Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe is congested with patients and the facility is struggling to cope with the situation.

In worst scenarios, six children are sleeping on one bed, prompting the hospital’s doctors to sound a public SOS on drug and supplies crisis.

A visit to various wards at the hospital Monday exposed congestion in particular in the children’s wards where children as young as a few months-old, fitted with intravenous fluid pipes, are put on the same bed.

In several cases, beds meant for two children accommodate four. Numerous other patients are literally sleeping on the floor while others are kept in hospital corridors and balconies.

Meanwhile, while doctors are complaining about the worsening shortage of essential and basic medical supplies at the hospital, it has also transpired that there is a rise in cases of drug pilferage by some medical staff employed to care for sick people.

The Daily Times investigation has established that in the past two years, a total of 12 such cases have been duly reported to the Ministry of Health and the police and that some staff involved in the malpractice have been interdicted, but surprisingly they have been reinstated.

The 12 cases, the insiders inform, translate into an approximated 1,200 cartons of assorted drugs and other essential medications and supplies including antibiotics and syringes.

A medical doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity said out of sympathy some doctors are buying drugs and materials for patients from their own pockets.

“For example, we don’t have things as basic as a plaster to help tie a drip to a child yet we have to use drips everyday,” said the specialist.

Over the weekend, heads of departments at KCH wrote an open letter to President Joyce Banda alerting her of the situation, which they described as dire and requiring an urgent solution by the government.

“We are experiencing deaths of patients from treatable diseases such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria, which is heartbreaking,” reads part of the open letter to President Joyce Banda.

Our investigations have further established that while the drug situation at KCH is worsening, efforts to curb increasing pilferage are also being hampered by poor disciplining measures in government.

“There is a lot of theft of medical supplies here. Drugs get stolen and the thieves are left scot free,” said a senior officer in the administration section, adding: “This is also why we began hiring security guards”.

“It is so frustrating that when the thieves are caught and reported to the police and the ministry, they are reinstated not long thereafter. That alone is sending other staff to join this bad practice and even the security guards are joining the malpractice,” the source said.

The source said public drugs and medical supplies “find market in private clinics some of which are run by medical assistants and doctors” who are working at Kamuzu Central Hospital as civil servants.

Hospital Director Dr. Nordeen Alide confirmed the congestion, saying the challenge was seasonal and largely due to malaria in the rain season.

He assured that the congestion would eventually ease.

KCH, designed for 1,200 beds, currently has 500 patients in paediatrics ward alone where the maximum design was for 200 beds.

“As of today, we have 900 patients meaning there is space for 300 beds, but the problem is departmental overcrowding hence the overcrowding in the children’s ward.

“We also have this problem because there are no drugs at district hospitals so patients are being referred here; some of these cases could have been dealt with by the district hospitals,” Alide said.

Despite the congestion, Alide admits the facility is also seriously lacking medical supplies such as drugs, plasters and sutures.

On pilferage of drugs, Alide bemoaned that there is little his office could do as every time people are caught stealing public drugs and materials and they are interdicted, they are soon reinstated.

“It’s pathetic. This could be the tenth time now. It’s becoming a vicious circle. I don’t know what we should do. It’s a problem beyond us,” he said.

Principal Secretary for Health Dr. Charles Mwansambo said in another interview that although the congestion at KCH is seasonal, the ministry is working at reducing the number of hospital visits by increasing awareness on the importance of prevention of diseases such as malaria and also stocking urban facilities so as to off-load pressure on the central hospitals.

He said the ministry is fighting hard to curb the theft of drugs, but said its efforts are being frustrated by small punishments that courts mete out to convicted drug thieves.

Mwansambo said he hoped that in future there will be stiffer punishments that will deter people from the malpractice.

He observed that small pockets of people working in pharmacies in public hospitals steal drugs.

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