Lives of around 370 patients requiring specialised treatment abroad are at risk as the Ministry of Health has suspended foreign referrals following a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases in India, Malawi’s key medical referral destination.
Confirming the suspension, the Ministry’s spokesperson Joshua Malango described it as “temporary measure”, but the move has drawn condemnation from health rights campaigners.
“Due to the surge of Covid-19 cases in India, referrals have been temporarily suspended subject to regular monitoring of the situation,” Malango said on Thursday in a response to a questionnaire.
This revelation comes barely two weeks after government banned—with immediate effect—travels to and from India, Bangladesh, Brazil and Pakistan following the severe spreading of the new Covid-19 wave in those nations.
Malango, who disclosed that 369 patients are on the waiting list, said the last group of patients to seek medical help in India travelled in March. He said not all have returned yet.
But the Malawi Health Equity Network (Mehn) has criticised government for the ban on India referrals, arguing that there should have been consideration for those critically ill.
Its executive director George Jobe said: “For someone whose life is at stake and in great pain, the risk of going to India could be seen to be better as compared to the pain or life threats being undergone. We need to be considerate of that, as some people may be standing between the Covid-19 threats and critical life-threatening conditions.”
Jobe, responding to a questionnaire on Friday, also urged government to identify another country to refer those with critical medical conditions.
“Identifying a replacement of India would be better; otherwise, some critical patients can still be allowed to go to India if there would be no alternative on certain conditions, such as to have received a Covid-19 vaccine before leaving Malawi and to be on full institutional quarantine on return,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Committee on Health has commended government for suspending the foreign referrals, arguing that the country cannot risk importing the devastating Covid-19 strain.
The committee’s chairperson Matthews Ngwale, however, said the India situation is a lesson for Malawi to invest in its health system to stop relying on foreign hospitals.
“What we lack in Malawi is equipment. As Parliament, we have embarked on an initiative of buying equipment. We are starting with the machine that helps treat eye problems. Thereafter, we will invest in heart equipment. In December, we also expect to finalise the cancer centre construction. All these will help us to stop sending our patients to india,” he said.
India’s healthcare system has been struggling to operate as a record surge in Covid-19 cases puts pressure on hospital beds and drains oxygen supplies, reports international media outlet BBC.
“Families are left pleading for their relatives who are desperately ill, with some patients left untreated for hours.
“On Friday, India reported 332,730 new cases of coronavirus, setting a world record for a second day running. Deaths were numbered at 2,263 in 24 hours,” BBC says on its website www.bbc.co.uk
According to the Ministry of Health, 40 percent of the cases referred to India, are cancer-related. Others are kidney and heart diseases.