The inaccessibility of oil in Malawi causes a considerable slowdown in regard to the overall productivity of the country. While hospitals have developed strategies to ensure continuous access to resources, their employees and patients are still queuing up nearby the pump.
According to Dr. Themba Mhango, the director at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), some patients are unable to attend appointments due to fuel shortages.
“At the moment about 50% of the patients with diabetes who are booked to come for sight-saving laser treatment are defaulting and when we call them to trace them, they almost always say it is due to no fuel or the cost of transport that has increased.” Said Dr. Mhango.
Malawi’s shortage has been going on for three years now. With people sometimes waiting six to eight hours without any guarantee of accessing the fuel, life has just taken another pace has lining up for gas is now part of everyone’s weekly reality.
QECH is a 1 300 bed public hospital receiving about 500,000 patients per year and spending nearly 2 million kwacha (approximately 12 500 Canadian dollars) a month on fuel. They managed to work around the shortage by creating contacts at gas stations so owners can inform them in advance whenever a delivery is about to happen. However, their work is still indirectly affected by this situation.
“Some staff may report for duties in the morning and then later disappear because they have gone queuing for fuel at the gas station.” Explains Dr. Mhango.
At Mwaiwanthu hospital, recent agreements with the Minister of Health have highly enhanced the life of the management team who no longer fear fuel shortages during the frequent power outages.
“It takes about 20 liters to run the hospital’s generator for six hours. Before this January, we had to find the fuel ourselves. Now we prepay for the fuel who is delivered to us.” explains Dr. Edgar Kutchindale, admitting that although this is a privilege it does not cover any of their staff members. Individuals must still queue up to buy gasoline or are forced to buy it off illegal vendors which requires them to pay up to three times more than the original price.
In the past few weeks, police attempted to implement better security on black market and began arresting the dealers who are keeping the oil in their houses. According to Christian Sidande from the Malawi Human Rights Commission; 1000 liters were confiscated last week.
These new interventions by the authorities appear to be favorable for the buyers. “With the outlawing of consumers buying fuel in containers has strangled the black market, hence we are seeing an improvement in the availability of fuel supply, we can ably fill up our vehicles at the gas station,” said Dr. Mhango.
However, for Mr. Sidande, the recent availability of fuel is only a temporary balm on a wound.
“In the last two weeks 90 million liters were bought by government. Their problem as eased a little for a short period of time but the president admits still not having a solution yet.” Said Sidande.