Lives of patients nationwide are at risk as most district hospitals have scaled down operations following a decision by about 2 035 Concerned Unemployed Nurses and Midwives (Cunm) to go on strike.
In a letter dated February 28 2019 addressed to district nursing officers, which we have seen, the group’s chairperson Donald Zgambo urges the Ministry of Health (MoH) to resolve the situation to improve delivery of health services in the country.
It reads in part: “We, therefore, would like to inform you that we are staging withdrawal of labour in all public hospitals within days of 1st to 10th March. The withdrawal will penetrate in central hospitals and by 10th March all districts hospitals will have followed suit.
“With effect from 11th March, no one will be working for locum and upkeep allowances in all public hospitals as we uniformly seek revival on locum, upkeep allowances and optimal procedures for recruiting nurses and midwives in Malawi.”
Already, Bwaila Hospital, which serves as a district hospital for Lilongwe, has since Monday closed down its High Dependency Unit (HDU).
The HDU is a section in a hospital, usually located close to the intensive care unit, where patients get more care than in a normal ward, but not to the point of intensive care.
Cunm members want MoH to employ them, arguing they have been working in public hospitals for the past three years but not on a full salary, only taking home locum and other allowances.
A communique we have seen dated February 8 2019 signed by Bwaila district nursing officer, says midwives have since been temporarily relocated to other wards to help deal with the shortage.
It reads in part: “Due to pending withdrawal of part-time nursing duties from various departments, patients care will be greatly affected. To maximise patient safety and optimise care during this time, the following changes will be temporarily enacted: 1) As of 11/3/19, the maternity HDU will be closed as such no patient will be admitted. 2) Some nurses/midwives will be temporarily allocated to other departments.”
In the North, Nkhata Bay District Hospital spokesperson Christopher Singini said they have been heavily affected as the hospital already has a few health workers on full-time employment.
“We don’t have enough personnel, and the part time nurses were covering that gap. But the truth is, people are being overstretched,” he decried.
In the South, a senior health official in Zomba, who did not want to be mentioned for fear of reprisals, urged government to employ new health workers to improve the situation.
The part-time nurses and midwives are paid K3 000 for working at night and K2 500 per day besides student upkeep allowances of K30 000 for diploma holders and K50 000 for degree holders.
Earlier, MoH spokesperson Joshua Malango said the ministry has recruited some health personnel for central hospitals who are set to report for work from April 1 2019.
Since 2013 when government stopped direct recruitment of nurses and midwives, public hospitals have been using locum and student upkeep allowances to cover up the vacancy rates.
A November 2018 country report by Wemos Foundation shows that Malawi has only 0.52 professional health workers per 1 000 people, against the World Health Organisation requirement of 4.45.