Malawi’s Health Care Subject Of Intense Worry For Country’s Poor
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Fagnes Matunga lives about as far away as a Malawian can from the country’s capital city of Lilongwe. Her village of thatch-roof huts is perched on the summit of a windswept mountain. The dirt road that serves as the main thoroughfare doubles as a porous border between her native Malawi and neighboring Mozambique. Trucks that carry her meager crop of Irish potatoes to urban markets — and the ambulances that transport laboring women in urgent need of C-sections — travel hours to reach the paved highway.
Despite this distance, with less than 10 months before national elections, when Mrs. Matunga and other rural subsistence farmers speak of health care, a politically important public good, officials in Lilongwe can scarcely afford not to listen. Like every one of the dozen rural Malawian farmers interviewed for this story, Mrs. Matunga, 73, believes that healthcare in public hospitals and health centers should be free. “The government has that responsibility to the poor,” she explains. “Someone can fall ill at home and have no money. But with government hospitals, because they are free, people can go though they don’t have money.”
The near unanimity of Malawi’s rural poor on this point helps explain why health care at public facilities has been provided free of charge for most of Malawi’s half century as an independent nation. In this landlocked country with few natural resources, health care is one of a few valued services that the impoverished government has been able to provide, even if Mrs. Matunga and her neighbors must walk five hours to reach the nearest public hospital.
In recent months, Mrs. Matunga and others have had reason for concern, as officials have issued a series of announcements about the future of free health care in Malawi. In May, while unveiling the fiscal year 2013-2014 budget, Minister of Finance Ken Lipenga announced that the government “had allowed some health facilities to open or introduce fee paying windows to allow those who can afford. . . to be able to use them.”
- Health Care