HE was somebody’s son. Others looked up to him. For three months he battled rabies: headaches, hallucinations, convulsions, seizures, paralysis - the published symptoms of the disease in humans. The government healthcare system, headed by Dr. Jean Kalilani, left Mr. Frank Makuluni to face a harrowing death. He was only 26 years old.
This sad story that marks the demise of Makuluni starts after he was bitten by a stray dog. As any health professional would recommend, Makuluni became immediately suspicious so he checked himself into a clinic in Chilomoni, Blantyre; he further went on to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital but could still not get the help he needed at the aforementioned institutions. His family could do nothing for him and he died. It’s hard to imagine a worse scenario than that. But what’s harder to fathom, as details are now coming to light, is that the medication Makuluni needed to stay alive was available all along but sitting and gathering dust at the Central Medical Stores.
The system that failed Makuluni is the latest anecdote of corrupt tendencies that have plagued the country for years, and have lately seeped into the healthcare system. It’s almost commonplace to find teachers accepting cash to provide non-extra curricular tutorials to their own students; or traffic police demanding kickbacks for some diminutive reason; or, I dare you to pass through Kamuzu International Airport without having to endure a customs official or the airport police suggesting some form of payment for no reason at all – perhaps that only happens to some of us. Unfortunately, however, the perversion of government services that we’re almost accustomed to could now be affecting the ever so venerable services of government healthcare.
In his weekly column, Raphael Tenthani couldn’t hide his shock – rightfully so - which he expressed through a series of rants and raves but respectfully demanded that the “Minister of Health Jean Kalirani must take personal interest in this case.” Obviously, people in government ought to be the first to take interest and initiative to conduct an investigation wherever and whenever necessary, and this incident almost begs to be investigated. So far, there is no indication as to whether Kalilani is heeding Tenthani’s call. But it goes beyond a simple investigation. The bigger picture questions how engaged Kalilani is with the operations of her ministry and some might further suggest that she is just like most cabinet ministers; inept, hands-off but big worshipers of their “dear leader” while bad policies and practices are left unchecked.
The system that failed Makuluni has been long in the making. A recent report by Transparency International served to confirm what Malawians have known all along; that in order to get some kind of government service, your rate of success depends largely on how well you grease the palm on the other end. What is there to stop me from thinking that Makuluni would have had a different outcome if he had the wherewithal to pay for the treatment he is entitled to under our system.
But to be clear, I am not putting the entire blame on the guy who does the diagnosis and writes the prescription; sure the person in scrubs shares part of the blame. However, just like anyone out there, you often put in as much effort as you get remunerated and this is mostly where the government has failed its people time and time again. The incentive to go the extra mile is simply not there anymore.
It really doesn’t make sense that the person caring for the sick, teachers, police officers, and so many government professionals should be condemned to making less in a year than what a member of parliament or a cabinet minister for that matter takes home in a month for doing almost nothing. Medical assistants and police officers are literally on their feet all day saving lives and maintaining peace all awhile MP’s are sitting at home but collecting wads of cash in government allowances. There is something eerily wrong with such a system and it needs to be addressed.
In so many words, the Makuluni incident puts an indelible stain on Kalilani’s character and it questions her ability to serve the Malawi population. She must show that she cares about the welfare of the citizens she’s appointed to serve failing which she is free to resign. As Tenthani
rightly pointed out, elsewhere the incident that sent Makuluni to the grave would be a major scandal. By now people in positions of authority could have lost their means of earning a living: their job! Kalirani, can you hear me now?
---©2012 The Maravi Post. Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgment