The Zambian government has controversially removed some services and equipment from the eye clinic at Mwami Adventist Hospital, allegedly to beef up services at the newly opened eye clinic at Chipata Central Hospital.
In 2018, government opened an eye clinic at Chipata Central and some services and equipment at Mwami, such as a vehicle, part of the eye equipment were moved to boost the new clinic. Some workers were also moved to Chipata and St Francis Mission Hospital in Katete District.
According to a 28 February 2018 letter by Dr Jabbin Mulwanda, the former Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary, seen by MakanDay, the services and equipment were moved to Chipata because government wanted only the outpatient department (OPD) to remain at Mwami.
The letter about the Ophthalmology operations in Eastern Province was addressed to the provincial health office. Ophthalmology is the branch of medicine concerned with the study and treatment of disorders and diseases of the eye.
“As Ministry of Health, we had committed to furnishing and equipping the department. We have been looking at a number of options of equipping and furnishing the department in a phased manner. In the initial phase, we contacted our Cooperating partner Onesight who responded favourably by helping us to set up some of the OPD equipment and furniture,” read the PS’ letter in part.
The Eye Clinic at Chipata Central was built by the Christian Blind Mission (CBM) who handed it over to government in 2018.
According to the plan for phase two, government will transfer all the equipment and furniture from Mwami, except for one slit and two visual acuity charts to Chipata.
“The reason for this action, is that we want only the OPD to remain functional at Mwami while Chipata Central Hospital will offer comprehensive eye health services. This is so due to the proximity of the two hospitals,” said Dr Mulwanda.
He also directed that the Toyota Land Cruiser, GRZ 195 CM be moved from Mwami to Chipata so that the outreach services could be coordinated by Chipata Central Hospital eye department.
Once trusted and reliable, the eye clinic now faces closure, because of the government’s actions.
Situated in Luangeni Constituency, about 30 kilometres southeast of Chipata town, near the border with Malawi, the Seventh Day Adventist Church first opened the hospital in 1927.
Not only is Mwami hospital one of the oldest and most reliable church-run medical facilities in Zambia, but it is also a historical landmark. Its services are also accessed by patients from neighbouring Malawi.
It began as an extension of medical missionary work by Malamulo Mission in Malawi.
As a grant-aided hospital, it receives statutory funds in the form of government aid and is jointly managed by the Church and Government.
The eye clinic at Mwami conducts outreach work in Luangeni, Chipata Central, Vubwi Constituencies and surrounding areas.
Mwami Hospital administrator George Siamuzoka, revealed that the transfer of some services has almost turned the eye clinic into a “white elephant”.
He said the hospital has since written to the Ministry to rescind its decision.
“Right now, the eye hospital is like a white elephant, we have a scenario which is painful. The people of Luangeni, Vubwi and the surrounding areas have built a good relationship with Mwami, so much so that when certain facilities are not there, people don’t go anywhere else,” he said.
He added: “I think the people that decided to do that did not consider the plight of the people of Luangeni and Vubwi.”
Mr Siamuzoka said it is difficult to imagine how people will accept the eye clinic’s closure, and they have to travel to Chipata, some 30 kilometres from Mwami.
“Some people say, rather than seek medical attention at Chipata Central, they would rather go blind. When we see a situation like that, as a hospital, we don’t feel alright,” he said.
Luangeni Member of Parliament Moses Moyo, who is also second deputy speaker of the National Assembly said he is disappointed with the decision by government.
“I think the kind of mentality and leadership that was exhibited in this regard was not good, so, we demand as a constituency that Mwami eye clinic, which was known for its excellence and prudence in terms of management, should be retained,” he said.
“Mwami eye clinic was a pride for the people of Luangeni. For a long time, people used to travel from all over Zambia to come and seek medical attention at Mwami eye clinic,” he added.
Mr Moyo said Mwami eye clinic is one of the best in the country.
“We understand the clinic was (partially) closed, just because of hate for different individuals that were managing the hospital,” he said.
He promised to speak to the Minister of Health to reconsider the decision.
The eye clinic at Mwami was partly funded by the Christian Blind Mission International which has equally expressed disappointment with the move.
Recently CBM provided funding for some members of staff at Mwami to be trained at the eye clinic in Tanzania.
The Paramount Chief Mpezeni has also voiced his concern to calls for the equipment to be returned to the hospital.
“These things were meant for Mwami and there is no need to take them to Chipata. This is an old hospital, it services a lot of people, let them just give Mwami what belongs to Mwami,” Paramount Chief Mpezeni said.
For 60-year-old Philemon Sakala, the Mwami Eye Clinic is close to his heart after undergoing a successful cataract operation in 2014. Mr Sakala said Mwami is just two kilomtres from his home village of Dingeni in Paramount Chief Mpezeni’s area.
He said the removal of some services will negatively affect the local people.
“I think the removal of some services will not help us, because Mwami is close to us who normally use bicycles. Now it is difficult for people to travel to Chipata,” he said.
Management at Mwami plans to upgrade the hospital from a Level one to Level two. Hospitals in Zambia are divided into three main categories. 1st level, includes community level health services such as district hospitals, health centres and health posts. 2Level, include Provincial or General hospitals and 3Level has Central or specialist hospitals.
Other plans are to upgrade the nursing college to university level to offer degree programmes. The hospital also plans to increase housing for medical and affiliated workers.
In collaboration with East Zambia Field, the hospital also plans to establish a boarding secondary school to take care of the children of the hospital staff as well as the outside community.
Government’s decision on Mwami Eye Clinic might impact on some of the hospital’s plans.
Cover Mwami Hospital photo: By Moses Banda - Mwami Hospital website
This article was produced for MakanDay’s Local Investigative Journalism Reporting Initiative, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)