The media has been challenged to give health governance issues prominence over political news if health service delivery is to improve in the country.
Ministry of Health director of quality management and digital health Dr. Andrew Likaka feels the media can play a role of a watchdog in health service delivery system.
Speaking at a national advocacy for Access To Information Bill (ATI) in relation to health rights and governance meeting organised by Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) of Karonga Diocese, Likaka noted that if the media was to investigate on funding that most institutions get for health-related programmes, the country’s health delivery system would improve.
He said the reason health facilities are struggling to pay utility bills and manage resources such as other reccurent transactions (ORT) and drugs, is because of lack of a watchdog role by the media which is more interested in covering political news.
“While appreciating the role the media is playing in the country’s socio-economic development growth, we feel there is a very wide gap between politics and health governance issues in terms of coverage and that the media can do more than what it is doing.
“Most of the times political stories dominate front pages and headlines. Health governance and various challenges the health sector is facing rarely make it in front pages, a thing that is contributing to abuse of resources and misallocation of funds and priorities by some key stakeholders because such areas are not being highlighted. That in turn, suffocates delivery of high quality health service,” Likaka said.
However, Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) noted that the stumbling block is the delay by the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology to implement the ATI Bill into law that would give an opportunity to the media to get vital information from duty-bearers and provide checks and balances to the Ministry of Health and all institutions that are being funded to run health-related programmes in the country so that every penny is account for.
But MHRC deputy director for economic, social and cultural rights Luscious Pendame said with only days to go before Parliament is dissolved, it would be hard to follow up on the Bill unless the Minister of Information and Communications Technology himself is summoned to tell stakeholders and the public what is delaying the operationalisation of the Bill, saying government is lacking political will and might end up as another campaign tool for the forthcoming elections.
“In as far as the commission is concerned, the only stage that remained was for government to civic educate traditional leaders and that process was done last November. By now we were supposed to have it in operation and we are equally surprised as to why it has taken this long.
“With the absence of the Bill, it remains a tall order for journalists to dig into issues affecting the health sector and expose people who are building mansions and driving posh cars while the bonafide owners of those resources continue to languish in abject poverty,” Pendame said.
In his presentation, CCJP George Chiusiwa programmes coordinator said lack of transparency and accountability by various ministries and government departments is one contributing factor that is preventing journalists from digging deeper to unearth corruption and fraud of government and donor money.
Chiusiwa cited the construction of a patients’ waiting shelter and a labour ward at Mpata Health Centre in Karonga District where a contractor vanished into thin air with a cool K109 million for a project that was abandoned at foundation level three years ago.
On his part, Parliamentary Health Committee member Madalitso Kazombo said despite calls from his office to have the health budget adjusted reasonably, efforts have hit a snag as the sector continues to get little resources that are also heavily mismanaged.
“The most unfortunate thing is that as a country we have failed to guard jealously the meagre resources that development partners and donor agents pump in the health sector to promote health care,” she said.
Parliamentary Committee on Media vice-chairperson Godfrey Munkhondya assured all concerned stakeholders that his office will convene to map the way forward and make sure that the Bill is implemented.
Project coordinator for health governance at CCJP’s Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa) funded project, Obert Mkandawire, said his office will not relent in ensuring that ATI Bill is implemented and operationalised.
“As a health governance institution that called for this meeting, we are glad that various key players came and banged their heads together for a good cause.
“We are grateful that deliberations have ended on a high note and that recommendations that have been agreed upon will be implemented so that shortly we should engage the responsible minister so that we hear from him why it has taken this long for the already assented to Bill to be in use,” he said.
The meeting brought together civil society organisations (CSOs) such as Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen), MHRC, Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECP), Parliamentary Committee on health members and media, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi Chapter.