Thyolo District Health Office (DHO) is investigating circumstances under which an 18-year-old pregnant woman, Mphatso Phiri, and her unborn baby died on an operating theatre table on Sunday morning after the clinician on duty collapsed in a ‘drunken’ suspicion.
Mphatso’s death brings to 15 the number of women dying while giving birth at Thyolo District Hospital since January 2017.
Thyolo district health officer Dr. Michael Mulowa confirmed the incident and said the hospital has suspended the clinician, identified as Mark Likatho, pending further investigations.
The woman, who came from Mpaso Village in Traditional Authority Chimaliro in Thyolo District, was taken ill on Saturday and was recommended for Caesarean Section.
However, the clinician on duty is said to have delayed to take the woman to the theatre as he was not at the hospital at a time he should have been on duty.
As lady luck was not on Mphatso’s side, the clinician—in the middle of the caesarean procedure—collapsed, disrupting the operation. The second clinician was called in, but it was too late to save Mphatso and her baby’s life.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Likatho said the patient died before he collapsed and that he did not take alcohol as it is being suggested.
He, however, admitted to have delayed in taking the patient to theatre.
Said Likatho: “I delayed for about 30 to 40 minutes. I did not take alcohol.”
But one worker at the hospital told The Nation that a medical team started calling the clinician from 6pm and sent a vehicle to his house only to bring him at around 11pm.
Said the worker: “Unfortunately, he [the clinician] seemed intoxicated. He, nevertheless, commenced the exercise, but midway the process, he fell asleep, both baby and the mother passed on in the wee hours of Sunday.”
Mulowa also confirmed that the clinician collapsed in the theatre room, but could not say whether he was drunk, saying there are several reasons that can make a clinician collapse in the theatre room.
He said the hospital has since reported the matter to relevant authorities to investigate the professional misconduct and the clinician has since been suspended.
“He is suspended. We have reported to the relevant authorities to investigate that he delayed taking the patient to the theatre and that he was drunk,” he said.
Mulowa said at the moment, preliminary investigations at the hospital show that the clinician delayed in taking the patient to the theatre and that he collapsed in the theatre room.
“Currently, we are treating the death as surgical complication not incompetence since the clinician is qualified,” he said.
Mulowa explained that the clinician said he felt dizzy during the procedure and collapsed at the time the patient’s health was deteriorating and when the next clinician came to take over the procedure he found the patient dying.
“The second clinician did not delay in taking over the case, but he arrived at the time when the patient was dying,” he said, subtly contradicting Likatho’s version that the patient was already dead when he collapsed.
“The clinician is said to have overslept that is why he delayed to take the patient to hospital.”
Mulowa said cases of a clinician delaying are common because clinicians, especially those attending to labour ward, do not sleep at the hospital at night.
“We also have a shortage of clinicians at the hospital,” he said.
Maternal mortality ratio for Thyolo District from July 2016 to June 2017 stands at 136 births per 100 000 live births with reporting to hospital late on the side of patients and inadequate staff to manage the growing number of patients are some of the contributing reasons, according to DHO officials.
One source at the hospital said: “The workers are few to the point that the hospital is employing students to be working in the wards and most of the clinicians are interns; qualified nurses and clinicians are few, they cannot manage the wards, some graduated and are licensed but the government is not employing them.”
Chairperson of Medical Council of Malawi (MCM) Professor John Chisi said normally, when the council has received cases like the Thyolo one, it sends an investigation team that will establish facts on the ground.
“Depending on the findings, the council would fine the member, or remove him or her from membership or send to jail [if a court of law finds him guilty of a criminal offence],” he said.
MCM has the power to erase from the register the name of any doctor convicted of any felony, misdemeanor, crime or offence judged after inquiring by the council to have been guilty of professional misconduct. n