Malawi’s fuel shortage, in its second year running, has crippled almost every establishment with the health sector coming out as the worst hit.
Last month, two mothers died in child birth at Mchinji district hospital because when the electricity went off, the generator had no fuel to power the hospital.
With no end in sight on the power outages and fuel shortages, the country’s biggest referral hospital – Kamuzu Central Hospital- is now asking expectant mothers to bring fuel with them when labour starts.
“This is to avoid maternal deaths that have become frequent these days because of power outages,” said a nurse who asked for anonymity.
A woman (name withheld) who was attending antenatal clinics at the hospital and delivered last week, disclosed that during the clinics, the members of staff kept on reminding the women to bring the 5 litres of diesel for the standby generators.
One of the nursing officers in the maternity wing also confirmed and justified the demand. “Just like in some health centres they ask the women to bring candles, we are asking them to contribute fuel as one of the measures to help reduce maternal deaths which are on the rise because of electricity and fuel shortages,” said the nurse.
But Hospital director Dr Noorden Alide in an interview with the Nation a local newspaper, said : “At times staff can make such decisions, certainly that is not the official position of management…from our point of view this is not acceptable,” he said.
The 2010 Demographic Health Survey says that 10 women die every day in Malawi from pregnancy related complications – one of the highest maternal death rates in the world.
The fuel and power outages are the new emerging issues that may affect the gains that the southern African nation has made in recent years reducing maternal deaths from 16 deaths a day to just 10.
Landlocked Malawi needs $350 million annually to import fuel which it can no longer afford because of the aid freeze and the dwindling earnings from tobacco, the country’s main foreign exchange earner.