A letter from Barbara Nagy in Malawi
Of Power Cuts and Petrol Queues
You know you’ve reached a threshold when your daughter’s imaginative play involves riding her elephant to the capital (60 km.) to convince the power company to turn the electricity back on. We in Malawi have been in the grip of daily prolonged power cuts combined with a countrywide shortage of fuel of all sorts for the past several months. Unfortunately, no end is in sight. How does this affect a 220-bed mission hospital? Ambulances and vehicles to provide medicines and vital supplies have to run on diesel; lab and X-ray equipment, sterilizers and refrigerators (vaccines, blood for transfusion, etc.) have to run; and most important, oxygen concentrators and emergency surgical equipment have to run in order to save people's lives and be true to our goal of providing “clinically excellent Christ-oriented health care.”
Generally when the power goes out (daily) we have an emergency generator that is turned on. Due to power fluctuations, the switch that activates the generator has burned out and presently cannot be replaced, so a watchman has been hired to turn it on by hand whenever the power goes off. As the generator runs for six–eight hours almost every day, it has begun overheating and sometimes has to be switched off to cool. Prices for diesel have recently gone up, bringing the cost of running the generator at its current usage to $4,655.00 per month. This is a catastrophic cost for a mission hospital that barely manages to survive financially from month to month. After weeks of trying to find fuel in the capital we have begun searching across a nearby border with Mozambique, but this is also fraught with difficulties and is dangerous and expensive. Corruption has reared its ugly head, and the tiny amount of available fuel is often sold off at much higher prices to roadside traders, posing danger of riots at the hours- to days-long petrol queues.
All of these circumstances converged last week when we had seven children on oxygen in the pediatrics ward, as well as patients in the adult wards. Power was off for almost 30 minutes as opposed to the 6-8 hour cuts we normally experience, and all managed to tolerate this interruption with the exception of our sickest pediatric patient. Clinicians stood by as she became more and more distressed, and eventually bag/mask resuscitation was instituted as her respirations failed completely. Finally, with the last small efforts of life failing, the power came back on, and she survived, though at what cost to her ultimate neurologic function is unknown. We are now at the lowest point of the year in terms of pediatrics admissions. What these continued episodes will cost in terms of human lives when the pediatric ward reaches its peak in the next months is unknown. Please pray with us for an end to the power and fuel shortages, as well as for just and wise governance in this country. We have two outstanding grant requests pending to fund a new generator capable of carrying the load of the entire hospital, but please also prayerfully consider helping with the ongoing costs of fuel for the hospital.
We are gratified that in spite of all these challenges we have been able to continue outreach clinics, which have made health care accessible to approximately 3,000 mothers and young children per month who would otherwise be beyond the reach of any health facility. We are committed to bicycling to these outreach clinics even if the fuel completely fails, but we would be able to offer only limited services, especially as the rains limit transportation of equipment by such means. I have prepared a year-end summary of activities for the hospital that can be accessed on the Mission Connections website.
Thanks for the prayers and support that you have offered during the year 2011; may your Christmas celebrations be blessed and joyful!
Barbara Nagy for all of the Nkhoma Synod community
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 67
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 106
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