health, hygiene, reading and writing. One focus was on the proper nutrition because a healthy farmer or labourer is bound to be more productive to society than a weak malnourished one. Some education and innovation is better than nothing. This can help towards the country’s vision of a better healthcare system for all.

If and when the new government tackles healthcare, it will be a positive move especially in light of the previous presidents passing. If we had better facilities and supplies, the chances of the doctors saving his life would have been better. What most of these top officials don’t understand is that though they may have the necessary need to seek healthcare abroad, there is a great urgency to improve the hospitals at home. It is not fair them to be able to use tax payer’s money to go to fancy hospitals abroad for treatment leaving the dilapidated local hospitals for Malawi’s poor. It is time we started working on social equality and healthcare is one of the areas that needs to be looked at.

Like the legend Bob Marley once said, “Money can’t buy you life”, on the contrary it is true however, that it can get you the best care in the world.


About Mbachi Joyce Ng'oma

Femme noire. Femme Africaine.Lover of Politics. My song is of STRENGTH AND DIGNITY! Women and Children Rights are my Passion... View all posts by Mbachi Joyce Ng'oma

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