Malawi’s Vice-President Khumbo Kachali has demanded a report on circumstances that led to the controversial transfer of beds from Mponela Rural Hospital in Dowa to Mzimba, his home district, where two by-election campaigns are underway.

Kachali, who is also Minister of Health, says he is neither aware of nor involved in the transfer of the beds, according to Kondwani Munthali, an aide in the Office of the Vice-President.

Said Munthali: “As you might be aware, the Vice-President has been addressing [campaign] rallies in Mzimba since Sunday. He was not aware or involved on matters related to the same. The Vice-President and Minister of Health has, therefore, requested a report from the Ministry of Health officials on what happened or has been reported so far relating to the developments surrounding the beds at Mponela Rural Hospital.”

He said the report is expected by end of business this Thursday.

24-hour ultimatum

Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Women’s Caucus on Tuesday gave government a 24-hour ultimatum to return the beds to Mponela or else they would not attend a training workshop organised by the National Assembly. They also said they would continue their protest against the ministry.

The caucus joined Mponela residents in protesting the redeployment of the beds.

About 30 women MPs, among them former minister of information Patricia Kaliati, demanded that the beds be returned to Mponela.

Hospital officials earlier said the beds, which were taken away at night, were not being used and that they were not from the wards.

During a visit to the hospital on Monday, The Nation learnt that officials who collected the beds ended up getting wrong ones inside the wards instead of those in the stores department at the hospital.

Buthelezi Mvula, the hospital in-charge, Dowa district commissioner (DC) Stuart Ngoka, Ministry of Health principal secretary Charles Mwansambo, Traditional Authority Mponela and Deputy Minister of Health Harima Daudi addressed the MPs and residents on Tuesday.

One of the affected, Evelesi James, told the meeting: “At that time [the beds were removed], we had our children sleeping because it was midnight, but we were forced to get them out of the beds.”

Govt justifies redeployment of beds

In an interview, Daudi stood her ground, saying there was nothing wrong in what government has done. She said this has always been the practice of her ministry to share resources among hospitals.

Presidential press secretary Steve Nhlane on Wednesday said: “The information I have is that there were 41 beds at Mponela Hospital which were not being used, 21 in the warehouse/storeroom. The other 20 were being kept in a ward because the storeroom could not take more than 21 since it houses other equipment there. ”

Nhlane also reiterated that movement of hospital equipment and drugs from one hospital to another is an ongoing thing in the Ministry of Health.

He said: “The women caucus group is politicising this issue. But I am not surprised because DPP’s Jean Kalirani is the MP for Dowa Central and [she] is the most vocal on the matter.

“By the way, why did Kalirani over-supply Mponela Hospital with beds when there were other hospitals which did not have anything?”

Meanwhile, Daudi said her ministry did not act on the 24-hour ultimatum since the demand had not yet reached her office in writing.

Women Caucus chairperson Cecilia Chazama, however, claimed their final report on the said demands was sent directly to the ministry’s deputy minister.

Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) executive director Martha Kwataine, in a statement, joined the caucus’ call for the return of the beds.

“The act of snatching beds at midnight is disrespect of the highest order to patients and health care workers. Party politics should not interfere with health service delivery. If that is a campaign strategy for the by-elections, then it is a dirty one,” argued Kwataine.

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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