Public hospitals are facing an ambulance crisis that is crippling their emergency response and referral cases, forcing desperate households to find alternative means of ferrying the sick.
In random checks with some district hospitals nationwide yesterday, it emerged that facilities such as Chiradzulu District Hospital only have one working ambulance to cater for a population of 300 000, a far cry from the recommended ambulance to population ratio of 1:50 000 as shared by Ministry of Health (MoH) officials.
Chiradzulu District Health Office (DHO) has 15 health centres and the situation has compromised health service delivery, according to Chiradzulu District Council chairperson Alick Naphiyo and MoH chief director Beston Chisamile who confirmed the situation at Mbombwe Primary School during a ceremony marking Sub-Traditional Authority Onga open defaecation free (ODF) status achievement.
During the function, Naphiyo said the district is struggling with referrals, warning that if nothing was done quickly many lives would be lost to treatable conditions.
He said the current ambulance was donated by World Vision International and has a mileage of over 500 000 kilometres (km) which, he said, is beyond the recommended maximum disposal mileage of 300 000 km.
In response, Chisamile said MoH is in the process of buying 300 new ambulances and assured that Chiradzulu DHO would be among the beneficiaries.
Ntchisi DHO, serving a population of about 315 000, has four ambulances, three of which are old and prone to frequent breakdowns, according to district health officer Dr Zondwayo Ng’oma .
He said the district does not have any grounded ambulance.
In Kasungu, with a population of 900 000, the DHO has 11 running ambulances.
Kasungu DHO Dr. Emmanuel Golombe said six of the ambulances were supplied in April this year while several others were non-functional.
Mzimba South DHO Dr. Lumbani Munthali said his office needs to have about 14 ambulances to cater for a population of 714 338, but currently has four running. He said out of the four, three are reliable. The DHO has three grounded ambulances, he said.
Responding on the issue, Karonga DHO Phinias Mfune gave two as the number of running ambulances at the district hospital while one was said to be grounded.
In Rumphi, the DHO’s public relations officer Bwanaloli Mwamlima gave 234 797 as the population for its catchment area covering 18 health centres which he said are served by three ambulances while two were boarded off .
Reacting to the situation, MoH Principal Secretary Dr. Dan Namarika admitted challenges in as far as the availability of enough ambulances in DHOs is concerned.
He said districts with poor health indicators require more ambulances and indicated that the ministry hopes to address the problem when it takes delivery of new ambulances.
Parliamentary Committee on Health chairperson Juliana Lunguzi, in a telephone interview, blamed the situation on poor resource allocation.
She said 15 percent of the national budget spending is supposed to be committed to health spending.
Said Lunguzi: “We have talked about these issues many times, but the only way out is when government realises that healthcare should not be free. There must be a cost attached.”
In May this year, some civil society organisations (CSOs) working in the health sector whined at the cut in funding to the sector from K190 billion in the 2017/18 fiscal year to K86.7 in the 2018/19 financial year.