One of the computer tomography (CT machines) that the Ministry of Health purchased in 2012 for Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre lies in a supplier’s warehouse as the ministry is yet to prepare a room where the machine can be fitted, the ministry has confirmed.
The supplier, Medical Consultants Africa Limited(MCA) has given the Ministry of Health up to November 30 2017 to secure a room and allow the company to install it, threatening to sell the machine by tender to recover over K250 million that government owes the company for service and maintenance.
The ministry on October 1 2010 issued a public tender for the supply, delivery, installation and commissioning of 2 CT scanners for Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) and QECH, and also sought to award the successful bidder a five-year service agreement for the two machines.
MCA won a tender for $1 737 547 to supply the two machines and also submitted another bid, worth $711 728, for the contract to service and maintain the equipment which were approved by the ministry on May 30 2011.
The two machines arrived in the country on May 15 2012 and, according to the chief executive officer (CEO) for MCA Jonathan Bisnowaty, they were informed that the rooms where the machines were to be kept were not ready and the company was told to keep the CT machines in its warehouse in Lilongwe.
In an interview on Monday, Bisnowaty, who is son to Independent MP for Lilongwe City Centre David Bisnowaty, explained that his company installed the KCH CT scanner while construction of the room to house the machine at QECH had not started as of May 8 2013.
Said Bisnowaty: “We feared that the machine might get damaged if it is not installed in good time and we, therefore, advised the ministry officials that they had to insure the equipment in case of any eventualities, but to date it has not been done.”
A letter dated October 23 2017 from the company addressed to Principal Secretary for Health we have seen shows that the KCH CT maintenance contract was signed on June 7 2016, but remains not implemented because the government indicated that it has no funds to implement it.
Reads the letter in part: “The CT for QECH remains in its packing crates of shipment to Malawi by manufacturers since 2012. The accumulated storage charges to October 23 2017 were at $127 190. Related to the matter raised above, MCA will sell the CT for QECH if it is not installed by November 30 2017. By not installing the CT since the government procured the CT in 2012, the government has demonstrated that provision of CT services for the Southern Region is not a priority.”
The letter further states that the machine may not function on installation since it has lain idle for close to six years now.
Other outstanding issues raised in the letter include outstanding payments of $6 560.71 and K720 000 totalling K4.9 million for a legitimate repair job authorised and approved by the ministry to keep the KCH CT running.
Bisnowaty said the outstanding balance owed by government is more than K250 million after factoring in the $711 728 to service and maintain the 2 Phillips Brilliance CT 64 channel scanners for a period of 5 years. He showed this reporter a letter MCA wrote the ministry reminding it to pay the money.
Director of planning and policy development in the Ministry of Health, Emma Mabvumbe, attributed the delays to poor planning at the time the machines were procured.
Mabvumbe said construction of the building to house the equipment ought to have been done first before purchasing the CT machine, adding that funding from Treasury has been coming through slowly since the project was not planned.
She said: “It happened before I was at the ministry but I can explain it, when you haven’t planned this is what happens, those that made the decision to procure did not consult and did not foresee the need for housing of the machine, so after procuring was already done it is when people started to think of where to store the CT scan machine.”
The director further explained that the new building at Queens’s hospital is now almost ready and that very soon the machine will be installed.
She, however, refused to comment on the outstanding payments the ministry owes the supplier and the threats by the company to offer the CT machine for sale come November 30 2017.
Malawi Equity Health Network (Mhen) executive director George Jobe described the situation as worrisome, saying Malawians continue to struggle to access services of such a precious machine when it is readily available just because of poor planning by a few individuals at Capital Hill.
Jobe said the issue should now be treated with urgency. In an interview, QECH spokesperson Themba Mhango, indicated that currently the facility refers patients needing CT scan services to a malaria project within its campus that has a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) but added that it is expensive.
He said: “We need a CT machine because to run an MRI is more expensive than a CT scan.”
A radiologist at KCH Suzgo Mzumara said in a telephone interview on Thursday that the hospital attends to at least 30 patients on a daily basis needing CT scan services excluding some emergencies that come during evening shifts. He explained that KCH also gets referrals from as far as Mzuzu Central Hospital.
He said: “Not having a CT scan is critical because it is an important and crucial machine. Cancer patients are able to follow if the cancer drug is working or not.”
Chairperson for Parliamentary Committee on Health Juliana Lunguzi said on Thursday that her committee is aware of the issue and that members have visited the new building at QECH. “What we want is a facility which we will be happy to see; we have waited for too long. We have been told its being completed for some time,” she said.