Deputy Minister of Health Halima Daudi was whisked away to safety at Mponela in Dowa yesterday as anger spilled over Ministry of Health’s decision to transfer a few hospital beds from Mponela rural hospital to areas in Mzimba where there will be by-election next month.
A People’s Party supporter was injured during the protests and rushed to hospital during violent protests as angry Mponela residents pelted stones at government vehicles yesterday.
The protests came after Daudi, alongside her Labour counterpart, Eunice Makangala, Deputy Minister of Gender Jenipher Ndaferankhande, members of the parliamentary women caucus and health officials toured the hospital ona fact-finding mission. Daudi had to change cars in an effort to run away from the mob.
The residents started chanting songs outside the hospital calling government officials thieves for relocating the hospital’s beds.
The drama started earlier at Parliament in Lilongwe when members of the Women Caucus grilled Daudi over the transfer of 13 beds allegedly at midnight on Saturday.
According to Chairperson of the caucus, Cecilia Chazama, the female MPs were shocked and angered by the incident and despite Daudi’s explanation during the meeting, the group resolved to march in protest against Health Ministry yesterday morning and deliver a petition to Vice President and Minister of Health KhumboKachali.
Chazama said the deputy minister pleaded with the female lawmakers who were all dressed in white trousers and blouses to visit the hospital first, before taking action.
“We have gathered information and witnesses have told us what they saw. We will not go ahead with either the petition or the protest, but will reconvene and discuss what steps we should follow. As mothers we are saddened and angered by this incident,” Chazama said.
Eveles James, a mother of a four-month old baby, said in an interview that she was in the ward when patients were removed from the beds.
“They told us we should get off the beds as they were taking them to Mzuzu where patients were reportedly sleeping on the floor. We had no option but to give up the beds,” James said.
However, Daudi backed by the hospital staff and Principal Secretary for Health Charles Mwansambo insisted that the beds were in excess and idle at the time and accused the media of distorting information on the story.
“It’s part of government policy. They had a lot of beds and other equally deserving Malawians were sleeping on the floor in other districts.
“Government will not return the beds; we will just fix the beds that are there,” Daudi said.
On his part, Mwansambo said Vice President Kachali did not order the transfer of the beds, but technocrats at the ministry.
He said other beds have also been taken from Kamuzu Central Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital, but added all the beds were in excess and not being used.
He said the move was normal, but confirmed that Mzimba district was the only beneficiary.
“It is not true that children on oxygen were removed from the beds. There is a deliberate attempt to distort information on this issue.
“You can ask the director of equipment Dr Kukuma as it is directors at the ministry who made the decision. The minister as a line minister is in control and aware of the move, but he was not involved in the decision.
“The beds were not being used and did not even have mattresses. The reason why the beds were taken during the night is because the ministry had purchased mattresses in Blantyre and vehicle had a break down on the way.
“Other districts will benefit when we have purchased new beds,” Mwansambo said.
Dowa District Health Officer Jones Masiye said the hospital has a capacity of 40 beds, but had more than enough beds, concurring with Mwansambo that the other beds were not in use.
“The Ministry has a Physical Assets Programme (PAM) which looks into government departments’ equipment which are not being used and we had these beds which we felt could be needed elsewhere.
“We do not know where the 13 beds have gone but this is normal,”Masiye said.