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US$900 000 worth of obsolete hospital equipment attracts Parliament fury

By Andile Tshuma and Nqobile Tshili

Parliament has called for an urgent investigation into the purchase of a consignment of US$900 000 hospital equipment after doctors at Mpilo Central and United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) complained that up to 80 percent of it was obsolete, with missing parts.

Mpilo Central Hospital
Mpilo Central Hospital

The equipment was allegedly purchased from Narula Exports of New Delhi, which is not known as a manufacturer of medical equipment.

Doctors said it was miraculous that patients were not dying in large numbers as they could not treat them without proper machinery.

The parliamentary portfolio committee on health while touring Bulawayo hospital on Friday said more investigations should be launched into the deal which saw ministry of health officials procuring ‘obsolete’ refurbished 2006 models for various medical purposes.

Most of the machinery is said to be so old it cannot be used and some of it has gone out of production such that spares cannot be secured.

The scandal was initially exposed by the Senior Hospital Doctors’ Association (SHDA) representatives, Shingai Nyaguse (president), Raphael Makota (vice-president), Aaron Musara (secretary-general), Bothwell Anesu Mbuwayesango and Nomaqhawe Moyo who are all specialist doctors at a parliamentary portfolio committee on health meeting in Parliament in January.

However, doctors said nothing had been done to this day.

Doctors at two of the country’s biggest public health referral institutions in the country, on Thursday told the Dr Ruth Labode-led committee that the condemned consignment included theatre equipment, incubators, ventilators and beds that can only sustain weights of “light” people, below 65kgs.

Most adults in the country weigh more than 75kg.

At Mpilo Central Hospital it was estimated that about 80 percent of the equipment was non-functional.

Giving oral evidence to the parliamentary committee at Mpilo Central Hospital, one of the surgeons who was assigned to receive the equipment from Harare, Mr Allan Ngulube, said the equipment was obsolete.

He said even companies that manufacturethe equipment were no longer manufacturing the spares for the machines as they areoutdated.

“I was not part of the procurement team but was just asked to go and receive it. So as young surgeons we have been here for some years and have not been operating because there are no anaesthetic machines basically there is a lot of missing equipment,” he said.

“Imagine our disappointment when we opened the equipment here and it was set up to try and use it lo and behold, they were a lot of missing parts. So, we couldn’t use it. It was not the latest in terms of the brands. As a hospital that had nothing, we said half a loaf is better than nothing at all. But even the half loaf is not usable at all. So, the equipment isstored in a storeroom somewhere because it has missing parts.”

Mr Ngulube said there was confusion as the Indian technicians came to set up the equipment and they failed to assemble it as well.

At the United Bulawayo Hospitals, UBH CEO Ms Nonhlanhla Ndlovu said 62 percent of the hospital’s equipment was dysfunctional.

Part of the non-functioning equipment includes adult ventilators, an electric theatre table which cannot be adjusted, hydraulic theatre tables which have no foot pedals to adjust the tables, electroencephalography machines which could not be assembled as they had missing parts, three incubators which need spare parts, seven continuous positive airway pressure machines which came with missing parts, colonoscopy/gastroscopy machines which have poor image quality, and came with no manual and with control buttons written in Japanese.

The Committee said a proper investigation must be done on what happened that led to the procurement of “archaic” medical equipment.

“Someone must be held accountable for the loss. You cannot have the president donating funds for purchase of vital medical equipment, and then somebody goes to buy used and archaic equipment. You also cannot afford to have a situation where it is just talked about without action.

“Someone must own up to it, there needs to be clarity on what happened. Someone cannot fly to India on taxpayers’ money to bring this,” said Dr Labode.

One of the specialist doctors who spoke at the meeting said doctors were not consulted when the “irrelevant” equipment was bought.

“We were never involved in the procurement process and were not even consulted. We know what is vital in hospitals as we work there every day. We know what we can do without and we know what a hospital needs to prioritise.

“But here we have someone going to buy equipment as if they are furnishing a museum, collecting antiques for all archaic materials.

“These things, even the 38 percent that is working, when they break down it will be difficult to fix them because manufacturers are making modern machines and these lines of production stopped in 2006, where would you get the spares 15 years after a product line was discontinued,” said one of the specialist doctors at UBH during the meeting.

The senior doctors also told Parliament that intensive care units at the country’s referral hospitals were in dire straits.

Deputy Minister of health and Child care, Dr John Mangwiro recently confirmed the procurement of obsolete equipment in parliament but however, defended the purchase saying the Indian technicians are to return to Zimbabwe with the ‘correct’ equipment during the course of this year and will operate the machines.

Mpilo Central Hospital and UBH serve the southern region which covers Bulawayo, Midlands, Masvingo, Matabeleland North and South. The Chronicle