Malawi Forex Crunch: How It’s Impacted on Healthcare

Ms Chinoko(right) and her daughter-In-Law leave hospital without medicine

With a dollar crunch crippling other sectors of Malawi’s economy, a critical shortage of essential drugs is threatening to disrupt the health delivery system in the southern African nation. Malawi is struggling to import, medicines, fuel and fertilizers because of a critical shortage of dollars worsened by an aid freeze and low tobacco receipts. As a result, patients are now being asked to buy drugs on their own as the situation on the availability of drugs deteriorates in many public hospitals. At Chitipa district hospital, patients are being asked to buy Intravenous drips from either a Banja Latsongolo clinic or Kaseya hospital which is run by the Catholics. Kaseya is about 15 km from the Boma. “They are being told buy the drips at K350 from Kaseya hospital which a walking distance of 15 km,” said Sydney Simwaka, heads of the Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) Chitipa chapter. The  story of drug shortages is the same in Karonga, a neighbouring  district  to Chitipa.  Christopher Liwewe, a civil servant in the district,  said that he could not get treatment last week. “I was found with Malaria but all the hospital could give me was a Bruffen – a pain killer. I ended up sourcing LA [a Malaria treatment drug] from a friend,” he said. Another Karonga resident, Alice Munthali who is five months pregnant, said that the hospital could not give her medication. Alice  said that she was feeling body pains and expected the hospital to help her with pain killers but she was told to buy because the hospital had none. Quick interviews with patients at Kamuzu central hospital in Lilongwe found that most people seeking outpatient treatment were being told to buy drugs from private pharmacies.  “They have told us that the drugs are finished we have to buy ourselves but we do not have money so we will go home and come back tomorrow to check again,” said one of the patients Ketrina Chinoko in the company of her daughter. Ms Chinoko had travelled all the way from Chupha village, T/A Chimutu in Lilongwe hoping to be treated for a cough, a fever and headache. “The doctor prescribed the medicines for me but when I went to the hospital’s phamarcy to collect the medicines, I was told that I should buy in town because the hospital has no drugs,”she said. Kamuzu Central Hospital Director Dr Noor-Deen Alide said that shortages have left the hospital with an accumulating debt of over K300,000 because they have resorted to buying drugs from private suppliers.  “We are buying from private suppliers that’s why we accumulate the debt. Private suppliers charge five or six times more. The same (drug) they supply at Medical stores at K150, but they give us at K600. That’s what is happening and in the last two years, the hospital has accumulated over K300,000 debt mainly because of purchasing drugs from private suppliers,” Dr Alide said. Asked to specify the drugs that are in critical shortage at the hospital, the director said: ‘’It’s almost a potato of everything.”  Senior doctors at Queen Elizabeth Hospital also confirmed the shortages of essential drugs but declined to speak on record. “This has been the situation for some time now…we are spending money trying to buy from private suppliers like malaria drugs, drugs for women in labour, gloves, IV fluids,” said one of the doctors who asked for anonymity.