Tag Archives: Malawi Police Service

Collateral damage: Police report policy delays treatment for accident victims in Malawian emergency rooms

You’ve been in an accident in Malawi – where do you go?  If you said the emergency department you could be wrong.

A few months ago my editor at Blantyre Newspapers Limited’s Sunday Times made this “mistake”, taking a small boy who had been in a traffic accident to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) for emergency treatment.  The boy, playing with a friend alongside of the highway, had run head-on into an oncoming SUV.  He was severely bruised, crying, and required treatment, but when they reached the hospital the staff at the registration desk turned the boy away on the basis of a policy that requires a police report before care can be administered to an accident victim.

Nurses and doctors affirmed the police report policy to the boy and the editor and it was only after they drove to the police station and were escorted by an officer back to the emergency department that the boy received treatment for the traumatic experience he had endured – nearly two hours after initially arriving to the ward.

Three weeks ago, that same editor witnessed a similar episode when a transport truck struck a small car.  At least one passenger was killed on impact, and when another bloodied passenger was brought to the hospital in hope of emergency treatment he was forced to wait in agonizing pain until a police report could be acquired.

When questioned on the policy, chief administrator of QECH Themba Mhango said a victim of a traffic collision would “definitely” be treated right away because “it is a human rights issue.”

“Now with the multi-party system, human rights came in and people started realizing their human rights.  You can’t do that to a person now – say ‘no I won’t give you treatment,’” Mhango said.

However, a subsequent visit to the hospital’s emergency room registration desk involved no mention of human rights.

In contradiction to Mhangos’s comments, a desk attendant said that while critical injuries are treated as soon as possible, “when an accident victim arrives a police report is required.”

While “there are serious cases in which you can’t do otherwise but treat the victim,” the attendant matter-of-factly said the majority of individuals who seek treatment following a collision have suffered “minor injuries” and therefore require a police report.

Southern Region Police Public Relations Officer Nicholas Gondwa also confirmed the hospital procedure of requiring a police report prior to treating injuries sustained in an accident and said the policy exists as a kind of collateral, because “hospitals fear that the person may not be an accident victim but rather a criminal who got injured while committing acts of crime.”

“It cannot be known whether the person was really involved in an accident or was injured while committing acts of crime,” he said.

The point is moot.  Under Article 16 of the African [Banjul] Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Malawi ratified in 1989, Every individual shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health” and, “States parties… shall take the necessary measures to protect the health of their people and to ensure that they receive medical attention when they are sick.”

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights contain similar clauses.

Because Malawi uses a socialized system of health care, “with the goal of providing access and basic health services to all Malawians” and to “raise the level of health status of all Malawians by reducing the incidence of illness and occurrence of death in the population,” it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health to address this unjust policy – take necessary measures to protect the well-being of their people.

Considering the fact that it is already difficult to get necessary health care in Malawi – transportation to clinics and health centers is problematic, and when a person is able to reach a health centre or hospital it is not uncommon to find that there is no medicine – added delays to accessing appropriate care such as this hospital procedure of requiring a police report are undue, unjust and inhumane, and contradict the state of emergency for which the health department in question exists.

In the meantime, Malawians should be advised to keep a first aid kit on hand as well as a police officers’ phone number on speed dial – you will need both before you can access appropriate treatment for injuries sustained in an accident at Queen’s hospital.

With files from the Sunday Times’ Ruth Mputeni

Justice Adjourned

As the first-ever judiciary strike in Malawi enters its fourth week, the doors to over 200 courts remain closed and justice has generally disappeared from the docket.

The industrial action began Jan. 9 when judiciary staff themselves became claimants, calling for the realization of the higher rate of pay and better working conditions promised by parliament in 2006.

The breach – K1.2 billion from July 2006 when parliament approved the salary increases to December 2011 according to a judiciary salary analysis document from the treasury – is being criticized as a violation of labour rights.

The case has an important caveat – each day that the judiciary strike for labour rights continues the rights of hundreds of detainees and prisoners to access the courts in furtherance of civil or criminal justice, to an effective remedy and to economic activity are also being ignored.

National Police Public Relations Officer Assistant Commissioner of Police Davie Chingwalu described the effects of the labour dispute as simply “uncontrollable.”

“As police the courts are our main disposal of suspects,” said Chingwalu.  “At the moment with the judiciary strike our hands are tied and the national picture as regards to handling of suspects is very difficult. We are forced to send those suspects with bigger offenses to prison although we are aware that there is congestion. What else can we do?”

Blantyre Police Station Assistant Public Relations Officer Sgt. Lameck Thembachako echoed Chingwalu’s concern, saying that in the commercial city-centre overcrowding has “reached the climax.”

According to Thembachako, Blantyre police cells are already accommodating more than 25 detainees per cell instead of the recommended maximum of 14 – and the number is increasing daily.

In an attempt to cope he said the Malawi Police Service (MPS) has been transferring detainees from overcrowded Blantyre cells to substations at Soche, Milare, Ndirande, Chilomoni and Chilobwe.

Now that even the substation cells are full, he said the MPS is planning to create “other buildings,” specifying an unused warehouse on the parent station grounds.

“The cells are now full.  They are not comfortable, they are under panic, even ventilation is not that good,” Thembachako said, adding that he expects overcrowding will have negative long-term effects on the health of detainees.

“If police have to keep you for more than two months or four months without facing justice, anything can happen to your health,” he said.  “Just sitting in a small room without getting sunshine or without proper ventilation – I think that by the end of the strike you will find two or three suspects suffering with TB or other diseases.”

At Zomba, Chichiri and Chikwawa prisons in the southern region they are also experiencing a serious shortage of space and other resources.

An inmate at Zomba Maximum Security Prison who asked to remain anonymous said, “the problem is that police have started bringing people here on remand almost every day.  People are staying here in prison on remand with small cases that the police could easily give bail for, but they are just keeping them here, and because of that nobody is going out unless their sentence expires.”

According to the inmate the overcrowding has resulted in food rations being cut in half, with prisoners receiving only one meal per day and portion sizes being reduced to an estimated 9 grams of nsima and one small cup of beans.

The inmate also said the number of inmates has increased during the judiciary strike from 1,791 on December 18, 2011 to 2,132 on February 2, 2012.

He said this means that 249 new remandees have been brought to the prison since the strike began on January 9.

With judiciary staff showing no signs of returning to work without a settlement, the onus is on the executive to negotiate a plan of repayment and answer the appeals of the hundreds of detainees and prisoners who are suffering silently as a result of the arrears.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

With files from Malawi News’ Archibald Kasakura.