Some expectant women, guardians as well as mothers of newly born babies, in the area of Senior Chief Mwansambo in Nkhotakota district, have alleged that some health workers at Mwansambo Health Centre, demand 10 000 Kwacha for their services, on deliveries made at the facility.
The women allege that the tendency is deep-rooted, such that newly born babies and their mothers are detained if they do not have the money until it is paid.
A woman who was at the health centre recently, claims that the demand prompted her to obtain a 10, 000 Kwacha loan with high interest, in an arrangement popularly known as "Katapira", to redeem her daughter and newly born grandchild from the health centre.
“I did not have the money, so I went to obtain a Katapira loan. A number of guardians equally had the problem,’ she said.
According to the woman, an offence which her daughter had committed, was of failing to travel to Nkhotakota District Hospital, where she was referred to for delivery.
She also alleged that a Pharmacy at the facility operates from around 10 am, leading to long queues, almost on daily basis.
Another woman who also expressed concern on the Pharmacy issue, said it is surprising that only the Pharmacy operates in this manner, wondering how officers in other departments including Clinicians manage to start operations on time.
Senior Chief Mwansambo of the area said he is overwhelmed with such complaints.
He said when he went to the health centre to enquire about the tendency of demanding cash for maternal services, he was surprised to learn that the arrangement is under a by-law.
The traditional leader alleged that the bylaw was formulated without the knowledge of chiefs.
“At first, the health workers were demanding 3 000 Kwacha per delivery, but now the figure stands at 10, 000 Kwacha. We have by-laws as traditional leaders but we are not aware of this one,” said Mwansambo.
He also wondered why the health officials reach the extent of detaining babies as well as their mothers over the informal payment.
This prompted the Senior Chief to express his frustration over the matter, during a Full Council Meeting held in Nkhotakota District Council Chambers.
Nkhotakota District Health Spokesperson, Garry Chilinga, says an investigation on the allegations is underway.
But when contacted today, he could not specify as to when the probe shall be concluded.
Meanwhile, Health Rights Activist, George Jobe, says perpetrators of such tendencies, need to be punished.
Jobe, who is also the Executive Director of the Malawi Health Equity Network, noted that cases of informal payments in public health facilities are increasingly being reported, in most parts of the country.
"We wonder why this is happening because we hear messages on radio and television stations reminding people that services in public health facilities are free", said Jobe.
He added that communities around Mwansambo Health Centre, need to be sensitized to ensure they do not pay for free services at the facility.
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